Who Can File An Ethics Complaint Against A Realtor – Your Shield Against Unethical Realtors

Real estate transactions are pivotal moments in our lives, often involving significant financial and emotional investments. 

When ethics are compromised by a realtor during this process, it’s crucial to understand the avenues available for filing a complaint.

Understanding Realtor Ethics

The Importance of Ethical Practices in Real Estate

Ethical practices in real estate are not just a cornerstone; they are the very foundation upon which the industry is built. 

Trust, transparency, and integrity are paramount in ensuring that transactions are conducted smoothly and that clients feel secure in one of the most significant financial decisions of their lives. 

Realtors, bound by a code of ethics, are obligated to uphold these principles, ensuring fair and honest dealings in all real estate transactions.

In instances where these ethical standards are compromised, it is imperative that affected parties have a channel through which they can voice their concerns and seek redress. 

This leads us to explore who is eligible to file an ethics complaint against a realtor and the mechanisms in place to facilitate this.

Who is Bound by the Realtor Code of Ethics?

Realtors, as members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), are bound by a stringent Code of Ethics designed to protect clients and ensure fair dealings among all parties involved in a real estate transaction. 

This code is not merely a guide but a strict set of rules that realtors must adhere to, underpinning their interactions with clients, the public, and other real estate professionals.

It is essential to differentiate between realtors, who are members of NAR, and real estate agents, who may not be members and thus are not bound by this specific code. Understanding this distinction is crucial in determining the applicable avenues for filing an ethics complaint.

Filing an Ethics Complaint


Who Can File a Complaint?

  • Clients: Clients who feel that they have been wronged during a real estate transaction can file a complaint against a realtor. This includes both buyers and sellers.
  • Other Realtors: Realtors themselves can file complaints against their peers, especially if they believe that their business has been adversely affected by the unethical actions of another realtor.
  • The Public: Members of the public, even without direct involvement in a transaction, can file a complaint if they believe a realtor has violated the Code of Ethics.

It is pivotal to note that the eligibility to file a complaint is not restricted to a particular group. 

The NAR is committed to upholding the integrity of the real estate industry and thus provides a platform for various stakeholders to voice their concerns.

The Process of Filing a Complaint

Filing an ethics complaint against a realtor involves a structured process designed to ensure that all parties are afforded a fair and impartial hearing. 

Initially, the complaint must be filed with the local realtor board or association, providing detailed information about the alleged ethical violation.

Once the complaint is filed, it is reviewed by a panel, which determines whether there is sufficient evidence to move forward with a hearing. 

If the panel deems a hearing necessary, all parties are notified, and a formal session is conducted to examine the evidence and hear testimonies before a decision is rendered.

Possible Outcomes and Resolutions

Upon conclusion of the hearing, several outcomes may arise, ranging from dismissal of the complaint due to insufficient evidence to various forms of disciplinary actions against the realtor if found in violation of the Code of Ethics. 

These disciplinary actions can include fines, mandatory educational courses, or even suspension or expulsion from the NAR.

The Impact of Unethical Practices

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Issues for Clients and Realtors

Unethical practices within the real estate industry can have far-reaching consequences, not only for the clients directly involved but also for the realtors and the industry as a whole. 

Clients may experience financial losses, emotional distress, and a general mistrust towards real estate professionals following an unethical incident. 

This mistrust can permeate their future interactions with realtors, hindering their ability to fully engage in and benefit from real estate transactions.

Realtors, on the other hand, may face reputational damage, which can significantly impact their career. 

The trust that clients place in their realtor is paramount, and once this is compromised, it can be a challenging uphill battle to regain not only their reputation but also the confidence of potential clients.

Effect on the Real Estate Market

The impact of unethical practices extends beyond the individual realtor and client involved, creating a ripple effect throughout the entire real estate market. 

When stories of unethical dealings come to light, it can sow seeds of doubt in the minds of potential buyers and sellers, causing them to be overly cautious and potentially hindering the fluidity of the market.

Moreover, it can tarnish the reputation of the industry as a whole, making it imperative for real estate associations and professionals to actively work towards eradicating unethical practices and ensuring that those who violate the Code of Ethics are held accountable.

