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REALTORS® and the Code of Ethics
All real estate licensees are not REALTORS®. Only real estate licensees who are a members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® may use the term REALTOR®. REALTORS® subscribe to a strict code of ethics and are expected to maintain a higher standard of practice than what is required by law.
If, while using the services of a REALTOR® you encounter questionable conduct on the part of the REALTOR®, you have the option of filing an ethics complaint with the Board or Association where that REALTOR® holds membership. See below for details on filing an ethics complaint.
Boards and associations of REALTORS® are responsible for enforcing the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics requires a higher standard of professionalism than what is required by law or regulation. Note that only real estate professionals who choose to become REALTORS® are subject to this code.
Many difficulties result from misunderstanding, miscommunication, or lack of communication. If you have an issue with a real estate professional, you may want to speak with the individual or with a principal broker in the firm. Open, constructive discussion often resolves questions or differences, eliminating the need for further action.
While many real estate transactions move forward smoothly, sometimes issues arise. If you have determined that you would like to file a complaint about a REALTOR®, please review the information below to learn about the process and the necessary paperwork.
Learn more about how REALTORS® work together. View the NAR Pathways to Professionalism video.
Things to keep in mind when filing an ethics complaint
- Ethics complaints must be filed with the local board or association of REALTORS® within one hundred eighty (180) days from the time a complainant knew (or reasonably should have known) that potentially unethical conduct took place or within one hundred eighty (180) days after the conclusion of the transaction, whichever is later.
- The REALTORS® Code of Ethics consists of seventeen (17) Articles. The duties imposed by many of the Articles are explained and illustrated through accompanying Standards of Practice or case interpretations.
- Your complaint should include a narrative description of the circumstances that lead you to believe the Code of Ethics may have been violated.
- Your complaint must cite one or more of the Articles of the Code of Ethics which may have been violated. Hearing panels decide whether the Articles expressly cited in complaints were violated - not whether Standards of Practice or case interpretations were violated.
- The local board or association of REALTORS®' Grievance Committee may provide technical assistance in preparing a complaint in proper form and with proper content.
- If the real estate professional (or their broker) you are dealing with is not a REALTOR®, your only recourse may be the state real state licensing authority or the courts.
- Boards and associations of REALTORS® determine whether the Code of Ethics has been violated, not whether the law or real estate regulations have been broken. Those decisions can only be made by the licensing authorities or the courts.
- Boards of REALTORS® can discipline REALTORS® for violating the Code of Ethics. Typical forms of discipline include attendance at courses and seminars designed to increase REALTORS®' understanding of the ethical duties or other responsibilities of real estate professionals. REALTORS® may also be reprimanded, fined, or their membership can be suspended or terminated for serious or repeated violations. Boards and associations of REALTORS® cannot require REALTORS® to pay money to parties filing ethics complaints; cannot award "punitive damages" for violations of the Code of Ethics; and cannot suspend or revoke a real estate professional's license.
- The primary emphasis of discipline for ethical lapses is educational, to create a heightened awareness of and appreciation for the duties the Code imposes. At the same time, more severe forms of discipline, including fines and suspension and termination of membership may be imposed for serious or repeated violations.
Before the hearing
- Your complaint will be reviewed by the local board or association's Grievance Committee. Their job is to review complaints to determine if the allegations made, if taken as true, might support a violation of the Article(s) cited in the complaint.
- If the Grievance Committee dismisses your complaint, it does not mean they don't believe you. Rather, it means that, if it were assumed that your allegations were true to fact, they would not constitute a violation of the Code. You may want to review your complaint to see if you cited an Article appropriate to your allegations.
- If the Grievance Committee forwards your complaint for hearing, that does not mean they have decided the Code of Ethics has been violated. Rather, it means they feel that if what you allege in your complaint is found to have occurred by the hearing panel, that panel may have reason to find that a violation of the Code of Ethics occurred.
- If your complaint is dismissed as not requiring a hearing, you can appeal that dismissal to the board of directors of the local board or association of REALTORS®.
Preparing for the hearing
- Prior to the hearing, you will receive information about the conduct of an ethics hearing. Familiarize yourself with the hearing procedures that will be followed. In particular you will want to know about challenging potential panel members, your right to counsel, calling witnesses, and the burdens and standards of proof that apply.
