What do you do if you find yourself the respondent in an ethics complaint - or for that matter, have you ever considered filing an ethics complaint, yourself?
Columbus REALTORS® is a trade Association which holds all members to high standards of accountability and ethics, and you belong because these values are important to you.
As a member, you pledge to uphold the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, and trust that other members will do likewise. When a fellow REALTOR® violates this Code, it chips away at the public trust in real estate professionals and at the trust of fellow REALTORS®. The Code only works if REALTORS® hold each other responsible, and that is where ethics complaints come in.
A grievance often begins with a phone call from an agent or member of the public who feels they have been wronged somehow. The problem may result from misunderstanding or lack of communication. Sometimes it develops from expectations that were not met, whether those expectations were realistic to begin with, or not. Sometimes a REALTOR® just makes a mistake – and it impacts a transaction, a relationship, or a pocketbook.
When a call is received, the first step is to verify membership of the agent in question, that the event occurred within the past 180 days, and that the case is not currently before a judge, another Association, or the Ohio Division of Real Estate.
The process is explained to the caller, and they are sent a copy of the Code of Ethics and a form to list the articles and standards of practice they feel were violated. The complaint is returned to Columbus REALTORS® with a typed narrative, including whatever documentation the complainant chooses to demonstrate that violations have occurred.
The Grievance Committee receives copies of the materials to review before each monthly meeting. At this point the Respondent is unaware that a grievance has been filed against them.
The Grievance Committee ensures that the complaint is in the acceptable form, the proper parties have been named, that no reason exists that would prevent Columbus REALTORS® from providing an impartial hearing, and that the specific Articles cited in the complaint are appropriate in light of the facts described. Their main duty is, while assuming the allegations to be true, to decide whether the allegations rise to the level of a violation of the Code of Ethics. The Grievance Committee does not “try the case” nor evaluate evidence.
If the Grievance Committee “dismisses” the complaint for any of these reasons it goes no further. The respondent never even knows that a complaint was brought against them.
If the Grievance Committee “refers” the case to the Professional Standards Committee, this is the point at which the respondent is notified that there is an impending ethics case in which they are named as “respondent.”
Possible dates for the hearing (at least a month away) are sent to parties to choose all dates on which they are available. The respondent is invited to submit a written statement, and notified that they may bring an attorney, witnesses, or any other evidence to demonstrate their side of the case. Both parties also have the chance to remove potential panelists who could be biased for or against either party.
Ethics hearings take place about a month after the respondent was notified, which gives them time to gather material/witnesses, and obtain legal counsel should they choose to do so.
At the hearing, five REALTORS® weigh both sides of the story as presented by the complainant and respondent, any attorneys or witnesses, and in light of any documents or pictures presented. Both sides are given the chance to cross examine, and at the end of the hearing both are asked if they feel they have had a fair hearing and if they have had the opportunity to say what they wanted to say. The format is reminiscent of a court trial, but is less formal.
Both parties are then dismissed, and the panel remains in executive session to arrive at a decision and to agree on possible disciplinary measures. Within five days after Association legal review, both parties will receive the findings of the hearing panel via U.S. mail.
No REALTOR® ever wants to be accused of an ethics violation.
But Columbus REALTORS® takes due process very seriously, and all procedures in every ethics complaint are planned to ensure that all parties are treated fairly, that the process is transparent and understandable to all parties, and that all parties have equal opportunity to present their case to an unbiased panel of their peers. It’s the “American way,” and it is Columbus REALTORS®’ way.