Code of Ethics Enforcement Process

Code of Ethics Enforcement Process

The Code of Ethics was adopted by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® in 1913 and has been amended throughout the years to accommodate the ever-changing real estate industry. The local board professional standards review process is one of the most important benefits of REALTOR® membership. Those who pledge to uphold the Code, depend on the association to enforce the Code and educate Board members of their obligations of REALTOR® membership. The Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® has various options for Code of Ethics enforcement and addressing complaints that may or may not be possible infractions of the Code.

Ombudsman Program:   The Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® has implemented an Ombudsman program that can address issues that are generally initiated via email or phone call to the Board, but have not been submitted on the Board’s official Ethics Complaint form. This can include complaints that do not expressly allege a violation of the Code of Ethics or do not detail conduct related to the Code.

Some complaints are transactional, technical or procedural questions. Some may not fall under the scope of the Code of Ethics, but in being addressed, can produce a positive outcome for all parties involved. An Ombudsman may provide enhanced communication and initial problem solving to potential complaints concerning REALTORS® and real estate related transactions before matters escalate into formal charges. In some cases, the Ombudsman program can address and solve minor complaints from the public. It can also resolve inter-REALTOR® conflicts before they become serious problems. Like a mediator, an Ombudsman helps parties find solutions. Should the respondent fail to respond or take corrective action to the satisfaction of the complainant, the complainant has the option of filing a formal complaint with the association or other appropriate regulatory body. The Ombudsman program is available when a formal Ethics Complaint has not yet been filed.

Ethics Complaint: It’s those cases where a formal ethics complaint is filed with the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® using the Ethics Complaint Form, and it is determined that the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Professional Standards Committee, the parties have options for addressing the complaint. In order for a complaint to fall into this category and to be forwarded to the Professional Standards Committee for processing, the complaint must be in writing, must be filed within 180 days after the facts described in the complaint could have been known in the exercise of reasonable diligence (or, 180 days after the conclusion of the transaction or event – whichever is later), must allege violations of specific Articles of the Code of Ethics and must state facts supporting the allegations. When this occurs, the following three options are available.

Citation System: The Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® has a Citation System in place for specific acts cited in a formal complaint that constitute a violation of the Code of Ethics and have been identified as not always needing to be resolved via the formal hearing process (which typically takes several weeks). This system provides complainants and respondents an efficient resolution to the complaint and provides an expedient manner in which to process the complaint. This process is voluntary on the part of the REALTOR®, who has the option to decline the citation and proceed with the remaining options on any citable offense. The benefit to the Citation System is that in cases where a REALTOR® accepts that a mistake has been made, they can forego a formal hearing, which necessitates preparation time and participation in a hearing, and resolve the matter by fulfilling the sanction established for that infraction.  It is the charge of the Grievance Advisory Committee and Citation Panel to determine whether the offense qualifies for the Citation System.

Ethics Mediation: is another optional method for addressing formal complaints filed with the Board.  Ethics Mediations is voluntary by all parties to the complaint.  All complainants and respondents must agree to Ethics Mediation in order for it to be implemented. This process provides the parties with the opportunity to be involved in determining an acceptable outcome to the situation, which may or may not include an acknowledgement of a violation of the Code of Ethics and which may or may not include sanctions. If the parties agree to Ethics Mediation and a resolution is not agreed upon, the complaint moves on to a formal ethics hearing before a panel of the Professional Standards Committee.

When a formal complaint is filed that does not qualify for the Citation System or has not been resolved through the Citation System, and/or Ethics Mediation has not been agreed to by all parties (or has been unsuccessful), a Formal Ethics Hearing is scheduled. Unless the right to a full hearing is waived by the respondent and the actions contained in the complaint are acknowledged by the respondent – but not that those actions constitute a violation of the Code, this method requires participation in a hearing by all parties in front of a panel of members of the Professional Standards Committee. All parties are provided with an opportunity to present information regarding the complaint to the Hearing Panel for consideration.  And, upon finding clear and convincing evidence of a violation of the Code of Ethics, sanctions are imposed as deemed appropriated by the Hearing Panel.

