The Williamson County Association of REALTORS® is responsible for enforcing the REALTORS® Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics imposes duties above and in addition to those imposed by law or regulation which apply only to real estate professionals who choose to become REALTORS®.
Many difficulties between real estate professionals (whether REALTORS® or not) result from misunderstanding, 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 firms, you are still not satisfied and feel you have a grievance, you may want to consider filing an ethics complaint. Please keep the following in mind when filing an ethics complaint:
- Only REALTORS® and REALTOR-ASSOCIATES® 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 state real estate licensing authority or the courts.
- Boards and associations of REALTORS® determine whether the Code of Ethics has been violated, not whether the law or real estate regulations have been broken. The licensing authorities or the courts can only make those decisions.
- Boards 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 the ethical duties or other responsibilities of real estate professionals. REALTORS® may also be reprimanded, fined, or their membership suspended or terminated for serious or repeated violations. Boards and 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 and suspension and termination of membership may be imposed for serious repeated violations.
FAQs about Ethics Complaints
Is there a statute of limitations for filing ethics complaints?
Yes. The time period is 180 days from the time that you could have known, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, the facts giving rise to your complaint.
How do I know whether to file an ethics complaint or to request arbitration?
Generally, ethics complaints are filed about behavior; arbitration is requested when there is a dispute over a monetary transaction (e.g. commissions).
Can I file an arbitration request and an ethics complaint at the same time?
Yes. Both case types can be filed at the same time. If the Grievance Committee determines that both cases warrant hearings, the arbitration hearing will be held first.
I'd like to file a complaint, but what about confidentiality?
All ethics complaints are kept strictly confidential. Only the association’s Executive Vice President is involved in the administration of cases, members of the Grievance Committee and the Professional Standards Committee members assigned to the hearing panel will have access to ethics complaints.
Is there a special form I should use when filing an ethics complaint?
File an ethics complaint using an Ethics Form, available from the Williamson County Association of REALTORS®. This form must be accompanied by your typewritten narrative or chronological summary describing the events that occurred.
Where do I submit the ethics complaint?
Submit your complaint via regular mail to the Williamson County Association of REALTORS®, 1646 Westgate Circle, Suite 104, Brentwood, TN 37027.
Will the person who I'm filing against be notified of my complaint?
Yes. If after its review the Grievance Committee determines a hearing is warranted, the respondent and their broker are notified of the Committee's decision.
How do I know which Article of the Code of Ethics to name in my complaint?
The Code of Ethics is supported by Standards of Practice, which can help explain the types of behavior covered by each Article.
Do I name the Article, or the Standard of Practice, in my complaint?
Ethics complaints should be filed based on alleged violation of specific Articles of Code of Ethics. You may, however, identify appropriate Standards of Practice in support of your complaint.
What if the respondent is not a member of WCAR?
Ethics complaints are filed with the local association or board where the responding party holds membership.
Who establishes the rules that WCAR follows in handling ethics complaints?
The Williamson County Association of REALTORS® is required to follow the guidelines and procedures outlined in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual of the National Association of REALTORS®.
How long does the process take?
If an ethics complaint goes to a hearing, the process may take 2-3 months. This is because of the time that must be allowed, review by the Grievance Committee, proper notification, and scheduling of the hearing.
What happens if a REALTOR is found in violation of the Code of Ethics?
If the hearing panel finds a member to be in violation of the Code of Ethics (PDF), they may recommend that the Board of Directors impose disciplinary sanctions. Each case provides the Hearing Panel's decision based on the facts and the rationale for the decision but does not specify a specific sanction or discipline to be imposed. There are two reasons for this.
- Any sanction imposed must always fit the offense and must involve every consideration of justice, equity, and propriety.
- A Hearing Panel may base its recommendation for discipline on a Member's past record of ethics violations.
The Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual establishes that a Member Board/Association may utilize a wide range of sanctions for ethics violations. These sanctions include:
- Letter of Warning with a copy to be placed in Member's file;
- Letter of Reprimand with a copy to be placed in Member's file;
- Requirement that Member attend the ethics portion of the association Indoctrination Course or other appropriate course or seminar specified by the Hearing Panel, which the respondent could reasonably attend taking into consideration cost, location, and duration;
- $500 Administrative Hearing Fee
- Appropriate and reasonable fine not to exceed $15,000;
- Member placed on probation for a stated period of time not less than thirty (30) days but no more than one (1) year;
- Membership of individual suspended for a stated period not to exceed one (1) year, with automatic reinstatement of membership in good standing at the end of the specified period of suspension (decision should be written clearly articulating all intended consequences, including denial of MLS participatory or access privileges).