By Peg Ritenour, Ohio REALTORS Vice President of Legal Services
As a result of an amendment to the budget bill which passed last summer, applicants for an Ohio real estate license will be required to undergo a criminal background check before being approved to take the real estate examination. This becomes effective on Nov. 1 and will require a check of both state and FBI records.
This change in Ohio law was pursued by Ohio REALTORS as a result of the recommendations of the License Background Check Task Force, which was appointed by Ohio REALTORS Past President Sara Calo. The Task Force recommendations were subsequently adopted by the Ohio REALTORS Board of Directors in 2018.
The new criminal background check requirement will apply to all applicants for a sales license as well as applicants for a broker license. It will also be required for persons licensed in another state seeking licensure in Ohio through reciprocity.
The Division has indicated that it will be posting the revised sales and broker applications with instructions for the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI&I) background check at the end of the business day on Oct. 31. This will include a link to locations where fingerprinting can be done and how applicants can obtain a copy of the results if desired. The average cost of the fingerprinting – which is not included in the application fee – varies by location but is generally about $60-$70.
Under the new procedures, candidates for licensure will be required to provide their fingerprints within 10 days after the date of filing of the application. Fingerprints cannot be taken before the filing of the application with the Division of Real Estate.
Currently it can take as long as six weeks for the Division to receive the results of a background check from BCI&I. Because most applicants do not have a criminal history, the following process will be followed by the Division to avoid a delay in such applicants taking the exam:
- Both salesperson and broker applications will continue to ask if the applicant has any prior convictions. Regardless of the answer they provide, all applicants will be required to undergo the criminal background check.
- If an applicant answers that he/she has a past conviction, the Division will follow its current process: the applicant will not be seated for the exam until the results of the background check are received and the Superintendent decides if she will approve the application despite the conviction. Under existing Ohio law, the Superintendent has discretion to allow persons to be seated for the exam despite their conviction if, in the Superintendent’s determination, the applicant’s activities and employment since the conviction demonstrate that the applicant will not engage in future criminal activities. Factors such as the length of time since the conviction, the nature of the crime, and letters of recommendation are also considered by the Superintendent in making her decision.
- However, candidates who answer “no” on the application, indicating that they do not have any prior convictions, will be permitted to take the exam prior to the Division receiving the background check results (assuming they meet all other requirements). If an applicant passes the exam, he/she will be issued a provisional license pending the results of the background check. During this provisional period, the individual can practice real estate. If the background check confirms that there are no convictions, the provisional status of the license will be lifted. If the results show a conviction, the Superintendent can suspend the person’s license.
Due to the new requirement that all applicants to undergo a criminal check, it is important for brokers who are sponsoring applicants to discuss this process with their recruits and ask if they have any convictions. Individuals who do have a past conviction can, prior to applying to take the exam, ask the Superintendent to review that conviction and provide a preliminary determination as to whether that conviction, by itself, will disqualify them from being approved to take the real estate exam. The application for this review can be found HERE.
It is recommended that this pre-determination be sought by potential applicants who have a conviction before they take the required course work to become licensed. However even if an individual receives a preliminary decision from the Superintendent that she will overlook the conviction, this determination is not binding and is subject to a complete records check done at the time of application.
It is important to note that under this new law, NO background check will be required of existing licensees to transfer, renew, replace, activate etc. an existing license. The only time an existing licensee will need to undergo this check will be when a salesperson is applying to take the broker’s exam. To read the new license law provision setting forth the background check requirement for new applicants, CLICK HERE.