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Filing Ethics Complaints and Arbitration Requests
Ashland Board of REALTORS®
The National Association of REALTORS® adopted its Code of Ethics in 1913. Since then, REALTORS® everywhere have pledged to meet its high professional standards upon becoming members of the Board.
The professional standards process plays a very important role in our Board. It helps ensure honorable, faithful and competent service to our members' clients, customers and other members of the public by enforcing the Code of Ethics.
The Ashland of REALTORS® has prepared this brochure to help you understand the professional standards process. This brochure summarizes portions of a more detailed procedures manual which is updated yearly by the National Association. To the extent this brochure conflicts with that manual and any of its subsequent revisions, the Association must follow the requirements of the National Association's Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual.
Is your complaint against a REALTOR®?
Not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. Only those who belong to their local Board/Association of REALTORS® and have agreed, as a continuing condition of membership, to abide by a strict, enforceable Code of Ethics may use the term REALTOR®. It is because of this obligation that you can file a complaint with a Local Board/Association of REALTORS.
Any Local Board/Association of REALTORS® will assist you in determining whether the agent involved is a current, active REALTOR® member or was a REALTOR® at the time of the alleged violation.
Does it concern Ethics or Arbitration?
You should determine whether this is an ethics matter or an arbitration of a business dispute, or both.
Ethics: In an ethics complaint, you are alleging that a REALTOR® violated one or more of the 17 Articles of the Code of Ethics.
Arbitration: Arbitration is the process for resolving a contractual business dispute growing out of a real estate transaction that the parties have been unable to solve themselves.
An arbitration request usually involves one REALTOR® Principal in disagreement with another REALTOR®P Principal in another firm over distribution of a commission. However, REALTORS® are obligated to arbitrate with a member of the public if that person is their client. In real estate, the "client" is usually the seller, but could be the buyer if the broker was under a separate contract to represent the buyer as a buyer's broker. All other instances require both sides to voluntarily agree to arbitrate.
If your situation concerns both ethics and arbitration, the Board will handle the arbitration first. The ethics complaint, if filed, is considered after final judgement is rendered in the arbitration.
What powers does the Board have?
Who may file an Ethics complaint?
Anyone can file an ethics complaint. However, the complaint must:
A complaint must be filed with the Board having jurisdiction over the individual named in the complaint. Each Local Board/Association has jurisdiction only over its REALTOR® members and/or those REALTORS® and non-members who are participants and subscribers to the Boards/Association Multiple Listing Service.
How do you file an Ethics complaint?
Follow these steps:
NOTE: A Standard of Practice may be cited only in support for the Article being charged. Standards are not an integral part of the Code, but rather are used to clarify the ethical obligations imposed by the Articles.
Who may file an Arbitration request?
The following individuals may request arbitration:
NOTE: REALTORS® are obligated by the Code of Ethics to arbitrate with their clients and other REALTORS®, but must voluntarily agree to arbitrate with customers. Again, members of the public wishing to arbitrate with a REALTOR® member must agree in writing in advance to be bound by the decision of the hearing panel. Ohio courts recognize the REALTOR® arbitration process as being both fair and affording due process. Therefore, the courts generally agree that it is binding upon those who agree to it and will enforce an arbitration award through a declaratory judgement if necessary.
Arbitration and arbitration facilities are a service to members of a Board/Association of REALTORS. Arbitration is not a disciplinary proceeding, nor does it award punitive damages. By becoming and remaining a member of an Board, each REALTOR® binds himself to arbitrate certain types of disputes.
How are Ethics and Arbitration cases processed?
The Grievance Committee and the Professional Standards Committee handle these matters. Their functions are described below:
Role of the Grievance Committee
Ethics: Once the written complaint and reply from the Respondent(s) have been received, the Committee then conducts its review to determine whether the complaint has sufficient merit to be referred for a Professional Standards hearing, somewhat like a grand jury.
The Grievance Committee does not determine guilt or innocence. Its options are:
If your complaint is dismissed, you have the right to appeal the dismissal to the Board of Directors. In an appeal, the Directors may examine only those materials submitted to the Grievance Committee and can either uphold or overturn the Committee's decision. The Board will provide further details should it be necessary.
