Andrew Wetzel's Musings

June 6, 2017

Filing an Ethics Complaint Explained! Part 2.

Filed under: Uncategorized — awetzel @ 5:34 PM

Something happened.  It may or may not have involved you directly; you may or may not have felt comfortable looking into it on your own; you want to do something!  There are several options to pursue but let’s focus on filing a formal complaint or grievance.

The process starts with your contacting an Association administrator who sends you paperwork.  Whatever the communication with them, you get the paperwork and decide whether to move forward with the process of filing a formal complaint.  As I mentioned above, whatever happened may not have happened to you and that is fine but you should, respectfully, keep in mind that you will need to prove that a violation of the Code of Ethics took place.  Otherwise, the process may well move forward but not reach the conclusion you expect.

The “complaint” should relate what happened (the complaint is the only reference for the Grievance Committee to consider) as well as which specific articles of the Code of Ethics the complainant feels were violated.  While the panel may add or remove articles based on what is presented, it serves no purpose to cite more articles than those that are relevant.

Complaints are screened by an administrator before moving on.  In addition to making sure a complaint is complete, the administrator needs to verify the timeliness of the filing.  Complaints, generally speaking, must be filed within 180 calendar days of the complainant knowing or when they should have known that a possible violation of the Code of Ethics occurred.  If the complaint involves a sale in process, the sale is allowed to conclude to avoid interfering with the process.  The administrator will provide the details of the process.  The rules are contained in a rather large binder well beyond the scope of these posts.

Once a complaint is received, a Grievance Panel is created consisting of 5 members.  One of them is the Chairperson who runs the meeting which may involve reviewing more than one complaint.  To avoid any potential conflict of interest, panel members are screened to avoid having anyone hear a complaint that is affiliated with any Real Estate office involved.  In addition, the names of the people and firm(s) involved are not revealed to the panel members.  The panel is assigned a simple task:  each member is given a copy of the complaint, asked to read it, asked to assume it is true (unless there is an obvious detail showing the complaint does not involve a question of ethics) and then, vote on one question:  if the complaint is true, is it possible that a violation of the Code of Ethics took place?  If a majority votes “NO”, the process stops and the decision is referred to the Board of Directors who may see things differently.  The complainant also has a right to appeal.  If the panel votes “YES”, the complaint is moved forward to a full hearing panel to allow both sides to present their side of what happened and ultimately determine whether there was a violation or not.

I served several years on our Grievance Committee including time as a Co-Chairperson.  During that time a number of complaints were dismissed because they were not filed in a timely manner, some did not show that a possible violation occurred and many raised questions which we were not in a position to answer.  The panel’s job is NOT to “try the case” but only to react to what is written.  Panel members are not allowed to be involved in the formal hearing and we are never told the outcome.  Each case is considered on its own merits.

In my experience, most complaints that are moved forward did so based on votes of 4 to 1 or 5 to 0.  While there may be some discussion about the complaint (opinions may change as a result) and which articles were cited from the Code of Ethic, there are not many 3 to 2 decisions.  Most panels I have served on were unified.  That being said, while you do not want to waste anyone’s time, it may be preferable to move a complaint forward so that it can be fully considered rather than having it appear that we protect our own.  In fact, a primary reason for our Professional Standards process is to “police ourselves”.  Who should know better whether a Realtor complied with our Code of Ethics than volunteers trained in ethics?

The actual process may vary between Associations so, if anyone in another area sees this post, they need to familiarize themselves with their local process although the major components will be the same.  We have ONE Code of Ethics although some “practices” may vary depending on location.

I will discuss the Hearing Panel next.



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