Filing A Complaint
Associations of REALTORS® are responsible for enforcing the
REALTORS® Code of Ethics, which imposes duties above and in
addition to those imposed by law or regulation.
Many difficulties between real estate professionals (whether
REALTORS® or not) result from misunderstandings,
miscommunication, or lack of adequate communication. If you have
a problem with a real estate professional, you may want to speak
with them or with a principal broker in the firm. Open,
constructive discussion often resolves questions or differences,
eliminating the need for further action.
If, after discussing matters with your real estate professional
or a principal broker in that firm, you are still not satisfied,
you may want to contact the association of REALTORS®.
• Only REALTORS® are subject to the code of ethics of the
National Association of REALTORS®.
• If the real estate professional (or their broker) you are
dealing with is not a REALTOR®, your only recourse may be the
Texas Real Estate Commission (real estate licensing entity) at
800/250-8732, or the courts.
• Associations of REALTORS® determine whether the REALTORS® Code
of Ethics has been violated, not whether the law or real estate
regulations have been broken. Those decisions can only be made
by the Texas Real Estate Commission or the courts.
• Association of REALTORS® can discipline REALTORS® for
violating the code of ethics. Typical forms of discipline
include attendance at courses and seminars designed to increase
REALTORS®’ understanding of their ethical duties or other
responsibilities of real estate professionals. REALTORS® may
also be reprimanded, fined, or their membership can be suspended
or terminated for serious or repeated violations. Associations
of REALTORS® cannot require REALTORS® to pay money to parties
filing ethics complaints, cannot award punitive damages for
violations of the code of ethics, and cannot suspend or revoke a
real estate professional’s license.
• The primary emphasis of discipline for ethical lapses is
educational—to create a heightened awareness of and appreciation
for the duties the code imposes. At the same time, more severe
forms of discipline, including fines, suspension, and
termination of membership may be imposed for serious or repeated
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Filing an ethics complaint
Board of REALTORS® or Texas Association of REALTORS® can provide
you with information on the procedures for filing an ethics
complaint. Here are some good general principles to keep in
• Ethics complaints must be filed with the association of
REALTORS® within 180 days from the time a complainant knew (or
reasonably should have known) that potentially unethical conduct
• The REALTORS® Code of Ethics consists of 17 articles. The
duties imposed by many of the articles are explained and
illustrated through accompanying standards of practice or case
• Your complaint should include a narrative description of the
circumstances that lead you to believe the code of ethics may
have been violated.
• Your complaint must cite one or more of the articles of the
code of ethics that may have been violated. Hearing panels
decide whether the articles expressly cited in complaints were
violated—not whether standards of practice or case
interpretations were violated.
• A member of the professional standards committee may be
appointed to provide assistance in preparing a complaint in
proper form and with proper content.
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Before the hearing
• Your complaint
will be reviewed by a tribunal of the professional standards
committee, which may also be referred to as the grievance
committee. The tribunal’s job is to review complaints to
determine if the allegations made, if taken as true, might
support a violation of the code of ethics article(s) cited in
• If the grievance committee dismissed your complaint, it does
not mean they don’t believe you. Rather, it means they don’t
believe your allegations would support a hearing panel’s
conclusion that the article(s) cited in your complaint had been
violated. You may want to review your complaint to see if you
cited an article appropriate to your allegations.
• If the grievance committee forwards your complaint for
hearing, that does not mean they have decided the code of ethics
has been violated. Rather, it means they feel that if what you
allege in your complaint is found to have occurred by the
hearing panel, that panel may have reason to find that a
violation of the code of ethics occurred.
• If your complaint is dismissed as not requiring a hearing, you
can appeal that dismissal to a panel of the Texas Association of
REALTORS® Professional Standards Committee.
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Preparing for the hearing
yourself with the hearing procedures. In particular you will
want to know about challenging potential panel members, your
right to counsel, calling witnesses, and the burdens and
standards of proof that apply.
• Complainants have the ultimate responsibility (“burden”) of
proving that the code of ethics has been violated. The standard
of proof that must be met is “clear, strong, and convincing”
defined as “… that measure or degree of proof that will produce
a firm belief or conviction as to the allegations sought to be
established.” Consistent with American jurisprudence,
respondents are considered innocent unless proven to have
violated the code of ethics.
• Be sure that your witnesses and counsel will be available on
the day of the hearing. Continuances are a privilege—not a
• Be sure you have all the documents and other evidence you need
to present your case.
• Organize your presentation in advance. Know what you are going
to say and be prepared to demonstrate what happened and how you
believe the code of ethics was violated.
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• Appreciate that
panel members are unpaid volunteers giving their time as an act
of public service. Their objective is to be fair, unbiased, and
impartial—to determine, based on the evidence and testimony
presented to them, what actually occurred; and then to determine
whether the facts as they find them support a finding that the
article(s) charged have been violated.
• Hearing panels cannot conclude that an article of the code has
been violated unless that article(s) is specifically cited in
• Keep your presentation concise, factual, and to the point.
Your task is to demonstrate what happened (or what should have
happened but didn’t), and how the facts support a violation of
the article(s) charged in the complaint.
• Hearing panels base their decisions on the evidence and
testimony presented during the hearing. If you have information
relevant to the issue(s) under consideration, be sure to bring
it up during your presentation.
• Recognize that different people can witness the same event and
have differing recollections about what they saw. The fact that
a respondent or their witness recalls things differently doesn’t
mean they aren’t telling the truth as they recall events. It is
up to the hearing panel, in the findings of fact that will be
part of their decision, to determine what actually happened.
• The hearing panel will pay careful attention to what you say
and how you say it. An implausible account doesn’t become more
believable through repetition or through volume.
• You are involved in an adversarial process that is, to some
degree, unavoidably confrontational. Many violations of the code
of ethics result from misunderstanding or lack of awareness of
ethical duties by otherwise well-meaning, responsible real
estate professionals. An ethics complaint has potential to be
viewed as an attack on a respondent’s integrity and
professionalism. For the enforcement process to function
properly, it is imperative for all parties, witnesses, and panel
members to maintain appropriate decorum.
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After the hearing
• When you
receive the hearing panel’s decision, review it carefully.
• Findings of fact are the conclusions of impartial panel
members based on their reasoned assessment of all of the
evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. Findings of
fact are not appealable.
• If you believe the hearing process was seriously flawed to the
extent you were denied a full and fair hearing, there are
appellant procedures that can be involved. The fact that a
hearing panel found no violation is not appealable.
• Refer to the procedures used by the association of REALTORS®
for detailed information on the bases and time limits for
appealing decisions or requesting a rehearing.
• Rehearings are generally granted only when newly discovered
evidence comes to light that could not reasonably have been
discovered and produced at the original hearing and that might
have had a bearing on the hearing panel’s decision.
• Appeals brought by ethics respondents must be based on a
perceived misapplication or misinterpretation of one or more
articles of the code of ethics; a procedural deficiency or
failure of due process; or the nature or gravity of the
discipline proposed by the hearing panel. Appeals brought by
ethics complainants are limited to procedural deficiencies or
failures of due process that may have prevented a full and fair
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• Many ethics
complaints result from misunderstandings or a failure in
communication. Before filing an ethics complaint, make
reasonable efforts to communicate with your real estate
professional or a principle broker in the firm. If these efforts
are not fruitful, you may want to use the procedures and forms,
many of which are explained and available on this site, to file
an ethics complaint.