Our charge every year as the Houston Association of REALTORS®‘ leadership has been to improve the professionalism of our REALTORS®. One of the best ways to achieve this is to hold our members accountable by self-policing, utilizing our REALTOR® Code of Ethics as a guide. However REALTORS® who must cooperate and work with each other are reticent to file a complaint against their peers for fear of retribution. On June 4, 2010, The Texas Association of REALTORS® passed the Citation Policy that became effective January 1, 2011. First passed and tested in California, the Citation Policy allows REALTORS® to file an ethics complaint against another REALTOR® anonymously. The complaint is filed with absolutely no identification of the complainant, and TAR or HAR staff will not seek their identity. The new policy will prove to be a vastly improved process that under the previous policies could take six months or more.

The articles of the Realtor® Code of Ethics which can be considered under this new policy will be restricted to articles; 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 14 and 16. (See schedule on page 13.) The alleged violation, the article under which the complaint is based, and sufficient documentation must be provided to the Grievance Tribunal. If any other article of the code is in the complaint, it will not qualify under the Citation Policy and will go through the usual grievance process. Providing that there was sufficient evidence, the citation will be sent to the respondent, and they will have 15 days from receipt to accept the citation and then 60 days to pay the fine and complete any required education or they may ask for a full tribunal to hear the case. If there is not sufficient evidence or it is considered frivolous by the tribunal, the case will be dismissed. In the event the respondent chooses to have a standard tribunal hearing, the Grievance Tribunal becomes the complainant, which maintains the anonymity of the original complainant.

Fine schedules are established and for the first offense it is $300 plus additional ethics training; the second offense will be $600; a third offense will be $900; and any member committing four offenses within a 36-month period will be required to go through the standard professional standards process. If a citation is accepted yet not paid the member is subject to suspension from the REALTOR® Association and MLS to which they belong.

Although this policy seems Draconian in nature, it is up to us to clean up our industry. Most REALTORS® want to do the right thing, and reporting unethical behavior will improve the quality of service as well as the image of our industry. This new policy will be simple, anonymous and swift, which will be a marked improvement over the existing cumbersome procedure which requires coordinating parties, volumes of paper and months for resolution.

This new Citation Policy linked with HAR agent ratings is about agent accountability and can only result in a more professional, educated and ethical agent community; what our buyers and sellers not only want, but deserve.