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A question of ethics

Demystifying the process of reviewing ethical violations

By David Barrow, CPM, and Regina (Reggie) Mullins, CPM, CCIM

It’s three o’clock on Friday and it’s beautiful outside. Crisp blue sky, mid 70s. The long weekend is going to be beautiful, too. You were just thinking about heading out a little early to get started when a light knock on your door brings you back to the familiar view of email on your monitor. Your assistant, Patrick, slowly opens the door and walks in.

“Hello Patrick, what can I do for you?” you say.

He smiles and hands you an envelope, “This just arrived for you. Also, do you mind if I leave a little early? I need to pick up my son so we can get on the road for our camping trip.”

“Sure, I was just thinking about doing the same thing myself,” you say.

Patrick says, “Thanks, I’ll see you Monday.”

You look at the envelope and notice it’s from IREM. Curious, you open it. As you remove the contents and start reading the first page of the letter marked “personal and confidential,” you feel like you just swallowed a ball of hot lead.

… I am writing to inform you that an ethics complaint has been filed against you…

“A complaint? Against me? Who reported me? Why? I haven’t done anything unethical. WHAT DO I DO NOW?”

As an IREM member, finding out you are the Respondent in an ethics complaint can be unsettling and intimidating—particularly with all of the unknowns. But as an IREM member, you should know that the IREM ethics enforcement process provides for due process, is fair and is extremely confidential. It’s also designed to hold members accountable if their actions are determined to be unethical and in violation of the IREM Code of Professional Ethics (IREM Code) or the AMO Code of Professional Ethics (AMO Code). The process from start to finish is a very structured one. Understanding the full process—from finding out a complaint has been filed and merits further review, to a possible hearing, to an appeal—can be helpful. Here are some frequently asked questions that address important information for both Complainants and Respondents.

Who can file a complaint?

Anyone—a fellow member, an employee, a tenant, a resident, an owner—can file a complaint against an IREM member or AMO firm.

Can a complaint be filed anonymously?

As a matter of due process, the party who files a complaint (“Complainant”) needs to be identified. If the complaint has merit on its face and is forwarded by the Ethics Inquiry Board (“Inquiry Board”) to the Ethics Hearing and Discipline Board (“Hearing Board”) for a hearing, it is the responsibility of the Complainant to provide “clear, strong and convincing” proof that a specific article(s) of the Code(s) was violated by the member/AMO firm (“Respondent”).

I know of a situation in which a fellow IREM member may have violated the IREM Code, although I was not personally involved. What should I do?

As an IREM member, it’s your duty under Article 7. Duty to Report in the IREM Code to report behavior and activities that may be in violation of the Code(s) by filing a complaint. The complaint must provide evidence and facts that a violation may have occurred.

Will the member I file a complaint against know that it was me?

Yes, but only if the Inquiry Board opens an investigation or determines that the complaint has merit on its face and that a possible violation may have occurred, and then forwards the case to the Hearing Board for a hearing. If the Inquiry Board determines the complaint does not have merit, it will be dismissed and the Respondent will not be notified that a complaint was even filed.

Can I find out if I or another member or AMO firm has been involved in an ethics complaint?

IREM does not disclose the names of any Complainants or Respondents, or whether or not a complaint has been filed. However, if an IREM member or AMO firm is found in violation of the Code(s) and the Hearing Board imposes published discipline, that information becomes public knowledge.

What Article of the IREM Code is cited the most in complaints?

Article 10. Compliance with Laws and Regulations is the most cited article in complaints since 1978. The Pledge, which includes a member’s promise to maintain high ethical and moral standards, and to act with honesty, integrity and industriousness, is the second most cited.

I submitted a complaint but have since resolved the issue with the Respondent. Can I withdraw my complaint?

Once a complaint has been filed, it may only be withdrawn if the Inquiry Board accepts the withdrawal. Even if the matter has been settled through other forums, the Inquiry Board may forward the complaint—in which case the chair would become the Complainant—if there is probable cause that a violation of the Code(s) may have occurred.

My complaint clearly showed the Respondent did something wrong. Why would it be dismissed?

