The Case Interpretations offer examples of the practical application of the Code in professional standards enforcement and help REALTORS® understand the ethical obligations created by the Code of Ethics. View the Preface to Case Interpretations to learn more about their history/background.
Case #10-1: Equal Professional Services by the REALTOR®
(Reaffirmed May, 1988. Revised May, 2017.)
A minority couple called on REALTOR® A and expressed interest in purchasing a home in the $390,000 to $435,000 price range with at least three bedrooms, a large lot, and located in the Cedar Ridge area of town. Being familiar with Cedar Ridge through handling of numerous listings in that area, REALTOR® A explained that houses in Cedar Ridge generally sold in the price range from $540,000 to $660,000. The couple thereafter indicated that they would then like to see “what was available” within their budget. After further discussion with the couple concerning their financial circumstances and the maximum price range they could afford, REALTOR® A concluded that the couple could not afford more than $412,500 as an absolute maximum. The couple was then shown homes which met the criteria they had described to REALTOR® A. However, although REALTOR® A discussed with the couple the amenities and assets of each of the properties shown to them, they expressed no interest in any of the properties shown. A few days later, the minority couple filed charges with the Professional Standards Administrator of the Association, charging REALTOR® A with a violation of Article 10 of the Code Ethics, alleging that REALTOR® A had violated the Article by an alleged act of racial steering in his service to the minority couple.
The Professional Standards Administrator promptly referred the complaint to the Grievance Committee, which conducted a preliminary review and referred the complaint for a hearing. REALTOR® A was duly noticed and provided with an opportunity to make his response to the complaint.
At the hearing, the complainants elaborated upon their charge of the alleged racial steering by REALTOR® A, telling the Hearing Panel that they had specifically expressed an interest in purchasing a home in the Cedar Ridge area, but were not shown any homes in Cedar Ridge. REALTOR® A responded by producing e-mail records documenting the housing preference of the couple as they had described it to him, including price range and demonstrating that he had shown them a number of listings that met the requirements as expressed by them, although admittedly none of the properties shown were located in Cedar Ridge. However, REALTOR® A explained that he had advised the couple that there were no listings available in Cedar Ridge falling within their budget. Further, REALTOR® A produced listing and sales information concerning numerous homes in Cedar Ridge which confirmed an average sales price of $540,000 to $660,000. REALTOR® A told the Hearing Panel that he had, in fact, offered equal professional service to the minority couple by showing them properties which met the criteria they had presented to him. He pointed out to the Hearing Panel that the couple was charging him with “racial steering” which presumably they were relating to the denial of equal professional service. REALTOR® A stated, “If there were listings in Cedar Ridge in the $390,000 to $435,000 price range with at least three bedrooms and a large lot, and I had refused to show them such listings, then they might have a point in their charge. But there are no such listings available now, nor have there been at any time since the original development of the Cedar Ridge area five years ago. I could not show them what did not and does not exist.”
The Hearing Panel concluded that REALTOR® A had properly met his obligation to offer equal professional service and was not in violation of Article 10.
Case #10-2: Denial of Equal Professional Service
(Revised May, 1988. Revised November, 2001. Revised May, 2017.)
On a Saturday morning, REALTOR® B, a salesperson affiliated with REALTOR® A, answered an e-mail from Prospect C, a recent college graduate who was moving into the city to take his first teaching job at Northwest High School. Prospect C was married, had two young children, and was a veteran.
After working with Prospect C to determine his family could afford a three-bedroom home in the $240,000 range, RealtoR ® B described available properties near Northwest High School and set up appointments to show houses to Prospect C. That afternoon, REALTOR® B showed Prospect C and his wife three houses in neighborhoods near the high school.
On Monday, at a faculty meeting, Prospect C met Prospect D, who was also moving into the city to take a teaching position at the same high school and who was also in the market for a home. Prospect D was married with two young children and was also a veteran.
