Although some brokers feared an avalanche of ethics complaints after the National Association of Realtors adopted a new policy against hate speech in November, those fears do not appear to have materialized so far.
It has been three months since the NAR Board of Directors adopted controversial changes to its professional standards to combat racist and discriminatory speech and behavior.
The changes, which went into effect immediately on November 13th and are not retroactive, apply to all activities of a broker, not just real estate, under NAR’s Code of Ethics and Conduct. Prohibit hatred and harassment from speaking against protected classes; Prohibit all discrimination, not just willful discrimination, of protected classes; and recommend that violations of ethics be included in the criteria for qualifying for membership.
One of the approved guidelines, Standard of Practice 10-5, reads as follows: “Brokers must not use harassing speech, hate speech, epithet or insult based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, marital status or nationality, origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. “
Ethical complaints are usually handled by local or state broker associations. As a result, NAR has no national picture of how many 10-5 complaints have been filed, NAR staff told attendees at the fifth of six monthly training webinars the 1.4 million-member trade group is hosting in the wake of ethical change.
“We know cases have been filed across the country,” NAR staffer Diane Mosley told attendees. “We haven’t seen a flood of those and I’ll leave it at that.”
In a statement sent via email, NAR spokesman Wes Shaw Inman said that NAR has not officially tracked the number of ethical complaints filed with broker associations. NAR declined to comment on how many complaints have been made under the November changes, what results they have had so far, whether the complaints are social media posts and what protected classes they are.
“We have received anecdotal attention to a few situations, but these processes remain confidential,” Shaw said.
During the webinar, NAR staff and members of the Professional Standards Committee emphasized that complaints about the ethics of real estate agents and their outcomes must be treated confidentially in accordance with NAR rules.
More will follow in May
It is possible that no further complaints have been filed as brokers are still not entirely sure how to apply the ethical changes. For example, during the webinar, one participant asked who should be reported hate speech: the agent’s local association or NAR? The local association, said NAR staff member Kate Lawton.
According to Shaw, NAR is currently in the process of adding the ethics changes to its online ethics training in November. These will be completed within the next 4 to 6 weeks, according to Shaw.
Many members are excited to hear the case interpretations NAR has promised to aid ethics hearing panels in applying 10-5 and assessing complaints. Until now, NAR has been reluctant to respond to members’ questions about specific circumstances that may or may not violate the new guidelines, such as: For example, whether the use of the term “white privilege” or the display of a bumper sticker with the Confederate flag could be viewed as hate speech.
“NAR cannot definitively state what violations of Article 10 would or would not constitute within the meaning of Standard of Practice 10-5, as it is the privilege and responsibility of hearing bodies at local associations that sit in reviewing an ethics complaint,” said NAR spokesman Mantill Williams told Inman in November.
“The only exception would be that the NAR Professional Standards Committee would from time to time approve case interpretations that provide certain factual circumstances and then determine whether or not the conduct constitutes a violation of the Code of Ethics.”
The trading group expects its Professional Standards Committee to consider case interpretations in May which, if approved by the committee, will take effect immediately and will not require approval by the NAR Board of Directors.
The association does not yet know how many case interpretations will be voted on as the committee’s Interpretations and Procedures Board has not yet finalized the cases to be presented to the full committee, Shaw said.
According to Shaw, NAR does not yet know if other ethical changes will be up for vote by the NAR Board of Directors at the trading group’s semi-annual conference in May, the Realtors Legislative Meetings.
“[T]The committee’s agenda is currently undefined and the Interpretations and Procedures Advisory Board has not yet finalized its recommendations to the full committee, ”he said.
Filed a complaint in New York
A webinar attendee, Lance Evans, executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors in New York, said he recently received his first 10-5 complaint.
Evans, who was subsequently reached by email, declined to provide any information on the complaint himself, e.g. B. whether it was a social media post or which protected class it was for reasons of confidentiality.
“The complaint was filed last week and alleges a violation of Standard of Practice 10-5,” Evans told Inman. “The Appeals Committee has not yet met on the complaint.”
During the webinar, Evans asked if the local association should provide Annex XII of the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual to its Appeals Committee when discussing a 10-5 case – an idea supported by NAR staff. The annex was added in November to provide guidance on how to interpret the new guidelines.
“Although the Standard is only a few months old because it is only a few months old, I think it will also help the Appeals Committee,” said Evans. “It is a good guide, especially since this is a new SOP and no experience has been built for it.”
Overall, Evans said he felt that NAR had given associations many resources to deal with such complaints, including Tuesday’s webinar.
“All webinars are archived online and the NAR staff are very quick to respond when we get in touch,” he said.
Violate the public’s trust
NAR declined to comment on whether any of the complaints so far resulted in a breach of public trust, which was the subject of Tuesday’s webinar.
One of the changes made in November requires affiliates “to share final ethical decisions with the state property licensing authority in certain instances where brokers violate the Code of Ethics with real estate related activities and transactions where there is reason to believe that public trust has been violated. “
While a change in November allowed NAR’s Code of Ethics to apply to all agent activities, not just real estate, reporting to a state licensing agency is limited to breaches of public trust.
Also in November, the definition of “public trust” was broadened to include any discrimination, not just willful discrimination, of the protected classes under Article 10 of the Code of Ethics, and any fraud, not just fraud, that causes significant economic damage.
The deletion of “willful” has brought the definition of public trust in line with Article 10 of the Code, which prohibits denial of equal professional service to persons in the above protected classes and, according to Leigh York, does not state that discrimination must be deliberate. 2020 Chairman of the Advisory Board on Interpretation and Procedure of the NAR Professional Standards Committee.
“But even if you think about it a little further, you know, when I’m in the parking lot and you run me over with your pickup and it was an accident, I’m not less injured just because it was an accident, right? ” She said.
“So ‘wanton’ just didn’t seem appropriate.”
An association’s board of directors, according to Mosley, decides whether there is an obligation to report a particular violation of ethics to the state licensing authority. Associations can, but don’t have to, refer public trust violations to other government agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, York said.
Email Andrea V. Brambila.
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