Giving It Teeth

It’s up to state and local boards to make sure members adhere to the Code.

March 18, 2015

The REALTORS® Code of Ethics sets clear professional standards for the real estate industry, but how are its principles enforced? Local and state REALTOR® associations are primarily responsible for making sure members adhere to the Code, and some have developed distinctive methods for addressing infractions. Here are three approaches to Code enforcement.

Making Education a Priority

The Northeast Florida Association of REALTORS® monitors ethics training closely. Members who haven’t completed Code of Ethics course requirements within a designated period receive notifications from the association six months before the deadline. Two months from the deadline, brokers are sent lists of licensees at their firm who haven’t completed COE requirements. Once the deadline passes, members who haven’t met requirements are immediately suspended from the association, and all their member services are terminated. They’re given one more chance to complete COE requirements, and if they do, they are reinstated, says NEFAR communications director Melanie Green.

Streamlining Complaints

Several associations, including the Illinois Association of REALTORS®, have introduced an Ethics Citation Program, which gives members an easier, faster way to file ethics complaints. On IAR’s website, complainants can fill out a form, upload documented evidence of a violation, and submit their complaint online. The program is meant to encourage more members to file complaints and to resolve them more quickly, explains Matt Difanis, IAR’s 2014 chairman of Government Affairs and Public Policy Member Involvement Group. The citation initiative is limited to certain Articles in the Code that lend themselves to prima facie evidence—evidence that alone would prove a violation. An ethics citation panel reviews each complaint, and if a violation is substantiated by the evidence, the respondent receives a copy of the complaint and a fine. The respondent maintains the option to request a full hearing on the complaint’s merits.

No Running From Sanctions

Ethics violators will have a much harder time dodging complaints in California. REALTORS® in the Golden State often belong to two or more local associations, but the boards haven’t necessarily communicated with one another when a member has been sanctioned or suspended. That has allowed a member suspended by one board to continue receiving benefits from others. Under a California Association of REALTORS® pilot program, launched in March 2012, a member’s suspension by one local association for failure to comply with sanctions takes effect statewide after a CAR review. That means that a REALTOR® loses membership status with all associations in the state and cannot reapply to any of them until the matter is resolved, says CAR General Counsel June Barlow. To date, no member has received a statewide suspension.

Graham Wood
Executive Editor of Digital Media

Graham Wood is Executive Editor of Digital Media for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at