Prospect C told Prospect D of REALTOR® B’s knowledge of the market and VA financing and how helpful he had been. Prospect D called REALTOR® A’s office that afternoon and asked for REALTOR® B. and asked for REALTOR® B. REALTOR® B met Prospect D and determined Prospect D could also afford a home in the $240,000 range. Prospect D told REALTOR® B that he was also a new teacher at Northwest High School and had been referred by Prospect C. Prospect D was black.
REALTOR® B showed Prospect D houses in several neighborhoods undergoing racial transition but did not show Prospect D homes in neighborhoods near the high school. Prospect D asked about houses closer to Northwest High School. REALTOR® B replied that he had no knowledge of any homes in that area for which Prospect D could qualify. The next day, Prospect D, while visiting Prospect C, related his problems in finding a home near the high school and learned that REALTOR® B had shown Prospect C several homes near the high school. Prospect D filed a complaint with the Association of REALTORS® claiming that REALTOR® B had discriminated against him and his family by not offering equal professional services.
The complaint was reviewed by the Grievance Committee. REALTOR® B was charged with an alleged violation of Article 10, and the complaint was referred to a Hearing Panel of the Association’s Professional Standards Committee for hearing. At the hearing, REALTOR® B admitted that he did not use the same efforts to show Prospect D properties in neighborhoods near the high school as he did with Prospect C because he felt Prospect D and his family would feel more comfortable living in a racially integrated neighborhood.
The Hearing Panel found REALTOR® B in violation of Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.
Case #10-3: Equal Professional Services by the REALTOR®
(Revised November, 2001. Revised May, 2017.)
REALTOR® A was contacted by Prospect C, a female head of household, concerning a home for sale which was advertised. When informed by REALTOR® A that the home in question had already been sold, Prospect C asked to be shown homes in the $240,000 to $270,000 price range with three bedrooms and located near schools and playgrounds. REALTOR® A proceeded to show Prospect C a number of homes which met her stated criteria for price range, size, and location, but Prospect C was interested in none of them.
Shortly thereafter, Prospect C filed a complaint with the Association of REALTORS® against REALTOR® A, complaining that he had violated Article 10 of the Code of Ethics by failing to offer equal professional service to her because she was a woman. Prospect C contended that she did not receive the same professional service from REALTOR® A that would have been afforded to a male head of household and home seeker with the same criteria for price range, size, and location.
At the hearing, Prospect C expressed her complaint and concluded by saying, “It was obvious to me that REALTOR® A discriminated against me because I am a woman. In my opinion, he showed little interest in helping me to find a home.”
REALTOR® A responded that he was sorry that Prospect C had that opinion, but that certainly he held no such attitude as charged. REALTOR® A advised the Hearing Panel that he routinely utilized a contact report for each prospect which includes identification information on the clients, provides data on the price range, type of house and location preferred by the prospect, and records the homes shown to the prospect with information on the price, type, and location of each home shown. REALTOR® A presented several such reports from his files including the report pertaining to Prospect B. Prospect C’s report showed that several homes shown to her met the data as supplied by her.
The Hearing Panel concluded that REALTOR® A’s documented evidence did, in fact, establish a clear position in which equal professional service had been offered and that no violation of Article 10 had occurred.
Case #10-4: Use of “Choose Your Neighbor” Marketing Letters
(Adopted November, 1987. Revised November, 2013 and November, 2017.)
REALTOR® A listed a property in a new subdivision. At the instruction of his client, Seller X, REALTOR® A did not enter the listing in the MLS, did not place a “For Sale” sign on the property and did not advertise the property online. Seller X had told REALTOR® A that he wanted the sale handled quietly, with the new purchasers being people who would “fit into the neighborhood — people with the same socioeconomic background” as the other residents of the subdivision.
Based on his conversation with Seller X, REALTOR® A’s only marketing effort was mailing a letter to the other residents of the subdivision, inviting them “. . . to play a part in the decision of who your next neighbor will be. If you know of someone who you would like to live in the neighborhood, please let them know of the availability of this home, or call me and I will be happy to contact them and arrange a private showing.”
