FAQ – The Ombudsman HELP Program at the Dayton Area Board of REALTORS®
1. What is the Ombudsman HELP Program?
An ombudsman is an individual appointed to receive and resolve disputes through constructive communication and advocate for consensus and understanding. “Ombudsman HELP” procedures are intended to provide enhanced communications and initial problem-solving capacity.
2. Is there really a need for the Ombudsman HELP Program?
Yes. The Board regularly receives complaint calls, some of which proceed to the filing of formal complaints. The Board is charged with the responsibility of receiving and resolving any ethics complaints. This obligation is carried out by the Grievance and Professional Standards committees. Many “complaints” received by boards and associations 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 transaction procedural questions that can be readily addressed. Many ethics complaints might be averted with enhanced communications and with an initial problem-solving capacity. Ombudsman HELP is intended to provide that capacity.
3. What is the role of the ombudsmen?
The ombudsman‘s role is primarily one of communication and conciliation, not adjudication. Ombudsmen do not determine whether ethics violations have occurred. They anticipate, identify, and resolve misunderstandings and disagreements before matters ripen into disputes and possible charges of unethical conduct.
4. What are the qualification and criteria for someone to be an ombudsman?
a) Ten or more years of real estate experience or five or more years of real estate experience including additional qualifications such as experience in dispute resolution
b) Familiarity with the NAR Code of Ethics, state real estate regulations, and current real estate practices
c) Having served on the Professional Standards Committee and/or Grievance Committee
d) Have successfully completed Ombudsman & Professional Standards Training within the last two years
e) Complete an Ombudsman Application and be selected by the board president in conjunction with the association’s Chief Executive Officer
5. How and when will the ombudsmen be utilized?
The ombudsmen will principally address complaints and questions about members passed to them by the board CEO. The ombudsman 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 to have the parties call one another directly, or the ombudsman may initiate a call for the purpose reaching a mutually acceptable resolution.
A written ethics complaint may also be initially referred to the ombudsman who will attempt to resolve the matter when it appears that the complainant really is attempting to get a situation addressed or remedied.
6. Is the ombudsman process just for consumers?
No. The ombudsman process can be beneficial for both consumers and REAL TOR® members who need an immediate, informal resolution to common misunderstandings.
7. How long does the ombudsman process take?
Disputes can often be resolved through the ombudsman process in as little as a few hours or days, depending on the availability of the ombudsman and the parties.
8. Can the complainant or REALTOR® decline Ombudsman HELP services?
Yes. 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 the Grievance Committee. The REALTOR® about whom the complaint is being filed may also decline to participate in a resolution process with the ombudsman.
9. What sort of documents or evidence do parties exchange during the ombudsman process?
Exchanging documents or evidence during the ombudsman process is typically unnecessary. Rather, the ombudsman will work to resolve the dispute through a series of phone calls or an informal meeting with the parties.
10. What happens to the formal complaint if there is a resolution of the situation?
If the matter is resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties through the efforts of an ombudsman, the formal ethics complaint will be dismissed.
11. If the parties do not resolve their dispute through the ombudsman process, how long does the individual have to file an ethics complaint or arbitration request?
The filing date for purposes of determining whether an ethics complaint or arbitration request is timely filed will be the time the matter was originally brought to the board or association’s attention. When the parties invoke informal dispute resolution processes such as ombudsman, ethics mediation, or mediation of arbitrable disputes, filing deadlines are suspended.
12. What if the ombudsman thinks the dispute may involve a potential violation of the public trust?
In the event the ombudsman concludes that a potential violation of the public trust may have occurred, the ombudsman process shall be immediately terminated. The parties will be advised of their right to file a formal ethics complaint, to file a complaint with any appropriate governmental or regulatory body, to pursue litigation, or to pursue any other available remedy. “Public trust” refers to misappropriation of client or customer funds or property, willful discrimination, or fraud resulting in substantial economic harm. Written ethics complaints alleging violations of the public trust may not be referred to an ombudsman.
13. Can an ombudsman file an ethics complaint based on what he or she has learned from the parties through the ombudsman process?
Ombudsmen cannot refer concerns they have 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 perception of bias. Ombudsmen are, however, authorized to refer concerns that the public trust may have been violated to the Grievance Committee.
14. Is the ombudsman process confidential?
Yes. The allegations, discussions, and decisions made in ombudsman proceedings are confidential and may not be reported or published by the board, any member of a tribunal (including the ombudsman), or any party under any circumstances except those established in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual.
15. What is the difference between the ombudsman process and mediation?
The ombudsman process usually involves parties who have not filed an ethics complaint or arbitration request, but have experienced a breakdown in communication requiring informal resolution (although an ombudsman may also be used where a complaint has been filed). Often the ombudsman functions as an intermediary who communicates the concerns of one party to the other over the phone, so a positive relationship can be restored. Mediation, on the other hand, normally involves monetary disputes where an arbitration request may have been filed. Parties generally meet face-to-face at a prearranged time with their mediator, who encourages both parties to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution of their dispute. Ombudsmen and mediators often have the same skill set: impartiality, the ability to listen carefully, and the desire to identify and resolve misunderstandings.