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Code of Ethics Enforcement

The single, most outstanding characteristic that sets REALTORS® apart from other real estate practitioners is the willingness to accept and abide by the Code of Ethics of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

The Code of Ethics, which was first adopted on July 29, 1913, is a living document, responsive in its content to changes in the law and industry. The Code has been revised many times through the years to reflect current developments in professional real estate practice. The term REALTOR® has come to represent competency, honesty, and high integrity. These qualities stem from voluntary adherence to an ideal of moral conduct in real estate business practices.

But even with the best of intentions, planning and preparation, occasional disagreements arise between REALTORS® and/or between REALTORS® and their clients or customers. As civil litigation becomes increasingly costly, time consuming, and burdensome, there has been a trend among private parties to settle disputes and conflicting claims through alternative means.

The Bristol Association of REALTORS® offers its members and their clients and customers a vehicle to economically expedite ethics complaints and/or arbitration requests without going to court. If a monetary dispute arises from a real estate transaction or if you believe a REALTOR® may have acted in an unethical manner, seek a resolution through your local board of REALTORS®. Ethics complaints that are brought before the board give those parties involved an opportunity to be educated about the Code. In addition, REALTORS® are judged by their peers as opposed to other individuals whomay be far less familiar with the practices and customs of the real estate industry.

The Bristol TN-VAAssociation of REALTORS®  is responsible for enforcing the REALTORS® Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics imposes duties above and in addition to those imposed by law or regulation which apply only to real estate professionals who choose to become REALTORS®.
Many difficulties between real estate professionals (whether REALTORS® or not) result from misunderstanding, miscommunication, or lack of adequate communication. If you have a problem with a real estate professional, you may want to speak with them or with a principal broker in the firm. Open, constructive discussion often resolves questions or differences, eliminating the need for further action.
If, after discussing matters with your real estate professional or a principal broker in that firm, you are still not satisfied, you may want to contact BTVAR direclty at 423-968-1192 or

If, after taking these steps, you still feel you have a grievance, you many want to consider filing an ethics complaint. You will want to keep in mind that:

  • Only REALTORS® and REALTOR-ASSOCIATE®s are subject to the Code of Ethics of the National Association of REALTORS®.
  • If the real estate professional (or their broker) you are dealing with is not a REALTOR®, your only recourse may be the state real state licensing authority or the courts.
  • Boards and associations of REALTORS® determine whether the Code of Ethics has been violated, not whether the law or real estate regulations have been broken. Those decisions can only be made by the licensing authorities or the courts.
  • Boards of REALTORS® can discipline REALTORS® for violating the Code of Ethics. Typical forms of discipline include attendance at courses and seminars designed to increase REALTORS®’ understanding of the ethical duties or other responsibilities of real estate professionals. REALTORS® may also be reprimanded, fined, or their membership can be suspended or terminated for serious or repeated violations. Boards and associations of REALTORS® cannot require REALTORS® to pay money to parties filing ethics complaints; cannot award “punitive damages” for violations of the Code of Ethics; and cannot suspend or revoke a real estate professional’s license.
  • The primary emphasis of discipline for ethical lapses is educational, to create a heightened awareness of and appreciation for the duties the Code imposes. At the same time, more severe forms of discipline, including fines and suspension and termination of membership may be imposed for serious or repeated violations.

Code of Ethics Enforcement: Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between an ethics complaint and arbitration request?

An ethics complaint charges that a REALTOR® or REALTOR-ASSOCIATE® has violated an Article(s) of the Code of Ethics. An arbitration request involves a dispute over entitlement to a monetary transaction (e.g., a commission).

Who can file an ethics complaint?

Any person, whether a member or not, having reason to believe that a member is in violation of any conduct subject to disciplinary action.

Who can file an arbitration request?

 A customer, client, or REALTOR® principal. A REALTOR® nonprincipal can also request arbitration with his current or former REALTOR® principal.

Is there a time limit?

Yes, Ethics complaints must be 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, whichever is later. Request for arbitration must be filed within one hundred eighty (180) days after the closing of the transaction, if any, or within one hundred eighty (180) days after the facts constituting the arbitrable matter could have been known in the exercise of reasonable diligence, whichever is later.*

Who should I give the complaint or request to?

The Executive Officer/Secretary of the board/association of REALTORS®.

What should be included with the ethics complaint or arbitration request?

Ethics — An ethics complaint form must be completed and filed. In addition, a written statement of the facts (with appropriate documentation, if any) on which the complaint is based must also be included, dated, and signed by the complainant. The appropriate Article(s) as they pertain to the facts in the alleged violation must be cited in the complaint.

Arbitration — An arbitration request form must be completed and submitted with details of the dispute and the deposit as set by the board (not to exceed $500, which may be refundable if the requestor is found to be the prevailing party). In addition, include whatever documentation that may help to substantiate your position.

Are there certain Articles that can or can’t be cited?

Only Articles 1 through 17 may be the basis of a complaint. The Preamble is aspirational and establishes ideals that a REALTOR® should strive to attain. Because of its subjective nature, the Preamble may not be used as a basis for charges of alleged unethical conduct or as the basis for disciplinary action.

Can Standards of Practice be cited in an ethics complaint?

No. Standards of Practice may be cited only in support of the Article(s) that was allegedly violated. Are there issues or complaints that should not be brought before a board/association of REALTORS®? Yes. A charge of violating the law or State real estate regulations is not a matter that would be considered by the board/association of REALTORS®. Also, the board/association is not a court of law where criminal or civil issues are resolved.

Is submitting to arbitration mandatory?

Mandatory — When the dispute is between:

  1. REALTORS® who are principal brokers** in different firms;
  2. Clients and REALTOR® principals.

Voluntary — When the dispute is between:

  1. Members in the same firm;
  2. A REALTOR®, who is a principal broker, and a non-member principal broker in another firm;
  3. Customers and REALTOR® principals.

* If the board’s informal dispute resolution processes (e.g., mediation) are invoked, the 180 day filing deadline is suspended.
** “Principal Broker” means… A sole proprietor, partner, corporate officer, majority shareholder, or branch office manager of a real estate firm.
©2010 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. All rights reserved.