REALTOR® A’s marketing strategy came to the attention of REALTOR® B, whose mother lived in the subdivision. REALTOR® B filed a complaint charging REALTOR® A with a violation of Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.
At the hearing, REALTOR® B told the Hearing Panel of receiving a copy of the marketing letter from his mother, who had recently moved to the subdivision. REALTOR® B advised the panel that he had checked the MLS for information on the property, had driven past the house to look for a “For Sale” sign and had searched online for any information on the property. Finding nothing, REALTOR® B concluded that REALTOR® A’s marketing strategy was to limit access to the property to individuals preselected by the current residents. “In my mind,” said REALTOR® B, “this could only mean one thing. REALTOR® A was deliberately discriminating against home buyers from other areas, or those with different backgrounds, who would never have the opportunity to learn about the house’s availability. Obviously, REALTOR® A was directing all of his marketing energies into finding purchasers who would not disrupt the ethnic and economic character of the neighborhood.”
REALTOR® A defended his actions by advising the panel that he was acting on Seller X’s instructions. Seller X appeared as a witness for REALTOR® A and confirmed this fact, adding that he and the other residents of his block had an informal agreement that they would try to find “suitable” purchasers for their homes if they ever decided to sell. Seller X felt that by broadening the marketing campaign to include all residents of the subdivision he had increased the chances of finding such potential purchasers.
The Hearing Panel found REALTOR® A in violation of Article 10 of the Code of Ethics. In their decision, the panel advised REALTOR® A that no instruction from a client could absolve a REALTOR® from the obligation to market properties without regard to race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, country of national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity, as expressed in Article 10. There was no doubt, in the panel’s opinion, that the exclusive use of “Choose Your Neighbor” letters to market the property was designed to circumvent the requirements of Article 10.
Case #10-5: Use of “Choose Your Neighbor” Form Letters as Part of a Marketing Campaign
(Adopted November, 1987. Revised November, 2013 and May, 2017.)
The ABC Association of REALTORS® received a complaint from a local fair housing group alleging that REALTOR® A was using discriminatory marketing techniques, in violation of Article 10 of the Code of Ethics, as the listing broker for a property in a new subdivision.
In support of their complaint, the fair housing group provided copies of “Choose Your Neighbor” form letters sent by REALTOR® A to current neighborhood residents. The letters announced that the property was on the market and invited neighborhood residents to contact REALTOR® A if they knew of anyone who they thought might be interested in purchasing the home.
At the hearing, REALTOR® A defended his use of “Choose Your Neighbor” form letters by demonstrating that they were just one element of his marketing campaign, and were not an attempt to restrict access to the property on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, country of national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity, as prohibited by Article 10. REALTOR® A produced copies of banner advertisements run on several websites, “OPEN HOUSE” information provided on Realtor.com, and a copy of the property’s MLS listing. REALTOR® A remarked, “In my experience, the current residents of a neighborhood often have friends or relatives who have said that they would love to live in the neighborhood. It just makes sense to me to include contacting these folks in any marketing campaign!”
The Hearing Panel found REALTOR® A not in violation of Article 10. In their “Findings of Fact and Conclusions,” the panel noted that the use of “Choose Your Neighbor” letters is not a per se violation of Article 10, but cautioned that such letters could be used in a manner inconsistent with the intent of Article 10. If used in conjunction with other marketing techniques and not as a means of limiting or restricting access to property on the basis of race, color, sex, handicap, familial status, country of national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity, “Choose Your Neighbor” letters were another method of announcing a property’s availability and attracting potential purchasers.
