Dear Anne: A Code Complaint? You Can Run but You Can’t Hide
A top producer facing a Code of Ethics complaint found the charge ridiculous and refused to engage with the person who filed the complaint. They also ignored the Code of Ethics hearing, the one that ruled against her. Is it OK to walk away and just sign up with another association?
ORLANDO, Fla. – Dear Anne: My local association had the audacity to find me in violation of the Code of Ethics. Really? I’m a top producer. The complaint was bogus, and I didn’t show up for the hearing or submit a response because it was a waste of my time. Still, they plowed ahead and had the hearing – but how can you have a fair hearing without hearing both sides?
Association staff then sent an email that said I had to go to an education course and pay a fine.
Again, though, why should I bother? I’m not going to pay a ridiculous and unfair fine, and there will be an empty chair if they expect me to take an education course after being in business for almost 20 years.
I now plan to join another board that, I’m sure, will gladly accept my dues dollars with open arms. I’m done with this board. – Over it
Dear Over it: I’m afraid you’re in for a rude awakening, my friend. Have you read the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) Constitution and Bylaws, Article IV – Code of Ethics, Section 2 lately? It says, and I quote:
Enforcement of the Code of Ethics also prohibits Member Boards from knowingly granting REALTOR® or REALTOR-ASSOCIATE® membership to any applicant who has an unfulfilled sanction pending which was imposed by another Board or Association of REALTORS® for violation of the Code of Ethics.
Before your new association can welcome you “with open arms,” they may ask your former association to provide them a letter of good standing, as it is often called, or check your membership records to determine if you have any unfulfilled obligations (including sanctions).
If you believe the ethics tribunal missed the boat, you have 20 days from the date the decision was transmitted to appeal even though you were a no-show.
By not exercising your right to appeal, you accepted the hearing panel’s recommendation, right or wrong.
So what happens next? Well, that’s up to you. If you’re determined to move to another association, your new association could grant you provisional membership. Provisional membership affords you the rights and privileges of full membership while you sort out your conundrum – but be assured you will not be granted full membership until you do.
You may want to read this excerpt from NAR’s model bylaws many association use regarding provisional membership:
“Provisional” membership may be granted in instances where ethics complaints or arbitration requests (or hearings) are pending in other associations or where the applicant for membership has unsatisfied discipline pending in another association (except for violations of the Code of Ethics; see Article V, Section 2(a), NOTE 2), provided all other qualifications for membership have been satisfied. Associations may reconsider the membership status of such individuals when all pending ethics and arbitration matters (and related discipline) have been resolved or if such matters are not resolved within six (6) months from the date that provisional membership is approved. Provisional members shall be considered REALTORS® and shall be subject to all of the same privileges and obligations of REALTOR® membership. If a member resigns from another association with an ethics complaint or arbitration request pending, the association may condition membership on the applicant's certification that he/she will submit to the pending ethics or arbitration proceeding (in accordance with the established procedures of the association to which the applicant has made application) and will abide by the decision of the hearing panel.
These are model policies, so it would behoove you to check with your new board to find out exactly what their bylaws say before you sign your membership application. I could go into more detail, but suffice it to say that changing boards is not the quick fix you’re looking for.
The professional standards process will not be thwarted by respondents who refuse to appear before a hearing tribunal. NAR policy gives local associations the authority to proceed in the respondent’s absence. If the respondent has an attorney, the attorney can present the case in the respondent’s absence.
All ethics decisions must be ratified by the Board of Directors before they become final. What this means is if the decision in your case has not been ratified, the complaint moves with you to your new association. It’s complicated so you may want to give them a call. However, if the decision has been ratified, you will be expected to fulfill your pending disciplinary obligations including discipline for noncompliance as a condition of membership.
If you ask me, you’re only digging your hole deeper. Maybe it’s time to toss the shovel and face the music.
Anne Cockayne is the former Director of Local Association Services for Florida Realtors
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