Ethics complaints filed at the Arizona Association of REALTORS® (“AAR”) and forwarded by the Grievance Committee (“GVC”), as alleging a possible violation of the Code of Ethics, result in an ethics hearing. An ethics hearing involves the complainant, the respondent REALTOR®, a hearing panel, a court reporter and an AAR Professional Standards Administrator. The respondent’s REALTOR® principal also has the right to be present. During the hearing, both parties have the right to present witnesses, submit evidence pertinent to the case, and to cross-examine witnesses. After the hearing is adjourned, the hearing panel makes a decision by simple majority vote. (Get more information on the ethics hearing process.)

Beginning in April 2012, a new program will be implemented for resolving certain ethics complaints that would have otherwise required this hearing process. The new Ethics Citation Program will allow a REALTOR® member to resolve an ethics complaint without a hearing by paying a citation amount (similar to the administrative fee imposed in an ethics hearing) and attending a class addressing the Code of Ethics article that is the subject of the complaint. The purpose of the program is to streamline the ethics complaint process in the applicable cases while fulfilling the purpose of Code of Ethics enforcement – educating members about their professional obligations and serving as a meaningful deterrent to future violations. The advantages of resolving a complaint without a hearing include being less burdensome on both parties and more cost effective in terms of volunteer time and actual expenses. Further, complaints processed through the program should be resolved more quickly, which benefits everyone involved.

Ethics Complaints Eligible for the Program
Not all ethics complaints are eligible for the Ethics Citation Program. Code of Ethics complaints are eligible for the program only if alleging a violation of one or more of the following articles:

  1. Article 3:  Cooperation with other brokers
  2. Article 4:   Disclosure of personal interest
  3. Article 5:   Disclosure of present or contemplated interest
  4. Article 6:   No compensation without knowledge/consent
  5. Article 12:  Advertising
  6. Article 14:  Cooperation in professional standards proceedings
  7. Article 16:  Interference with the agency of another

Citation Program Overview 
The GVC will review the ethics complaint and, taking all information in the complaint as true on its face, determine if there is potential violation of the Code of Ethics. If the GVC determines there is not a potential violation, the complaint will be dismissed. If the GVC determines there is a potential violation and the complaint alleges only a violation of the articles eligible for the program, the GVC will have the option to offer the respondent an opportunity to resolve the complaint by citation.
The citation will include an educational requirement commensurate with the article violated and a citation fine of:

  1. $250 for the first violation
  2. $500 for the second violation
  3. $750 for the third violation

If a respondent repeats the same violation, the citation amount will be increased. For example, a first violation of Article 12 would be $250. A second violation, this time for Article 3, would be $500, and a third violation, this time for Article 4, would be $750. However, a first violation of Article 12 would be $250. A second violation of Article 12 would be $750 ($500 + $250). A third violation of Article 12 would be $1250 ($750 + $500).

If offered by the GVC, the citation and a copy of the complaint will be sent to the respondent and the respondent’s REALTOR® principal. The respondent will have 15 days to accept the citation. Acceptance of the citation shall be a final resolution of the complaint, which shall not be appealable or subject to further review. The complaint will be closed, and notice will be provided to the complainant that a citation has been issued and satisfied.  If the respondent requests a full hearing on the complaint or does not reply within 15 days, the complaint will be forwarded for a hearing.

A REALTOR® may be offered no more than one citation in a consecutive 12-month period; no more than three citations within a consecutive 36-month period, and no more than three citations for the same violation at any time. Further, no additional citations are permitted where the cumulative fine for the citation, if issued, would be more than $1750.
Impact in Subsequent Proceedings
The fact that a respondent rejected an offer of a citation is not admissible in the hearing on the complaint. Further, the fact that a respondent previously accepted a citation is not admissible in any subsequent ethics or arbitration hearing. However, if a hearing panel finds an ethics violation after a hearing for the same violation that was previously resolved by citation, the AAR professional standards administrator will provide the applicable past citation information to the panel for consideration in determining the appropriate sanction. The hearing panel would not be informed of past citations for other violations.

Finally, like publication of those found in violation of the Code of Ethics a third time in three years after a hearing, three citations in three years will also result in publication.  Citations, like ethics violations found after a hearing, will remain in the REALTOR®’s file indefinitely.

Get more information on ethics complaints and all of AAR’s professional standards programs.

About the Author

Michelle Lind

K. Michelle Lind, CEO of Arizona REALTORS®, is also an attorney, State Bar of Arizona board certified real estate specialist, and the author of Arizona Real Estate: A Professional’s Guide to Law and Practice. Please note that this article is of a general nature and may not be updated or revised for accuracy as statutory or case law changes following the date of first publication. Further, this article reflects only the opinion of the author, is not intended as definitive legal advice and you should not act upon it without seeking independent legal counsel.