If the Inquiry Board dismisses a complaint, it does not mean they don’t believe the Complainant. Rather, it means they did not find probable cause that violation of the Code(s) may have occurred. Many complaints suggest business or personal disputes rather than unethical behavior.

As an IREM member, you should know that the IREM ethics enforcement process provides for due process, is fair and is extremely confidential.

When should I expect notification regarding the complaint I filed?

You’ll receive confirmation that your complaint has been filed once received by IREM Headquarters. The process of evaluating complaints can be extensive and includes detailed review of the alleged violation(s), examination of supporting evidence, and lengthy deliberations amongst the Inquiry Board before making a determination. The Inquiry Board meets approximately once a month.

What decisions can the Inquiry Board make regarding a complaint?

The Inquiry Board reviews all complaints to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a violation of the Code(s) may have occurred. The Inquiry Board can do one of the following: request additional information from the Complainant and/or Respondent and open an investigation; dismiss the complaint; or forward the complaint to the Hearing Board for a hearing.

My complaint was forwarded for a hearing. Does this mean the Respondent is guilty?

It’s important to understand that no one is “guilty” or “not guilty,” as IREM is not a court of law. Rather, IREM members can be found in violation or not in violation of the Code(s). When a complaint is forwarded to the Hearing Board for a hearing, it’s up to its members to make the determination whether a violation actually occurred.

I am the named Respondent in a complaint. What happens next?

Upon a complaint being forwarded to the Hearing Board, the Complainant and Respondent are sent an “Official Notice of Ethics Hearing,” which includes the date and time for the hearing and a copy of the full complaint. Upon receipt of the Notice, the Respondent has 30 days to provide a written, detailed response to the complaint. This response serves as the primary basis for the Respondent’s case and is provided to the Complainant and the Hearing Board prior to the scheduled hearing, so it’s very important that it thoroughly addresses the allegations.

If I’m the Respondent and don’t submit a response when notified of a complaint, what happens?

If a response is not filed within the 30 days, it may be assumed that the Respondent does not wish to contest the allegations. The hearing will move forward for the Hearing Board to make its decision.

When and where are hearings held?

Hearings are typically scheduled during the annual IREM meeting in the fall. Virtual hearings may be scheduled if the annual IREM meeting is more than six months away.

Who participates in a hearing?

The chair of the Hearing Board, a Hearing Panel (comprised of 7-10 Hearing Board members), the IREM Ethics Administrator, IREM legal counsel, a court reporter, the Complainant, the Respondent, and any witnesses and/or legal representation of the parties. Hearings typically last about 90 minutes.

What is the potential discipline for a violation?

If the Hearing Board finds the Respondent in violation, the Hearing Board may impose discipline but is not obligated to do so. Discipline may consist of a letter of censure, or suspension or termination of membership. A letter of censure may be conditioned on the Respondent completing education requirements, public service or other action that is determined relevant by the Hearing Board, and may or may not be published.

Who can appeal the decision of the Ethics Hearing & Discipline Board?

Within 15 days of receipt of the Hearing Board’s decision, the adversely impacted party (the Appellant) may request an appeal. The Request for Appeal must clearly state why the decision of the Hearing Board should be modified, reversed or remanded and is solely based on the arguments and facts presented during the hearing. The Ethics Appeal Board’s (“Appeal Board”) decision is final and binding.

Can the Complainant request an appeal if they believe the Respondent’s discipline wasn’t enough?

Discipline imposed by the Hearing Board cannot be appealed.

 

Maggie Callahan

David Barrow, CPM, is the head of the commercial real estate division for Dodson Commercial in Richmond, Va. He is also the 2020 vice chair of the IREM Ethics Committee and has served as chair of the Region 3 Education Committee and president of the Central Virginia Chapter.
Regina (Reggie) Mullins, CPM, CCIM

Regina (Reggie) Mullins, CPM, CCIM, is a director for Cushman & Wakefield, AMO, in Arlington, VA. She is a past IREM president and is currently an IREM instructor as well as a member of the IREM Foundation board of directors and IREM Ethics Discipline Committee.

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