The Board can administer discipline to a REALTOR® found to be in violation of the Code of Ethics as follows:

  • Send a letter of warning or reprimand to the member, with a copy placed in the member’s personal file.
  • Direct the member to attend an ethics class or other training appropriate to the violation.
  • Fine the member up to $15,000.
  • Place the member on probation (with regard to membership).
  • Suspend the member from Board membership or MLS access.
  • Expel the member from Board membership or MLS access.

The Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® is a voluntary membership trade association and has legal limits on its authority. CABR cannot conduct a hearing to determine violations of law, nor can it enforce contracts or award monetary damages to a party in a case. These powers are reserved to the courts and/or state licensing authority. CABR also does not have the power to revoke an individual’s real estate license. This power falls under the authority of the Ohio Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing.

If you are experiencing a problem with a REALTOR® that you feel falls under the scope of the Code of Ethics, request a complaint packet via email to chenninger@cabr.org. If you are experiencing a problem with a REALTOR® that is legal in nature or if it pertains to the interpretation of a contract, it is suggested that you contact an attorney to learn your legal options. 

The Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® strives to promote professionalism among its members. When a member does not abide by the Code of Ethics, it affects the entire REALTOR® organization. If you have any questions regarding the jurisdiction of the Board or the complaint process, call us at (513) 842-3012.

Formal Ethics Complaint

In order to file a formal ethics complaint, first read the Code of Ethics. As you read, make notes as to which Article(s) of the Code you believe have been violated by the REALTOR®.  Note the actual Article(s) you feel have been violated as well as the Standards of Practice.

Contact the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® at chenninger@cabr.org to have the paperwork sent to you for processing your complaint. You will receive the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors® Ethics Manual, which contains the complete procedures for processing a complaint, and a Complaint Form which will need to be completed and returned to the Board office.  You need to be as specific as possible, listing the actions or inactions by the REALTOR® that you believe were violations.  Cite the appropriate Article or Articles of the Code of Ethics related to each action or inaction described in the complaint.  Copies of supporting documentation will also be needed.

Your appearance at a hearing of the Professional Standards Committee will likely be required.  This will be your opportunity to address members of the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® Professional Standards Committee with your complaint. The REALTOR® whom your complaint is against will also be required to attend the hearing and explain or defend his/her actions.

Ombudsman Overview

What is an Ombudsman?

  • A person who assists parties to resolve their disputes
  • An Informal “Mediator”
  • Working by telephone
  • Provides communication
  • An initial attempt to resolve problem
  • Service provided regardless of whether the dispute falls under the Code of Ethics

Complaints

  • Many don’t allege violations of specific articles of the Code of Ethics
  • May be transactional, technical, procedural questions
  • May be a result from lack of communication
  • Some include potential violations of the Code of Ethics
  • Some may be monetary disputes

Benefits to Consumers

  • “Story” heard
  • Someone listens
  • Ability to open communication with help of Ombudsman

Ombudsman Role

  • Communication & conciliation
  • Address misunderstandings and disagreements BEFORE matters escalate
  • Not to determine who deserves a commission
  • Not to determine whether ethical violations have occurred

When Using the Ombudsman Service

  • If Ombudsman service is declined – complainant can file a written complaint
  • If Ombudsman reaches desired outcome but party does not comply
    • May still file a formal compliant

Ombudsman Service to Complainants

  • Listens to their concerns
  • Determines their desired outcome
    • Money, sanctions, MLS concerns, a response to unreturned phone messages, etc.
  • Answers general real estate or procedural questions
  • Explains possible avenues that might help reach desired outcome
  • Contacts the respondent to explain complainant’s concerns
  • Seeks to bring resolution
  • Reports back to complainant

If Ombudsman Process is Unsuccessful…

Complainant May:

  • File complaint with Real Estate Commission
  • Seek legal advise
  • File complaint with the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS®

OMBUDSMAN CAN’S

  • Communicating with complainant:

Listen to their concerns…Ascertain their desired outcome

Discuss possible avenues to reach desired outcome

  • Communicating with respondent:

