Code of Ethics Case Interpretation: Responsibility for Subordinates

This ongoing series explores the NAR Code of Ethics through various case interpretations. Please read through the following case and try to decide if there was any Code of Ethics violations. Then click the box at the bottom to find out the answer. (These cases have been provided by the National Association of REALTORS®.)

Code of Ethics Case Interpretation – Article 4: Responsibility for Subordinates

REALTOR® B, a sales associate in REALTOR® A’s office, exclusively listed a suburban house and subsequently convinced the seller to accept $60,000 less than the listed price. Several weeks after the transfer of title, the seller filed a written complaint with the Association, charging REALTOR® B with a violation of Article 4 in that REALTOR® B had sold the property to his mother without disclosing this relationship to his client, the seller, and that REALTOR® B got the price reduced for his mother’s benefit.

The complaint was reviewed by the Grievance Committee which, with the complainant’s concurrence, named REALTOR® A as an additional respondent.

At the hearing, REALTOR® B stated that he saw nothing wrong in selling the property to his mother and that the seller would have accepted the contract at the reduced price, even if the buyer had not been REALTOR® B’s mother. REALTOR® A stated that REALTOR® B was an independent contractor licensed with him. REALTOR® A acknowledged that he was accountable under the Code for the actions of other REALTORS® and REALTOR® associated with him but shared with the panel information on his firm’s orientation program. He noted that he required each licensee joining his firm to complete association-sponsored Code training. In addition, he required everyone in his firm to read Professionalism in Real Estate Practice, and produced a form signed by REALTOR® B stating that he had carefully read and understood his personal obligation under the Code of Ethics.

The panel found that REALTOR® B should have made his relationship to the buyer, his mother, unmistakably clear to the seller. He should have disclosed in writing that the buyer was his mother so there would have been no misunderstanding.

The Hearing Panel found REALTOR® B in violation of Article 4.

The Hearing Panel noted that REALTORS® are not presumed to be in violation of the Code of Ethics in cases where REALTORS® associated with them are found in violation. Rather, their culpability, if any, must be determined from the facts and circumstances of the case in question. It was the conclusion of the Hearing Panel that REALTOR® A had made reasonable efforts to ensure that REALTOR® B was familiar with the Code and its obligations, and that it would have been unreasonable to expect REALTOR® A to have known the purchaser was REALTOR® B’s mother. Consequently, REALTOR® A was found not to have violated Article 4.

See more case interpretations here