REALTORS® who engage in hate speech or discriminatory conduct even outside of their real estate practice could face disciplinary action under the Code of Ethics. The National Association of REALTORS®’ Board of Directors on Friday approved a proposal intended to hold members to a higher standard of ethics in everything they do. The board meeting was held during the virtual 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. NAR President Vince Malta called the passage of the proposal “a monumental moment for NAR” in reaffirming its commitment to fair housing.
The changes go into effect immediately but do not retroactively apply to members’ past activities or actions. REALTORS® who make discriminatory remarks, on their business or personal social media accounts, can be subject to disciplinary action.
NAR’s Professional Standards Committee first developed the new rules this past summer after nationwide social unrest following the death of George Floyd. Local, state, and national REALTOR® associations reported receiving an “unprecedented” number of complaints about members posting hate speech on social media.
“I applaud NAR’s Board of Directors and our Professional Standards Committee for their efforts to raise the bar on the professionalism and private speech of America’s 1.4 million REALTORS®,” Malta said Friday. “Combating and overcoming bigotry and injustice starts with each of us. REALTORS® today took tangible steps to ensure we are held to the highest possible standard while providing a mechanism of enforcement for those who violate our new policies.”
The new rules extend Article 10 of the Code, which already prohibits discrimination in professional services and employment practices, to include discriminatory speech and conduct. Article 10 prohibits REALTORS® from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The new Standard of Practice, 10-5, will now state: “REALTORS® must not use harassing speech, hate speech, epithets, or slurs” against members of those protected classes.
The board also approved a revision to NAR’s bylaws to expand the definition of “public trust” to include all discrimination against the protected classes under Article 10, as well as all fraud. Going forward, associations will be required to inform their state real estate licensing authority of final ethics decisions that hold REALTORS® in violation of the Code in instances involving real estate–related activities and transactions where there is reason to believe the public trust may have been violated.
Prior to approval, the hate speech proposal was reviewed and thoughtfully debated by members. Some suggested the Code shouldn’t change, and instead, the proposal should become a conduct suggestion. Others expressed concern that the new standard could be viewed as violating the First Amendment right to free speech. NAR, however, is a private association that is supported by member dues and, therefore, has the ability to impose ethical duties on its membership, according to FAQs from the Professional Standards Committee.
Other board members welcomed the no-tolerance policy against hate speech, saying that discrimination on the part of any real estate professional reflects poorly on the entire membership. Board member Maurice Hampton, speaking in favor of the proposal, said the nation’s 1.4 million REALTORS® are “not looked at as individuals. We are looked at as a whole. We have a fiduciary duty to protect the REALTOR® brand.”
Board member Boyd Campbell, echoing support for the proposal, said the policy should not be looked at as solely a race issue. It applies to protecting all classes outlined in Article 10 of the Code. “We have a choice to be a REALTOR®. And if you choose to be a REALTOR®, you have certain qualifications, characteristics, and duties that you have to fulfill,” Campbell said.
Any complaint alleging a violation of Article 10’s prohibition on hate speech can now be brought to a hearing panel at a local REALTOR® association. Members accused of violating the standard of practice will be given an opportunity to present their case and defend themselves before the hearing panel, which would weigh the specifics of the alleged violation, whether the comments were made inadvertently or unintentionally, and whether the member has any previous ethics complaints. NAR’s professional standards policies include a defined process of checks and balances to protect members and evaluate potential Code violations.
NAR’s Professional Standards Committee will continue to develop case interpretations to assist members and professional standards enforcement volunteers understand the Code. NAR has produced training and resource materials to assist leaders with understanding and implementing the changes and will roll those out in the coming weeks