Explain/communicate complainant’s concerns and desired outcome

Listen to their side of the issue

Determine respondent’s desired communication to the complainant

OMBUDSMAN CAN NOT’S

  • Adjudicate/make the final decision
  • Give legal advice
  • Determine who is right or wrong
  • Refer matters to the Professional Standards Committee
  • Disclose communications to 3rd parties – Process is CONFIDENTIAL
  • Put anything in writing

CABR Citation Policy (Effective July 1, 2015)

Why is a Citation Policy necessary when there are already procedures in place to deal with Code of Ethics violations?

The purpose of the citation program is to give the complainants and respondents a faster resolution to the complaint process for specific complaints that have been identified as not always needing to be resolved via the formal hearing process, as normally complaints take 4 – 6 months to go through NAR’s procedure.

Key advantages of the Citation Policy vs. professional standards formal hearing procedures.

  • Time: if a citation is issued and paid by the violator, the entire process is completed in thirty (30) days or less. By contrast, the process for a professional standards hearing generally takes from one hundred twenty (120) to one hundred eighty (180) days and requires preparation of a formal response to be submitted to the Board.
  • Board facilities: if a citation is issued and paid by the violator, there is not requirement to attend a hearing at the association. By contrast, the process for a professional standards hearing, generally, requires one (1) or more hearings, all of which necessitate on-site presence at the Board and the use of Board meeting rooms.
  • Volunteer time: if citation is issued and paid by the violator, no volunteers from the Professional Standards Committee are involved. By contrast, the normal process for a professional standards hearing requires the participation of five (5) to eight (8) members of the Professional Standards Committee and if there is a request for review, three (3) or more members of the Executive Committee.
  • Staff time and Board resources: If a citation is issued and paid by the violator, a minimal amount of staff time and Board resources are used. By contrast, the normal process for a professional standards hearing requires a great deal of staff time and Board resources to prepare paperwork, coordinate a hearing panel and set hearing dates….in addition to what is involved to actually hold hearings at the Board.
  • Known sanction. If a citation is issued and paid by the violator, the violator knows the amount of the citation and any educational requirement.  By contrast, a hearing panel has a range of sanctions that can be imposed.

If a citation is issued, can the member who receives the citation ask for a full professional standards hearing?

Yes. When the violation is sent to the member, the violator is advised that he/she has the right to request a full due process hearing rather than pay the citation fine and fulfill any additional requirement.

Who can file a complaint?

Anyone can file an ethics complaint.

What are the articles identified in the citation program?

Articles 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 14 and 16 may be eligible under the citation program.  Note:  In the event more than one Article is cited in a formal complaint, all cited Articles must fall under the Citation System in order to qualify.

Ethics Mediation

Mediation is a voluntary process for the Code of Ethics enforcement procedures offered through the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS®.  No party to an ethics matter can be required to submit to mediation. It is a voluntary service that can be useful in resolving conflicts that arise between Board members or between Board members and their clients and customers. Mediation is available in instances where an ethics complaint has been filed on the Board’s Ethics Complaint Form and a hearing would otherwise be provided by the Board. It can resolve disputes, promote amicable resolutions, and reduce the number of cases requiring the more formal ethics hearing procedures.

Parties to Mediation may withdraw from the Mediation process at any point prior to reaching an agreement and the matter is then forwarded to the Professional Standards Committee for processing. If parties to Ethics Mediation agree to a settlement and the settlement has been reduced to writing and has been signed by all of the parties, the matter is deemed resolved and cannot be the subject of a subsequent Professional Standards hearing, unless the Respondent fails or refuses to comply with the terms of the mutually agreed upon resolution.

In such event, the Complainant is entitled to resubmit the original complaint for a full ethics hearing.  The time the matter was originally brought to the Board’s attention shall be considered the filing date for purposes of determining whether an ethics complaint is timely filed. However, the resubmission must be initiated within 180 days of the date the Complainant became aware of the Respondent’s failure or refusal to comply with the terms of the mutually agreed on resolution.