After the Mid-Year meetings in Washington , a change was made to Standard of Practice 15-2, and a new standard of practice was approved for use with article 15 of the code of ethics. Standards of practice are used to clarify and explain articles of the code of ethics, and these two were designed to enhance member’s understanding of their obligations as REALTORS in respect to blogging and other form of electronic publication.
Article 15 discusses the obligation of REALTORS to avoid “bad-mouthing” their competitors. It states:
REALTORS shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about competitors, their businesses, or their business practices. (Amended 1/92)
The changes to the existing standard of practice, and the creation of the new were aimed at having REALTORS ” publish a clarification about, or to remove statements made by, others on electronic media the REALTOR® controls once the REALTOR® knows the statement is false or misleading”.
And immediately , everyone became an attorney.
It’s not a big deal
The change is really a clarification, not a new obligation, And though the big concern that was raised was regarding the removal of the untrue statement, and some concern was expressed about the enforcement, the issues arose from a lack of understanding about the obligation and the professional standards procedure.
To begin, if you think you have some liability by removing an untrue statement, all that would be required to comply would be to add a comment that says, “It has come to my attention that the statement made above by so and so in inaccurate – or untrue (whichever is appropriate)”. Personally, if someone used my blog to make improper statements about a competitor, I would have no problem removing the statement, and accepting the consequences that my “right action” might create.
In terms of the enforcement of the Article (standards of practice cannot be violated, only articles of the code can) the professional standards process requires the review of the ethics issue by a grievance committee and then, if the grievance committee determines that the complaint, if taken as true would constitute a violation of the code, it is referred to a professional standards hearing panel.
And That was the Second Concern
A comparison was made to the legal defamation process. But professional standards hearings are not courts of law, and are not bound by the evidentiary rules of those august bodies. These panels are made of of educated real estate professionals who review the matter in the light of their experience in the industry. Their job is to provide the respondent with due process, and come to s determination on the matter, applying appropriate sanctions if the respondent is found guilty of violating one of the articles of the code.
In this case, only by not clarifying or removing the untrue statement would the respondent be guilty of anything – a matter thaa should be simple to comply with.I think that the concerns raised were raised by people with legal backgrounds that had more limited knowledge of the professional standards process. Most of the bloggers I have spoken to were not concerned about the modifications.
I would like to hear from you what concerns and issues active bloggers and REALTORS might have about the matter… I look forward to the conversation.
photo credit: “money will come to you when you are doing the right thing” courtesy of creativecommons.org