Pro Standards & Resolving Issues
When Expectations Differ
Working Through EABOR
EABOR offers three ways to approach arbitrating dispute resolutions. From an informal ombusdsman approach through the semi-formal mediation to the formalized arbitration process (overseen by the Professional Standards Hearing Panel), we’re here to assist resolving issues if disputes arise.
Our Three Approaches
Seeking resolution through the Ombudsman program is generally the most informal of the three avenues of addressing conflict. Ombudsman services offers an informal avenue for addressing complaints and conflicts without the need for a structured mediation session.
Contact the Pro Standards Administrator to:
Mediation offers a voluntary and confidential avenue for resolving disputes through facilitated communication and negotiation with the assistance of a neutral mediator. Mediation aims to encourage cooperative problem-solving and to reach mutually-agreeable solutions without resorting to filing a formal Request for Arbitration.
Contact the Pro Standards Administrator to:
The arbitration process provides a fair and impartial platform for resolving disputes that arise between real estate professionals in a non-litigious manner. Unlike mediation, which aims for mutually agreeable solutions, in the arbitration process a binding decision is made by the Professional Standards Hearing Panel.
Before You File An Ethics Complaint:
File an Ethics Complaint Form:
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON ETHICS COMPLAINTS VS. ARBITRATION COMPLAINTS
You may have to consider whether your complaint concerns an ethics matter or an arbitration of a monetary dispute. An ethics complaint charges that a REALTOR® has violated an Article(s) of the Code of Ethics. Arbitration is a means of resolving a monetary dispute arising out of a real estate transaction that the parties have been unable to solve themselves. An arbitration complaint or request is a simple notice by a member of a disagreement with another member, usually a commission dispute. Arbitration does not award damages. If your situation concerns both ethics and arbitration, EABOR will handle the requests separately. You may file both at the same time, however, arbitration is always held first. Only when arbitration is complete will the ethics complaint be considered.
Any complaint must be filed with The Englewood Area Board of REALTORS® within 180 days after the closing of the transaction, if any, or within 180 days after the facts and circumstances constituting the arbitrable matter could have been known in the exercise of reasonable diligence, whichever is later.
It is advised that you become familiar with the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual, as it sets forth the rules used to process complaints. The arbitration hearing tribunal may provide legal and equitable relief to the parties; it does not, however, impose disciplinary action. Also, the Board is not a governmental entity; therefore, it does not have authority to take action regarding the licensing status of its members
To file an Arbitration Complaint, read and submit the following:
About the Arbitration Complaint Process
Before You File an Ethics Complaint
Boards and associations of REALTORS® are responsible for enforcing the REALTORS® Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics imposes duties above and in addition to those imposed by law or regulation which apply only to real estate professionals who choose to become REALTORS®. Many difficulties between real estate professionals (whether REALTORS® or not) result from misunderstanding, miscommunication, or lack of adequate communication. If you have a problem with a real estate professional, you may want to speak with them or with a principal broker in the firm. Open, constructive discussion often resolves questions or differences, eliminating the need for further action.
If, after taking these steps, you still feel you have a grievance, you may want to consider filing an ethics complaint. You will want to keep in mind that:
• Only REALTORS® are subject to the Code of Ethics of the National Association of REALTORS®.
• If the real estate professional (or their broker) you are dealing with is not a REALTOR®, your only recourse may be the state real estate 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 and associations of REALTORS® can discipline REALTORS® for violating the Code of Ethics. Typical forms of discipline include attendance at courses and seminars designed to increase the REALTORS®’ understanding of the ethical duties or other responsibilities of real estate professionals. Additional examples of authorized discipline are a letter of reprimand and appropriate fines. 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.
Filing an ethics complaint
The local board or association of REALTORS® can provide you with information on the procedures for filing an ethics complaint. Here are some general principles to keep in mind:
• 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. If the Ombudsman Program is invoked, the filing deadline will be suspended until concluded.
• 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.
Before the hearing
• Once filed, your complaint will be reviewed by the 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 your complaint.
• If the Grievance Committee dismisses your complaint, it does not mean they don’t believe you. Rather, it means that they do not feel that your allegations would support a hearing panel’s conclusion that the Article(s) cited in your complaint had been violated. 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
• 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.
• Complainants have the ultimate responsibility (“burden”) of proving that 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.
• Hearing panels cannot conclude that an Article of the Code has been violated unless that Article(s) is specifically cited in the complaint.
• 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 the impartial panel members based on their reasoned assessment of all 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 invoked. 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. 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.
Ethics Inquiry & Complaint Form for the Arbitration Process
In response to your request for filing an ethics complaint, the link above attaches to Form #E-1, a copy of the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics and our publication on the process and procedures to file ethics complaints and arbitration requests.
Complete Form #E-1 linked about and name the Article(s) of the Code of Ethics you believe
have been violated, then sign the form. Attach Form #E-1 to your type written statement describing the series of events which you believe led to a possible violation of the Code of Ethics. You should include copies of any pertinent documentation to support your case. Please send us:
• Original of your complaint and documentation, plus five (5) additional copies.
The Association has no authority to award damages (actual or punitive). If you are looking for money, you must go through the courts. The Association also has no authority over licensing. If you feel the REALTOR® has violated the license law, the proper agency is the Florida Real Estate Commission, 1940 N. Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399. The phone number is (850) 487-1395 or you can go to their website at www.state.fl.us/dbpr/re/index.shtml. If your complaint involves a landlordtenant dispute, you should call (800) 435-7352. When the complaint is returned to us, it will be forwarded to the Grievance Committee for review. You will be notified of the Grievance Committee’s action on your complaint. 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 your complaint and forward it for a Professional Standards Hearing. The Grievance Committee has the authority to dismiss the complaint if the facts do not support a hearing, if it is filed outside of the time frame or if the matter does not relate to the REALTORS®’ Code of Ethics. If the Grievance Committee forwards the case on to the Professional Standards Committee for a hearing, you will be notified well in advance of the date set for the hearing.
If you have any questions, please contact Dianne Clark, Chief Executive Officer, at (941) 208-5546.
“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
~ Winston Churchill