Dispute Resolution

Code of Ethics

Anyone can place a "For Sale" sign on a front lawn, but it takes a REALTOR® to understand and comply with the National Association of REALTOR® Code of Ethics. It is this Code that distinguishes genuine REALTOR® from anyone carrying a lawn sign.

NAR’s professional standards policies include a defined process of checks and balances to protect members and evaluate potential Code violations. The presentation above describes this process. 

We have expanded our online information about both the ethics and arbitration services available from GMAR. 

Ombudsman

The Ombudsman Program is the first step in conflict resolution. It is an informal, neutral, independent, and highly confidential way for Realtors® and their clients and customers to express their concerns and explore options to help resolve those concerns. An Ombudsman is appointed to receive and resolve disputes through constructive communication and advocating for consensus and understanding. Read the ombudsman process FAQs below. 

Filing a Complaint

Before you File an Ethics Complaint

Boards and Associations of REALTORS® are 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®.

Download the PDF: Before You File an Ethics Complaint

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 you are still not satisfied after discussing matters with your real estate professional or a principal broker in that firm, you may want to contact the local Board or Association of REALTORS®, where the REALTOR® holds primary membership to learn more about filing a complaint and the process.

Visit the dropdown below to learn about the process for Filing an Ethics Complaint. Download the General Instructions and Information for Filling and Replying to Complaints Form.

For questions, please contact GMAR’s Professional Standards Administrator via email at Pauline@gmaronline.com or by phone at 248-522-0340.

Arbitration

The duty of REALTORS® to arbitrate is based in the Code of Ethics, specifically, Article 17, which provides:

  • In the event of contractual disputes or specific non-contractual disputes as defined in Standard of Practice 17-4 between REALTORS® (principals) associated with different firms, arising out of their relationship as REALTORS®, the REALTORS® shall submit the dispute to arbitration by following the regulations of their Board or Boards rather than litigate the matter.
  • The obligation to participate in arbitration contemplated by this Article includes the obligation of REALTORS® (principals) to cause their firms to arbitrate and be bound by any award.
  • While many disputes that arise between REALTORS® will involve contractual questions, there may also be related "non-contractual" issues or questions that arise under certain circumstances. For that reason, the duty to arbitrate encompasses not only contractual issues but also several specific non-contractual issues enumerated in Standard of Practice 17-4.

Visit the dropdown below to learn about the process for Arbitration Process.  

Mediation

Mediation as a preliminary, voluntary alternative to arbitration. The Greater Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® provides mediation services to assist the resolution of disputes.

Although no party to an arbitrable matter can be required to submit to mediation (unless REALTORS® [principals] are required by their Board to mediate otherwise arbitrable disputes pursuant to Article 17) and mediation is not intended to be a substitute for the arbitration procedures, mediation can be a useful tool in resolving the conflicts that arise involving Board Members and their clients and customers. 

Learn more by downloading our Mediation Brochure

Download the Request for Mediation Form.

  • Participation in a professional standard hearing - arbitration or ethics - can be an intimidating experience for first-time participants and witnesses. Knowing what will likely happen can make it a less stressful experience.


    Although the arbitration hearing process is based on a civil trial's judicial model, there are important differences between a trial and an arbitration hearing. While parties to any professional standards proceeding are entitled to fundamental due process, technical rules of evidence and procedure do not apply in an arbitration hearing. While the burden of proof rests with the parties, arbitration panel members can ask questions (directly or through the chair) to ensure that they clearly understand relevant issues and facts. This is key to rendering a fair decision.
     

  • Duty and Privilege to Arbitrate

    By becoming and remaining a Realtor® member and by signing or having signed the agreement to abide by the bylaws of the Board, every member, where consistent with applicable law, binds himself or herself and agrees to submit to arbitration (and to mediation if required) by the Board’s facilities all disputes as defined by Article 17 of the Code of Ethics and, as set forth in the provisions of this Manual, all disputes with any other member, as defined, under the following conditions.

    The duty to submit to arbitration continues in effect even after membership lapses or is terminated, provided that the dispute arose while the respondent was a REALTOR® or an MLS Participant. (Amended 11/11)

    Read on by clicking the "Learn More" button. 

  • Request for Arbitration

    What to Include:

    • Request and Agreement to Arbitrate Form #A-1 or Request and Agreement to Arbitrate – (Non-Member)
    • A narrative description of the events that lead to the request
    • Copies of all relevant real estate documents in your possession such as Listing Agreement, Purchase Agreement, MLS tickets, Agency Agreements, or any other documents which support your claim
       
  • Time Limitation

    Arbitration must be filed within one hundred eighty (180) days after the closing of the transaction if any, or within one hundred eighty (180) days after the facts constituting the arbitrable matter could have been known in the exercise of reasonable diligence, whichever is later.

