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An Ombudsman is an individual appointed to receive and resolve disputes through constructive communication and advocating for consensus and understanding.
Ombudsman procedures are intended to provide enhanced communications and initial problem-solving capacity at the local level. All Associations must provide Ombudsman services to their members and members’ clients and customers consistent with Professional Standards Policy Statement #59, Associations to Provide Ombudsman Services, Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual.
The REALTORS® of Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte-North Port-DeSoto Inc.® is charged with the responsibility of receiving and resolving ethics complaints. This obligation is carried out by our local Grievance Committee and Professional Standards Committee.
Many “complaints” received by our Association do not expressly allege violations of specific Articles of the Code of Ethics, and many do not detail conduct related to the Code. Some “complaints” are actually transactional, technical, or procedural questions readily responded to.
It is the belief of the National Association of REALTORS® Professional Standards Committee that many ethics complaints might be averted with enhanced communications and initial problem-solving capacity at the local level. These ombudsman procedures are intended to provide that capacity.
Role of an Ombudsman
An Ombudsman’s role is primarily one of communication and conciliation, not adjudication. An Ombudsman does not determine whether ethics violations have occurred or who is entitled to what amount of money, rather anticipates, identifies, and resolves misunderstandings and disagreements before matters ripen into disputes and possible charges of unethical conduct.
Qualification and Criteria for Ombudsman
At a minimum, the Ombudsman should be thoroughly familiar with the Code of Ethics, state real estate regulations, and current real estate practice. The Ombudsman must be a REALTOR® acting on behalf of the local Board/Association and selected from the Professional Standards Committee.
Involving the Ombudsman
The Association has considerable latitude in determining how and when an Ombudsman will be utilized. For example, an Ombudsman can field and respond to a wide variety of inquiries and complaints, including general questions about real estate practice, transaction details, ethical practice, and enforcement issues. An Ombudsman can also receive and respond to questions and complaints about members; can contact members to inform them that a client or customer has raised a question or issue, and can contact members to obtain information necessary to provide an informed response.
In cases where an Ombudsman believes that a failure of communication is the basis for a question or complaint, the ombudsman can arrange a meeting of the parties and facilitate a mutually acceptable resolution.
Where a written ethics complaint in the appropriate form is received, it can be initially referred to the Ombudsman who will attempt to resolve the matter, except that complaints alleging violations of the public trust (as defined in Article IV, Section 2 of the NAR Bylaws) may not be referred to an ombudsman. “Public trust” refers to misappropriation of client or customer funds or property, willful discrimination, or fraud resulting in substantial economic harm.
In the event the Ombudsman concludes that a potential violation of the public trust may have occurred, the ombudsman process shall be immediately terminated, and the parties shall be advised of their right to pursue a formal ethics complaint; to pursue a complaint with any appropriate governmental or regulatory body; to pursue litigation, or to pursue any other available remedy.
Right to Decline Ombudsman Services
Persons filing complaints, or inquiring about the process for filing ethics complaints, will be advised that Ombudsman services are available to attempt to informally resolve their complaint. Such persons will also be advised that they may decline ombudsman services and can have their complaint referred to ethics mediation (if available), or considered at a formal ethics hearing.
Resolution of Complaints
If a matter complained of is resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties through the efforts of an Ombudsman, the formal ethics complaint brought initially (if any) will continue to be processed until withdrawn by the complainant.
Failure to Comply With Agreed Upon Resolution
Failure or refusal of a member to comply with the terms of a mutually agreed on resolution shall entitle the complaining party to resubmit the original complaint or, where a formal complaint in the appropriate form had not been filed, to file an ethics complaint. The time the matter was originally brought to the board or association’s attention will be considered the filing date for purposes of determining whether an ethics complaint is timely filed.
Referrals to the Grievance Committee or to State Regulatory Bodies
An Ombudsman cannot refer concerns he or she has regarding the conduct of any party utilizing their services to the Grievance Committee, to the state real estate licensing authority, or to any other regulatory body. The prohibition is intended to ensure impartiality and avoid the possible appearance of bias. Ombudsman is, however, authorized to refer concerns that the public trust may have been violated to the Grievance Committee.
Confidentiality of Ombudsman Process
The allegations, discussions, and decisions made in Ombudsman proceedings are confidential and shall not be reported or published by the board, any member of a tribunal, or any party under any circumstances except those established in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual of the National Association of REALTORS® as from time to time amended.