Case #10-6: Use of Hate Speech and Slurs on the Basis of Race
(Adopted May, 2021)
In social media discussions, REALTOR® A made the following comments: “I think Black people bring out the worst in us”; “we always knew n------ were violent. They are not Christian”; and described Black protestors as “animals trying to reclaim their territory”. A consumer took screenshots of the comments, including REALTOR® A’s name, and filed an ethics complaint alleging a violation of Article 10, as interpreted by Standard of Practice 10-5, at the local Association of REALTORS®.
After comprehensive review, the Association’s Grievance Committee forwarded the complaint for a hearing. At the hearing, the panel reviewed the evidence presented by the complainant, including screenshots of the comments. REALTOR® A confirmed she had, in fact, posted the statements, but denied that making the statements interfered in her ability to provide equal professional services to anyone because of their race.
The Hearing Panel entered executive session and considered the intended application of Article 10, as interpreted by Standard of Practice 10-5, as noted in Appendix XII to Part Four of the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual. The Panel concluded that the comments REALTOR® A posted constituted the use of hate speech and slurs. In their decision, the Panel clarified that this public posting of hate speech and disparagement of individuals based on their race reflected discrimination. REALTOR® A’s defense was not accepted by the Hearing Panel, and she was found in violation of Article 10.
Case #10-7: Use of Harassing Speech on the Basis of Political Affiliation
(Adopted May, 2021)
REALTOR® A was a registered member of Political Party Y, and routinely engaged in political discussions on social media and in private conversations. REALTOR® A’s conversations and social media posts often included insulting, intimidating, and hostile statements about members of Political Party Z, including aggressively insulting their intelligence, implying they were unpatriotic, and telling them that if they disagreed with him, they should leave the country.
REALTOR® B witnessed numerous instances where REALTOR® A harassed others on the basis of their membership in Political Party Z, and believed that REALTOR® A was using harassing speech. He filed an ethics complaint with the local Association of REALTORS®, alleging REALTOR® A violated Article 10 as interpreted by Standard of Practice 10-5.
The complaint was reviewed by the Association’s Grievance Committee, who examined the allegations to determine whether, if taken as true, they would constitute a violation of the Code of Ethics. Ultimately the Grievance Committee dismissed the complaint, as the complainant’s sole argument was that REALTOR® A had discriminated against individuals based on their political affiliation with Political Party Z. As political affiliation is not a protected class under Article 10, the allegations in the complaint, even if true, could not constitute a violation of the Code of Ethics.
Case #10-8: Use of Harassing Speech Against Protestors
(Adopted May, 2021)
A group of protestors, supporting the equal treatment of women, gathered peacefully for a march in Washington, D.C. The group requested and was approved for the appropriate permits, and while local law enforcement was on site to provide assistance, no criminal activity was reported.
REALTOR® A, in response to the march, posted on social media, “These morons have nothing better to do than come all the way to Washington to gripe about a problem that doesn’t even exist. This is why women shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house. Get back in the kitchen where you belong.” REALTOR® B saw REALTOR® A’s comments, and filed a complaint with the local Association of REALTORS® alleging REALTOR® A’s comments against the protestors constituted harassing speech against members of a protected class, and as such were a violation of Article 10 as illustrated by Standard of Practice 10-5. The Association’s Grievance Committee forwarded the complaint for a hearing.
At the hearing, REALTOR® B argued that REALTOR® A’s comments constituted objectively harassing speech against individuals on the basis of sex. In response, REALTOR® A argued that his comments were directed at protestors, which are not a protected class, and that, in fact, the group was comprised of both men and women.
In their decision, the panel noted that while REALTOR® A’s comments were addressed to a group of both men and women, they included disparaging, discriminatory comments about women such that the complainant had demonstrated with clear, strong, and convincing proof that REALTOR® A had used harassing speech under Standard of Practice 10-5 and thus was in violation of Article 10.
