Filing or facing formal complaints at the Board

If someone were to file a complaint with FVREB about your professional conduct, your first reaction might be to get stressed out. But before saying or doing anything, take a deep breath and try not to go into panic mode. As a member of FVREB, your Board is there to help you through the complaint process.  You will have every opportunity to review any complaint made against you and respond to it.

Keep in mind that the Board and the Real Estate Council of BC have entirely different roles regarding complaints. Council deals with Realtors’ contravention of BC’s Real Estate Services Act. Whereas real estate boards are empowered to deal with members’ breaches of their Board By-Laws and Rules of Cooperation, and the REALTOR® Code of Ethics Standards of Business Practice.

Anytime a Realtor is the subject of a formal complaint, the Board’s Professional Standards department notifies the member and their managing broker to ask for a response to the complaint. Likewise, if you’re the person making the complaint, you’ll be expected to provide a detailed written account that provides a basis for your complaint. Note: If your complaint is against a member of another Board, you will need to submit your complaint to that Board.

Be honest and straightforward to the Board and your managing broker. If you know you made errors in your practice, it’s better to learn from it and do better in future. If you are the complainant, it’s important for you to avoid making the complaint personal. Complaints should be based on someone’s professional conduct – not their personal qualities.

Until recently, complaints about FVREB members were destined to land on Dennis Wilson’s desk, the Board’s Manager of Professional Standards. With the recent addition of Paul Cowhig as the Board’s new Professional Standards Advisor, those complaints will be fielded by Paul, with Dennis in a supervisory role.  Professional Standards gets about a dozen enquiries per day asking questions, or requesting to submit a complaint. Perhaps it’s not surprising that about half of the complaints the Board receives are made by members about other members.

Dennis makes the point that complaint cases are not a matter of the client versus Realtor or even Realtor versus Realtor. It is more accurately a matter between a member and the Board because it is the Board’s rules that the member is accused of abusing.

With their considerable expertise, Dennis and Paul are able to sort out the complaints that are valid for the Board to look at, from those that belong with another arbitrator, such as the Council or the courts. Dennis says many issues arise due to poor communication or a misinterpretation of the Standards of Business Practice.

Professional Standards considers both sides of a complaint to determine if the matter can be resolved informally, through education and discussion. Of course that’s only if the complaint is not complicated and serious enough to warrant further investigation, at which point the matter may be passed to the Board’s Business Practices committee.

The volunteer members who serve on the Business Practices committee are divided into two groups; one is the investigative side and the other conducts the hearings. This division ensures there is no prejudicial information coming into the hearings.

Neither the Board staff nor the Business Practices committee take a position on cases or pick sides in disputes. They merely review the evidence and make a judgment based on professional standards established by the Board.

If there is insufficient evidence to confirm the member has breached the rules, the committee may close the file. However, if the complaint involves a breach of the Real Estate Services Act, the committee might refer the complaint to the Real Estate Council of BC to investigate.

If there is a hearing to decide the matter, the complainant and the person who received the complaint must both attend the hearing where sworn witness testimony is entered. Many complainants prefer to avoid the hassle of a hearing as long as they feel their issue has been aired and suitably dealt with. And the members subject to the complaint may also wish to avoid a hearing and instead submit to what is called a ‘consent to discipline,’ whereby they take responsibility for their actions.

In 2016 alone, the Board dealt with 18 business practices cases which resulted in three hearings, six consents to discipline, eight cases closed with no evidence of breach of by-laws, one case withdrawn, one flagged for further investigation, and one file closed and referred to Council.

For more details about the kind of topics addressed by the complaint procedure, or how to submit a complaint to the Board or the Council, go REALTOR Link® and visit Professionalism/Business Practices: Complaints Procedure.