  • Filing Fee

    There is a $250 arbitration-filling fee to be submitted payable to GMAR and the executed Request for Arbitration form.

  • Next Steps
    • Once we receive your completed Form #A-1, narrative, pertinent documents, and filing fee, we will forward it to the Grievance Committee for review at their next monthly meeting.

    The function of the Grievance Committee is to make only such preliminary review and evaluation of the request for arbitration as is required to determine whether the matter is properly arbitrable; whether arbitration is mandatory or voluntary based upon the requirements; and whether the proper parties are named in the request for arbitration. The Grievance Committee does not hold hearings and does not determine entitlement to awards.
     

  • General Instructions and Information for Filing and Replying to Complaints Form
    1. Complaints must be typewritten or in clear print form and include specific articles of the Code of Ethics that are believed to be in violation. Complaints and all accompanying materials must be emailed or mailed to GMAR to the Professional Standards Administrator. Complaints should have a detailed outline/statement and documentation to support your outline/statement; the more information, the better for the Grievance Committee to review the complaint.

     

    1. Complaints will be referred to the Professional Standards Administrator and the Professional Standards Administrator to the Grievance Committee chairman. If the Grievance Committee finds the matter to constitute a proper cause of action, it will be referred to the Professional Standards Administrator to arrange a hearing; if not found to constitute a proper cause of action, it will be returned to the Complainant with the decision of the Grievance Committee together with information advising the Complainant of the procedures by which the Grievance Committee's decision may be appealed to the Board of Directors.

     

    1. Respondent will have fifteen (15) days after service of copy of the complaint to reply. If there is to be a hearing, a copy of the reply will be sent to the Professional Standards Administrator. The date for the hearing will be set, and all parties will be notified of the date and place of hearing at least twenty-one (21) days in advance.

     

    1. If no reply is received from the respondent within fifteen (15) days from when the request for response was transmitted, the date, time, and place of hearing will be set.

     

    1. All parties may be represented by legal counsel. If a party is not represented by counsel as a result of their own action or inaction, and a continuance has been previously granted by the Hearing panel based upon the party’s failure to obtain counsel, then the Hearing panel may decide to proceed forward with the hearing.

      b. Each party, may if necessary, compel attendance of witnesses or offer the testimony of witnesses through depositions pursuant to and as permitted by applicable Michigan Law and court rule.

     

    1. It is the responsibility of each party to arrange for their witnesses to be present at the hearing. All parties appearing at a hearing may be called as a witness without advance notice.

     

    1. Parties are strongly encouraged to provide any and all documents and evidence they intend to introduce during the hearing to the other party(ies) and to the association prior to the day of the hearing. Providing documents and evidence in advance can expedite the hearing process and prevent costly, unnecessary continuances.

     

    1. Either party may file with the Professional Standards Administrator, within ten (10) days from the date the names of the members of the Professional Standards Committee are transmitted to the parties, a written request for the disqualification of any potential member of the Hearing Panel for any of the

     

    1.  
      • Is related by blood or marriage to either Complainant, Respondent, or Realtor® acting as counsel for either the complainant or respondent.
      • Is an employer, partner, or employee, or in any way associated in business with either Complainant, Respondent, or a Realtor® acting as counsel for either the Complainant or Respondent.
      • Is a party to the hearing, or a party or a witness in another pending case involving Complainant or Respondent.
      • Knows any reason acceptable to the Hearing Panel or tribunal which may prevent him from rendering an impartial decision.

     

    1. The notice of hearing will contain names of members of the tribunal who will hear the case and should be accompanied by an “Outline of Procedure for Ethics Hearing.” Parties’ requests for continuances shall only be granted when all parties mutually agree to a subsequent specified date or when the hearing panel chair determines that denying the continuance would deny the requestor a fair hearing.

     

    1. The parties shall not discuss the case with any member of the Hearing Panel or the Board of Directors at any time prior to the announcement of a decision in the case.

     

    1. No hearing will be held in the absence of the Complainant. An Ethics hearing may proceed in the absence of a respondent.
  • Here are some General Principles to Keep in Mind
    • Ethics complaints must be filed with the member's Board or Association of REALTORS® within one hundred eighty (180) days from when a complainant knew (or reasonably should have known) that potentially unethical conduct took place.
    • 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. Also helpful is the Interpretations of the Code of Ethics.
       
  • What to Include
    • Completed Ethics Complaint Form #E-1
    • A narrative description of the circumstances leads you to believe the Code of Ethics may have been violated. 
    • Copies of all relevant real estate documents in your possession such as Listing Agreement, Purchase Agreement, Agency Disclosure(s), Seller's Property Disclosure, Addendums, or any other documents which support the charges mentioned in your complaint.
  • After Filing an Ethics Complaint

    When your complaint has been received, the Complaint will be reviewed by the Grievance Committee at their next scheduled meeting.