Case #10-9: Use of Speech or Ideas Included in Religious Doctrine
(Adopted May, 2021)
REALTOR® A was a preacher in his local church, and stated before a group of congregants, “Lesbians and Homosexuals are murderers according to the scriptures!” One of the congregants filed an ethics complaint against REALTOR® A, alleging this statement violated Article 10 as interpreted by Standard of Practice 10-5. The complainant argued in his complaint that REALTOR® A’s statement constituted hate speech. The local Association’s Grievance Committee reviewed the complaint, and forwarded it for a hearing.
At the hearing, the complainant argued that REALTOR® A’s statement constituted hate speech because the remarks were objectively insulting and offensive, and because the speech was based on sexual orientation, a protected class under the Code of Ethics.
REALTOR® A testified that his statement was based on his interpretation of the Biblical scripture, and that his teachings were designed to help his congregants understand the true teachings of God. The Hearing Panel found REALTOR® A in violation of Article 10, noting that the complainant’s testimony had provided clear, strong and convincing proof that REALTOR® A's statement was "intended to insult, offend or intimidate," and that it was "disparaging or abusive," as explained by Appendix XII to Part 4 of the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual. The complainant’s testimony further provided clear, strong, and convincing proof that the alleged speech was based on one of the protected classes under Article 10, sexual orientation.
Case #10-10: Use of Speech Or Ideas Included in Religious Doctrine
(Adopted November, 2021)
REALTOR® A leads a weekly Bible study group in the evenings. During one such study group, REALTOR® A led the group in a discussion of Biblical passages concerning homosexuality, referencing several differing interpretations of said passages. At one point during the discussion, REALTOR® A stated, “Some have said these verses clearly prohibit and condemn same-sex relationships.” An attendee of the group found this to be inappropriate and filed an ethics complaint alleging a violation of Article 10, as interpreted by Standard of Practice 10-5, at the local Association of REALTORS®.
After comprehensive review, the Association’s Grievance Committee forwarded the complaint for a hearing. The complainant argued that REALTOR® A’s statement represented his own personal beliefs about homosexuality. REALTOR® A confirmed that the complainant had quoted him correctly but argued that he presents all sides of Biblical interpretation for historical context, and that he is careful to leave any personal opinions out of the study group, as evidenced by his use of “some have said.”
The Hearing Panel entered executive session and considered the intended application of Article 10, as interpreted by Standard of Practice 10-5, as noted in Appendix XII to Part Four of the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual. The Panel concluded that REALTOR® A’s comments were not intended to convey a discriminatory opinion and did not constitute the use of hate speech and slurs. REALTOR® A was not found in violation of Article 10.
Case #10-11: Display of Symbols
(Adopted November, 2021)
When searching real estate listings on a brokerage website, a potential homebuyer noticed a listing with the Confederate flag prominently displayed in the property photos. She filed an ethics complaint against the listing broker alleging a violation of Article 10, as interpreted by Standard of Practice 10-3 and Standard of Practice 10-5, at the local Association of REALTORS®. The complainant argued in her complaint that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racial exclusion and that the listing broker’s display of the photos conveyed a preference and discrimination based on race. The local Association’s Grievance Committee reviewed the complaint and forwarded it for a hearing.
At the hearing, the complainant testified that she felt threatened by the display of the Confederate flag and took it to mean that she would not be welcome in the home or the neighborhood if she were to make an offer on the property.
The listing broker testified that he should not be held responsible for what is displayed in a client’s home and could not offer an explanation for his client’s motives in displaying the Confederate flag.
The Hearing Panel concluded that the listing broker is indeed responsible for content he displays publicly when engaging in real estate brokerage. The Hearing Panel also discussed whether the display of the flag indicated an illegal preference or discrimination. Using the standard of whether a “reasonable person” would think display of the Confederate flag conveyed a discriminatory preference, the Hearing Panel determined that the listing broker’s inclusion, intentional or not, of photos including the Confederate flag could be reasonably construed as indicating a racial preference or illegal discrimination based on a protected class, and therefore was a violation of Article 10, as interpreted by Standard of Practice 10-3 and Standard of Practice 10-5.