If the complaint is worthy of further consideration, it will be forwarded to the Professional Standards Committee and a hearing will be scheduled.
Arbitration: The Committee's role in arbitration is different from ethics complaints. Its only duty is to determine if the matter is subject to arbitration by the Board, i.e. an "arbitrable matter." Depending on the circumstances, not every situation may be arbitrated by the Board. Conditions and limitations exist which you must consider. The Board will explain these as the process continues.
How do you file an Arbitration Request?
Follow these steps:
NOTE: In an arbitration, the state association retains both parties' deposits in order to defray the administrative expenses in processing the request..
Arbitration is sometimes a duty and sometimes a privilege for REALTORS®. The Committee must determine whether your situation fits into the duty or privilege category. It does this by determining:
Such a review could result in the release of Board members from their obligation to arbitrate, and thus free you to seek other avenues in resolving your dispute.
Mediation: If the Grievance Committee determines that a matter is arbitrable, it may notify the parties that an informal mediation procedure is also available as a preliminary, voluntary alternative to arbitration. Mediation is a means of helping people negotiate a settlement of a dispute. No binding decision or award is made except by the mutual agreement of the parties. Many arbitration cases are settled at this stage.
In either ethics or arbitration cases, you will be promptly informed of the Grievance Committee's decision.
As with ethics complaints, you may also appeal a dismissal of an arbitration request to the Board’s Board of Directors. The Directors review the materials submitted to the committee and can uphold or overturn the committee's dismissal. The Board will provide you with further details should they become necessary.
Role of the Professional Standards Committee
This committee's function is to hold ethics and arbitration hearings. Hearings provide an opportunity for the Complainant and Respondent to explain their sides of the story by presenting testimony, evidence and witnesses, if any. The principal parties to a hearing are notified at least 21 days in advance of the date, time and place for a hearing.
Once all the facts have been presented, the Hearing Panel, composed of 3 or 5 trained members of the Board selected on the basis of their experience, temperament, impartiality, and objectivity, will determine whether the Code of Ethics has been violated or, in an arbitration, how the dispute should be resolved.
Naturally, all parties are informed about each step of the process as it occurs. You will also be given instructions about the hearing procedures prior to the hearing.
Role of the Board Staff
Throughout the ethics or arbitration processes, the Board’s paid professional staff is responsible for maintaining the confidential case files and ensuring that the paperwork, notifications, correspondence, and other administrative work flows smoothly.
Members of the Board staff are not licensed real estate practitioners, nor are they allowed to dispense legal advice or otherwise advise or counsel you on your case. Therefore, you should not attempt to discuss the allegations, facts or particulars of your case with them. Of course, should you have questions regarding the basic steps or other information regarding the ethics or arbitration processes, the staff will be pleased to provide that information promptly.
A Final Word
The entire ethics or arbitration process usually takes a minimum of 70 to 90 days, but may take longer. Please remember that the overriding principle governing either type of case is the assurance of due process to all parties.
In an ethics complaint, a REALTOR® 's personal and professional reputation can be at stake. Our Grievance Committee members are specially trained to ensure that a complete, impartial review is conducted so that all the relevant facts are revealed before their decision is reached to dismiss or forward the case. Likewise, Professional Standards Committee members have usually served on the Grievance Committee for one or more years and are specially selected by the Board’s president for their knowledge, ability to equitably and fairly listen to the facts, and render a fair decision based on the testimony and evidence presented concerning possible violations of the Code of Ethics. They are especially trained to assure that all parties are afforded "due process."
In an arbitration proceeding, the investigators and hearing panels are very aware that the ultimate decision may cause one of the parties to pay a sizeable amount to the other.
Remember, too, that the individuals conducting the review and hearings are dedicated volunteer REALTOR® members with busy, active real estate careers.
You can assist in the speedy resolution of your case by making sure that any requests for additional information by the Board are answered promptly, by meeting the deadline dates given for all steps in the process, and by committing the time necessary should a hearing be required.
If you have any procedural questions regarding filing a complaint, please call the Ashland Board of REALTORS®, at 419-281-2700.