Q: Can I file an ethics complaint against a company or a brokerage if their business practices appear to be in violation of the Realtor® Code of Ethics?
A: It is important to remember there is a distinction between the actions of a company or a brokerage versus those of a Realtor®. The Code of Ethics speaks only to the commitments made by Realtors® to conduct their business in accordance with the Code’s obligations. Ethics complaints filed at Realtor® Associations must name individual Realtor® respondents, and complaints which only name a brokerage will not be considered properly filed.
Q: Can I file the ethics complaint against the principal broker instead because they are a representative of the brokerage?
A: Yes, assuming the principal broker is a Realtor®, you can file against a firm’s principal broker. However, the complainant still has the burden of proof that the principal broker was responsible for the alleged unethical behavior. Imagine that a hearing has been convened to consider allegations that the principal broker is in violation of Article 16 based upon the business practices of the brokerage. A hearing panel would first consider if the alleged behavior was committed by the Respondent AND if the alleged violation shows a practice and/or action inconsistent with exclusive representation or exclusive broker relationship agreements that another Realtor® has with their client. Remember, Article 16 speaks specifically to the actions of Realtors® and their “efforts to induce the break of an existing contract.” If the panel determines that the named respondent is not directly responsible for such an effort, they will vote to dismiss the allegations.
Q: Are Realtors® protected from individual responsibility if their actions are found to be unethical, so long as their actions are in accordance with their brokerage’s policy?
A: Absolutely not. Continuing with our Article 16 example, if a complainant can show that a Realtor® directly interfered with a representation agreement (i.e. if the respondent induced the complainant’s client to terminate the agreement by providing them with the information and means to do so) a hearing panel could find the respondent in violation of Article 16.
As with any complaint received by a Realtor® Association, the ultimate decision made by a hearing panel depends entirely on the specific facts of a case. NVAR and its Professional Standards hearing panels are charged with remaining within the scope of the Code of Ethics and the procedures mandated by the National Association of Realtors®. Article 16, SOP 1, states “Article 16 is not intended to prohibit aggressive or innovate business practices which are otherwise ethical…”
While we are speaking of the Code as it is currently written, it is important to note that it is a living document. Amendments are considered by NAR’s Professional Standards Committee every year as it must adapt to new technology and business practices to maintain the ethical standards for which Realtors® are so respected.