An associate filed an ethics complaint and feels certain she did so within 180 days. However, over a year has passed since filing, and the hearing is just now coming up. Something must be wrong – right?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dear Joey: How can a timely complaint that was filed over a year ago be heard now?

I know there are timeframes regarding filing in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration manual, but it seems ridiculous that the case is just being heard over a year later.

Dear Frustrated Party: I understand your questions and frustrations. However, it’s important to note that there are guidelines and timeframes as to when a complaint may be filed – but not necessarily when it needs to be heard.

According to the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual, Part 4, Section 20, on initiating an Ethics Hearing:

“Any person, whether a member or not, having reason to believe that a member is guilty of any conduct subject to disciplinary action, may file a complaint in writing in their own name with the Professional Standards Administrator, dated and signed by complainant, stating the facts on which it is based (Form #E-1, Complaint, Part Six), provided that the complaint is filed within one hundred eighty (180) days after the facts constituting the matter complained of could have been known in the exercise of reasonable diligence or within one hundred eighty (180) days after the conclusion of the transaction or event, whichever is later.”

The key here is 180 days. And, more importantly whether the complaint was filed within 180 days after the facts constituting the matter complained of could have been known in the exercise of reasonable diligence, or within 180 days after the conclusion of the transaction, whichever is later.

Associations must review cases within 45 days of receipt to determine if the complaint warrants a hearing. If so, the association’s Professional Standards Administrator must inform the Professional Standards chair the complaint has been forwarded to hearing and the chair shall select a hearing date no later than five days after the decision has been for hearing.

However, if there are unforeseen circumstances as you describe, that may result in delay. In light of the pandemic, associations were unable to hold customary in-person hearings, and many had to learn a new approach on the fly – this is how virtual hearings were born. It took time to regroup, and everyone was jumping countless hurdles to keep associations operational, resulting in delays on the professional standards front. 

I gather this is the case with your local association. While it does not seem fair, the association has no other recourse but to move forward despite the delay. There is no “dismiss” because the case is past its sell-by date. This only happens in rare circumstances.   

As hard as it may be to keep a clear head when involved in long and stressful situations like ethics hearings, try to stay calm, take a deep breath and put things in perspective. There are time limitations for filing complaints, but just like the courts, the timing for hearing a case depends on many factors. Like anything else in the ever-changing real estate industry, hearings can be delayed due to unforeseen issues and shifting responsibilities of all involved.

Joey Sale is the Director of Local Association Services for Florida Realtors

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