10 Things You Need to Know About Complaints, Investigations, and Council Discipline
One of the most important ways the Real Estate Council protects consumers is by investigating potential misconduct by real estate licensees. We may investigate as a result of a complaint, or we may begin an investigation on our own initiative if we discover information that could indicate misconduct.
The Council’s complaints and investigation process is principled and balanced in order to protect the public interest, while treating all parties fairly. The Council reviews and considers every complaint we receive. We investigate and take disciplinary action in appropriate cases.
Here are ten things you should know about how the Council handles complaints, how investigations are conducted, and what you can expect as a licensee if a discipline hearing is called.
1. Complaints and Investigations are Confidential
Unless it is necessary to obtain information, the Council does not publicly reveal the names of people we are investigating. During the course of an investigation, we keep that information confidential to protect the integrity of the investigation, and to protect the right to privacy of the licensee and the complainant.
2. Licensees Have a Voice
The Council receives hundreds of complaints every year. Our compliance team reviews each complaint and any information that was submitted along with it, to determine if the Council has the authority to act in the matter and if there is enough evidence to proceed with an investigation. We may contact the complainant to ask for more information.
As part of an investigation, we will ask the licensee to respond to us about the allegations that were made in the complaint.
3. We Encourage Communication to Resolve Misunderstandings
Often, complaints are the result of misunderstandings between licensees and consumers. We encourage licensees to take steps to resolve misunderstandings with clients before they become complaints.
4. Investigations are Carefully Reviewed
After the Council has completed an investigation, the file will be reviewed internally. If there is no evidence of misconduct, or insufficient evidence, the file may be closed. For certain types of misconduct, the licensee may receive an administrative penalty.
If there appears to be evidence of misconduct and an administrative penalty is not appropriate, a Complaints Committee will review the investigation report, the evidence, and the response the Council received from the licensee.
The Complaints Committee may decide the evidence is insufficient, and either close the file or request further investigation.
If there has been misconduct and the offence is minor, the Complaints Committee may decide to issue a Letter of Advisement. This letter, which is sent from the Council to the licensee, will outline the problems with the licensee’s conduct, and how the Council expects them to conduct themselves in the future. Letters of advisement are not public, and are not part of a licensee’s disciplinary record.
If there appears to be evidence of serious misconduct, the Complaints Committee may recommend that the Council hold a formal disciplinary hearing into the allegations against the licensee.
5. Licensees Have Choices
When a hearing has been recommended, the Council will send the licensee and the complainant a Notice of Hearing setting out the alleged misconduct approximately six months in advance of the hearing date. We will also let the licensee know that they have the right to submit a consent order proposal, if they want to admit to the allegations against them. If the Council agrees to accept a licensee’s consent order proposal, no hearing will be held. Instead, the licensee agrees to the penalty in the consent order, which will be published on the Council’s website.
If a licensee chooses not to submit a consent order proposal, the hearing will proceed and the Council will publish the Notice of Hearing on our website approximately two months ahead of the hearing date.
6. Consent Orders and Disciplinary Decisions are Public
Consent orders, which include an agreed statement of facts and the discipline ordered by the Council, are public information. Decisions from disciplinary hearings are also public. The Council is required to publish consent orders and disciplinary hearing decisions. They are published on the Council’s website, in the Report from Council newsletter, and on the Canlii legal website.
7. Council Hearings are Public
Holding open and fair hearings is an important part of our job to protect real estate consumers. Members of the public have the right to attend Council disciplinary hearings. The public can learn about scheduled disciplinary hearings through Notices of Hearings published on the Council’s Upcoming Hearings page.
Publishing information about upcoming hearings is an accepted best practice by regulators in industries and professions across Canada. Observers at Council disciplinary hearings must agree to abide by the Council’s Observer Guidelines.
8. You’ll Be Kept Informed
If there is a Council investigation into your conduct, we will ensure that you are notified when appropriate, and we will give you the opportunity to respond to us about the allegations that were made in the complaint.
If a hearing is recommended, you will receive a Notice of Hearing approximately six months ahead of the scheduled hearing date. You have until 21 days before the scheduled hearing to submit a consent order proposal to the Council if you wish to admit to the allegations.
9. A Licensee’s Role at a Hearing
As the licensee whose conduct is in question, you have the right to be at the hearing. You may be questioned and asked to give evidence during the hearing. If you choose, you can be represented by a lawyer, at your own cost.
If you choose not to attend, the hearing can proceed without you. Keep in mind, however, that licensees have an obligation to respond to Council requests and provide information during the course of an investigation.
10. Private Matters Remain Private
The Council does not publish information about a licensee or a complainant that could be considered an unreasonable invasion of privacy.
The Chair of a Hearing Committee may decide that a Council disciplinary hearing, or a portion of a hearing, must be held in private to prevent the disclosure of financial or personal matters, or other confidential information which could be damaging to the parties involved.
Learn more about the Council’s Complaints and Discipline process.