Rebuilding Trust in the Industry

Rebuilding trust in the real estate industry following instances of unethical practices involves a multifaceted approach. It is not only about holding the offending realtor accountable but also about implementing measures to prevent future occurrences. 

This may involve enhancing the ethical training that realtors receive and increasing the transparency of transactions to protect all parties involved.

Educating the public and clients about the ethical standards to which realtors are held, and the avenues available for filing complaints, is also crucial in rebuilding trust. 

Case Studies and Lessons Learned

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Learning from Past Mistakes

Exploring real-life instances where ethics complaints were filed against realtors can provide valuable insights into the various scenarios that may arise in real estate transactions. 

Analyzing what went wrong, the actions taken by the offended parties, and the outcomes of the complaints can serve as a guide for what to do (or not do) in future transactions.

These case studies can also serve as a warning to realtors about the potential consequences of violating the Code of Ethics, reinforcing the importance of adhering to ethical practices in all their dealings.

Implementing Preventative Measures

Drawing from the lessons learned from past case studies, realtors, real estate associations, and other stakeholders can work towards implementing preventative measures to curb unethical practices. 

This may involve identifying the common threads or loopholes that allowed the unethical practices to occur in the first place and addressing them to prevent recurrence.

  • Enhanced Training: Providing realtors with enhanced training on ethical practices and the potential scenarios in which they may be compromised.
  • Improved Oversight: Implementing improved oversight mechanisms to monitor transactions and ensure that all parties are adhering to ethical standards.
  • Increased Transparency: Ensuring that all aspects of a transaction are transparent and that clients are fully informed at every stage.

A Future of Ethical Practices

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Ensuring a future where ethical practices are the norm involves a collective effort from all stakeholders within the real estate industry. It is about creating a culture where ethics are valued and upheld, and where those who violate these standards are held accountable.

Moving forward, it is imperative to keep the lines of communication open, not only between realtors and clients but also between realtors and their governing bodies. 

Continuous dialogue, ongoing training, and a commitment to upholding the highest standards of ethical practices will pave the way for a future where clients can engage in real estate transactions with confidence and trust.


Can a realtor file an ethics complaint against a client?

No, the ethics complaint system established by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is designed to manage complaints against realtors, not clients. However, realtors facing issues with clients can explore other avenues, such as mediation, arbitration, or legal action, depending on the nature and severity of the issue.

How confidential is the ethics complaint process?

The ethics complaint process is designed to protect the confidentiality of all parties involved to the greatest extent possible. While certain individuals within the real estate association (such as members of the ethics committee or board) will have access to the complaint details, it is generally not made public unless there is a hearing that results in disciplinary action, and even then, the dissemination of information may be limited.

What is the time frame within which an ethics complaint must be filed after noticing an unethical practice?

Unethical relator Practices

Typically, an ethics complaint should be filed within 180 days from the time the complainant knew (or reasonably should have known) that potentially unethical conduct took place, according to the policies of many local realtor boards and associations. However, specific time frames can vary, so it’s crucial to check the guidelines of the specific board or association involved.

Can a realtor be sued by a client while an ethics complaint is being processed?

Yes, filing an ethics complaint does not preclude a client from pursuing legal action against a realtor. These are separate processes, and one does not impact the other. A client can choose to file an ethics complaint, pursue legal action, or engage in both concurrently, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the alleged unethical conduct.

Can a realtor defend themselves against an ethics complaint, and how?

Absolutely, a realtor has the right to defend themselves against an ethics complaint. Once a complaint is filed, it is reviewed, and if deemed valid, a hearing is scheduled. The realtor is notified of the complaint and the hearing, and they have the opportunity to present their case, which can include providing evidence, calling witnesses, and offering a defense against the allegations made in the complaint. Realtors can also seek legal advice or representation to navigate through this process.


Creating a culture where ethics and integrity are at the forefront involves a collective effort from all stakeholders within the real estate industry. This includes not only realtors but also real estate associations, regulatory bodies, and clients themselves. Through collaborative efforts, open dialogue, and a shared commitment to ethical practices, the industry can work towards fostering a culture that inherently values and upholds integrity in all dealings.

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