- at the Code of Ethics has been violated. The standard of proof that must be met is "clear, strong and convincing," defined as, ". . . that measure or degree of proof which will produce a firm belief or conviction as to the allegations sought to be established." Consistent with American jurisprudence, respondents are considered innocent unless proven to have violated the Code of Ethics.
- Be sure that your witnesses and counsel will be available on the day of the hearing. Continuances are a privilege - not a right.
- Be sure you have all the documents and other evidence you need to present your case.
- Organize your presentation in advance. Know what you are going to say and be prepared to demonstrate what happened and how you believe the Code of Ethics was violated.
At the hearing
- Appreciate that panel members are unpaid volunteers giving their time as an act of public service. Their objective is to be fair, unbiased, and impartial; to determine, based on the evidence and testimony presented to them, what actually occurred; and then to determine whether the facts as they find them support a finding that the Article(s) charged have been violated.
- Keep your presentation concise, factual, and to the point. Your task is to demonstrate what happened (or what should have happened but didn't), and how the facts support a violation of the Article(s) charged in the complaint.
- Hearing panels base their decisions on the evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. If you have information relevant to the issue(s) under consideration, be sure to bring it up during your presentation.
- Recognize that different people can witness the same event and have differing recollections about what they saw. The fact that a respondent or their witness recalls things differently doesn't mean they aren't telling the truth as they recall events. It is up to the hearing panel, in the findings of fact that will be part of their decision, to determine what actually happened.
- The hearing panel will pay careful attention to what you say and how you say it. An implausible account doesn't become more believable through repetition or, through volume.
- You are involved in an adversarial process that is, to some degree, unavoidably confrontational. Many violations of the Code of Ethics result from misunderstanding or lack of awareness of ethical duties by otherwise well-meaning, responsible real estate professionals. An ethics complaint has potential to be viewed as an attack on a respondent's integrity and professionalism. For the enforcement process to function properly, it is imperative for all parties, witnesses, and panel members to maintain appropriate decorum.
After the hearing
- When you receive the hearing panel's decision, review it carefully.
- Findings of fact are the conclusions of impartial panel members based on their reasoned assessment of all of the evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. Findings of fact are not appealable.
- If you believe the hearing process was seriously flawed to the extent you were denied a full and fair hearing, there are appellate procedures that can be involved. The fact that a hearing panel found no violation is not appealable.
- Refer to the procedures used by the local board or association of REALTORS® for detailed information on the bases and time limits for appealing decisions or requesting a rehearing. Rehearings are generally granted only when newly discovered evidence comes to light (a) which could not reasonably have been discovered and produced at the original hearing and (b) which might have had a bearing on the hearing panel's decision. Appeals brought by ethics respondents must be based on (a) a perceived misapplication or misinterpretation of one or more Articles of the Code of Ethics, (b) a procedural deficiency or failure of due process, or (c) the nature or gravity of the discipline proposed by the hearing panel. Appeals brought by ethics complainants are limited to procedural deficiencies or failures of due process that may have prevented a full and fair hearing.
Many ethics complaints result from misunderstanding or a failure in communication. Before filing an ethics complaint, make reasonable efforts to communicate with your real estate professional or a principal broker in the firm. If these efforts are not fruitful, the local board or association of REALTORS® can give you the procedures and forms necessary to file an ethics complaint.
Ethics complaint information checklist
To file an ethics complaint, print the documents listed below.
- Ethics Complaint Form (Form E-1)
- REALTOR® Code of Ethics for the year in which the alleged violation took place, 2013, 2012
- Filing An Ethics Complaint (General Instructions)
Filing An Ethics Complaint
An ethics complaint must include the appropriate form (E-1) citing the Article(s) of the Code believed to have been violated and the name(s) of the respondent(s). Attached to the complaint form should be a detailed narrative description of the conduct believed to have constituted a violation of the Code of Ethics. Only the Article(s) of the Code should be named in the complaint. The Standards of Practice are only for clarification as to how the Article may be applied. The complaint must be typewritten, and submitted along with ten (10) copies to enable the Association to provide one to each respondent and to members of the Grievance Committee and the Hearing Panel. If the complaint is from a member of the public, only one copy of the complaint need be submitted. Ethics complaints must be filed at the NSAR office within one hundred eighty (180) days after the facts constituting the matter complained of could have been known in the exercise of reasonable diligence or within one hundred eighty (180) days after the conclusion of the transaction, whichever is later.
Mail your complaint to:
North Shore Association of REALTORS®
398 Essex Street
Beverly, MA 01915