NAR Board to Vote on Hate Speech Proposal

November 5, 2020

With an eye toward strengthening REALTORS®’ commitment to upholding fair housing ideals, the National Association of REALTORS®’ Professional Standards Committee put forward a set of recommendations in a special meeting last month that would extend the application of Article 10 of the Code, which prohibits discrimination in professional services and employment practices, to discriminatory speech and conduct. The Committee’s proposal also expands application of the Code of Ethics to all of a REALTOR®’s activities and revises the definition of “public trust.” NAR’s Board of Directors will vote on the measure at its Nov. 13 meeting, part of the 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo, which is taking place now through Nov. 18.

Speaking Monday at the Professional Standards Committee’s meeting, which was open for observation by all members, Committee Chair Matt Difanis explained both the origins of the proposal and the moral imperative felt by the committee.

The recommendations came after months of deliberation by the committee and its Interpretations and Procedures Advisory Board. Discussions started in the wake of nationwide social unrest after the death of George Floyd and after local, state, and national REALTOR® associations fielded an “unprecedented” number of complaints about members posting hate speech on social media. Ultimately, almost 100 members of the committee passed the recommendations overwhelmingly.

“We have this amazing ad campaign that says ‘That’s Who We R,’ ” Difanis said, which includes being leaders and role models in the community, “and this is who we need to be.”

The recommendations propose a new Standard of Practice, 10-5, that states: “REALTORS® must not use harassing speech, hate speech, epithets, or slurs based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” The recommendations also include detailed guidance to help professional standards hearing panels apply the proposed standard.

Additionally, the recommendations propose changes to professional standards policy to expand the Code of Ethics’ applicability to all of a REALTOR®’s activities, not just those that are real estate–related.

Finally, the Committee’s recommendations also include a revision to the definition of “public trust.” This recommendation would expand the definition to include all discrimination against the protected classes under Article 10 and all fraud. As a result, associations would be required to share with the state real estate licensing authority final ethics decisions holding REALTORS® in violation of the Code of Ethics in instances where there is reason to believe the public trust, as expanded by the proposed revision, may have been violated. This is recommended so the real estate licensing authority, and other governmental agencies as recommended by the association, are made aware of any findings of a violation of the Code of Ethics involving discrimination.

Since passing the recommendations in October, committee members have engaged in extensive open dialogue with other association members on the Hub, NAR’s online community for governance work. Many members have expressed support for the recommendations; others have expressed concerns and asked questions, which have been addressed. The committee carefully considered these concerns, Difanis assured, and addressed them and other issues in a set of FAQs that is accessible to all members.

Bruce Aydt, a St. Louis broker and attorney who served on the advisory board that drafted the recommendations and who writes about the Code of Ethics for REALTOR® Magazine, added that the proposal has gone through three levels of legal review, both internally at NAR and externally.

Central to the advisory board’s deliberations was the discussion of what does and does not qualify as hate speech. “We’re not talking about political statements of support on one side of an issue or another,” Aydt said at Monday’s meeting. “It’s about statements that can reasonably be considered offensive or intimidating” toward one of the protected classes included in Article 10.

To those who have said the relatively small volume of complaints doesn’t warrant such a major action, Difanis did not equivocate. “How many instances of dehumanizing behavior by REALTORS® have to happen before you do something about it?” Learn more about the Professional Standards Committee’s proposal at nar.realtor.