A New Era of Virtual Hearings for Pro Standards Enforcement

May 7, 2020

Just as real estate activity is proceeding in accordance with state and local guidelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, so has enforcement of the REALTORS® Code of Ethics by local and state associations. At Wednesday’s Professional Standards Forum during the virtual 2020 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings, two association staffers involved in conducting arbitration and ethics hearings in Arizona and Minnesota discussed their transition to a fully online adjudication process.

Both speakers reported little resistance from parties adapting to the web-based video hearings and said some seem to prefer the remote system over in-person sessions. “We have found that some people are less nervous and are better able to explain their position without animosity,” said Tonya Deskins, vice president of member services at West and SouthEast REALTORS® of the Valley in Arizona.

And hearing participants generally prefer the timely and efficient handling of their cases now, rather than waiting for an unspecified date in the future when office proceedings can resume. “We handle more than 100 cases per year. Since our state’s restrictions went into place, we've been quick to adapt our process for handling these cases,” Deskins added. “Panel members and the parties involved have embraced this opportunity.” She said the association has conducted eight hearings on Zoom during the past month.

Anne Kealing, associate legal counsel at Minnesota REALTORS®, said the state association has conducted 11 hearings via Zoom since March 18. Kealing has handled seven of them personally.  “The due process and timeliness afforded by Zoom has been beneficial,” she said. “Because of the backlog of cases that would accumulate, it would be tough to catch up” after waiting for offices to reopen, she said. “It may be a while until we can do in-person hearings.”

Kealing and Deskins said they conduct practice runs so all those involved in the proceedings are comfortable with the technology. “We had Zoom before [the pandemic] as an option. But people are embracing the video aspect now,” Kealing said.

Successful virtual hearings require that participants have a quiet and secluded place to work from to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of the parties involved. Deskins said her association uses Zoom’s waiting room feature to keep parties, their counsel, and witnesses gathered until they are needed to appear. They also use Zoom’s breakout rooms for parties to have private discussions with their legal counsel and brokers.

Virtual hearings have proven cost-effective for associations, both speakers said. “We pay our [panel] volunteers mileage when they come in for in-person hearings. And there’s no need to pay mileage now,” said Kealing. Deskins noted that her association does not pay volunteers' mileage, but they are saving on food and staff expenses associated with hearings in the office.