    • If the Grievance Committee forwards your complaint about an ethics 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 the Grievance Committee dismisses your complaint, it does not mean they do not believe you. Rather, it means that they do not feel that your allegations would support a Hearing Panel's conclusion that the Article(s) cited in your complaint had been violated.

    The Grievance Committee's function is to make only such preliminary review and evaluation of the complaint as are required to determine whether the complaint warrants further consideration by a Hearing Panel of the Professional Standards Committee.

    GMAR's Grievance Committee is made up of brokers and agents just like you. We feel strongly about the Code's enforcement and attend the Professional Standards Workshop with the National Association of REALTORS® annually to ensure compliance with the Code and guarantee our membership and the public receive the strongest representation possible.

  • What is the difference between the ombudsman process and mediation?

    The ombudsman process usually involves parties who have not filed an ethics complaint or arbitration request but have experienced a breakdown in communication requiring informal resolution (although an ombudsman may also be used where a complaint has been filed). Often the ombudsman functions as an intermediary who communicates the concerns of one party to the other over the phone, so a positive relationship can be restored.

    Mediation, on the other hand, normally involves monetary disputes (unless the association also offers ethics mediation) where an arbitration request may have been filed. Parties generally meet face-to-face at a prearranged time with their mediator, who encourages both parties to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution of their dispute.

    Ombudsmen and mediators often have the same skill set: impartiality, the ability to listen carefully, and the desire to identify and resolve misunderstandings.

  • Is the ombudsman process just for consumers?

    No. Boards and associations have considerable latitude in determining how and when ombudsmen will be utilized. If the complaint is the type of case the association’s ombudsman process handles, ombudsman services must be offered to members, clients, and consumers consistent with Professional Standards Policy Statement # 59, Associations to Provide Ombudsman ServicesCode of Ethics and Arbitration Manual.

    The ombudsman process can be beneficial for both consumers and REALTOR® members who need an immediate, informal resolution to common misunderstandings. For example, ombudsmen can field and respond to various inquiries and complaints, including general questions about real estate practice, transaction details, ethical practice, and enforcement issues. Ombudsmen can also receive and respond to questions and complaints about members, can contact members to inform them that a client or customer has raised a question or issue, and can contact members to obtain information necessary to provide an informed response.

  • Does the ombudsman decide who is right or wrong?

    No. Ombudsmen do not determine whether ethics violations have occurred; rather, they anticipate, identify, and resolve misunderstandings and disagreements.

  • How long does the ombudsman process take?

    Disputes can often be resolved through the ombudsman process in as little as a few hours or days, depending on the availability of the ombudsman and the parties.

  • Do parties have to participate in the ombudsman process?

    Not at all. Parties should be notified that ombudsman services are available to them and may decline those services and opt to file a formal complaint instead.

  • What sort of documents or evidence do parties exchange during the ombudsman process?

    Exchanging documents or evidence during the ombudsman process is typically unnecessary. Rather, the ombudsman will work to resolve the dispute through a series of phone calls or an informal meeting with the parties.

  • If the parties do not resolve their dispute through the ombudsman process, how long does the individual have to file an ethics complaint or arbitration request?

    The filing date for purposes of determining whether an ethics complaint or arbitration request is timely filed will be the time the matter was originally brought to the board or association’s attention. When the parties invoke informal dispute resolution processes such as ombudsman, ethics mediation, or mediation of arbitrable disputes, filing deadlines are suspended.

  • What if the ombudsman thinks the dispute may involve a potential violation of the public trust?

    If the ombudsman concludes at any time that a potential violation of the public trust may have occurred, the ombudsman process shall be immediately terminated. The parties should be advised of their right to file a formal ethics complaint, to file a complaint with any appropriate governmental or regulatory body, to pursue litigation, or to pursue any other available remedy. “Public trust” refers to misappropriation of client or customer funds or property, willful discrimination, or fraud resulting in substantial economic harm.

    Written ethics complaints alleging violations of the public trust (as defined in Article IV, Section 2 of the NAR Bylaws) may not be referred to an ombudsman.

  • Can an ombudsman file an ethics complaint based on what he or she has learned from the parties through the ombudsman process?

    Ombudsmen cannot refer concerns they have regarding the conduct of any party utilizing their services to the Grievance Committee, to the state real estate licensing authority, or to any other regulatory body. The prohibition is intended to ensure impartiality and avoid the possible appearance of bias. Ombudsmen are, however, authorized to refer concerns that the public trust may have been violated to the Grievance Committee.

  • Is the ombudsman process confidential?

    Yes, the allegations, discussions, and decisions made in ombudsman proceedings are confidential. They may not be reported or published by the board, any member of a tribunal (including the ombudsman), or any party under any circumstances except those established in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual.