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Article 17 of the Code of Ethics provides:

In the event of contractual disputes or specific non-contractual disputes as defined in Standard of Practice 17-4 between REALTORS® (principals) associated with different firms, arising out of their relationship as REALTORS®, the REALTORS® shall mediate the dispute if the Board requires its members to mediate. If the dispute is not resolved through mediation, or if mediation is not required, REALTORS® shall submit the dispute to arbitration in accordance with the policies of the Board rather than litigate the matter.

In the event clients of REALTORS® wish to mediate or arbitrate contractual disputes arising out of real estate transactions, REALTORS® shall mediate or arbitrate those disputes in accordance with the policies of the Board, provided the clients agree to be bound by any resulting agreement or award.

The obligation to participate in mediation and arbitration contemplated by this Article includes the obligation of REALTORS® (principals) to cause their firms to arbitrate and be bound by any award.

Part Ten, Section 43, Arbitrable Issues, in this Manual provides in part:

As used in Article 17 of the Code of Ethics and in Part Ten of this Manual, the terms “dispute” and “arbitrable matter” refer to contractual issues and questions, and certain specific non-contractual issues and questions outlined in Standard of Practice 17-4, including entitlement to commissions and compensation in cooperative transactions, that arise out of the business relationships between REALTORS®, and between REALTORS® and their clients and customers, as specified in Part Ten, Section 44, Duty and Privilege to Arbitrate.

Arbitration by Boards of REALTORS® is a process authorized by law in virtually every state. Arbitration is an economical, efficient, and expeditious alternative to civil litigation. Jurists, including the former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, have endorsed arbitration as a method of reducing the litigation backlog in the civil courts.

To conduct arbitration hearings, Boards of REALTORS®, acting through their Professional Standards Committee, must have a clear understanding of what constitutes an arbitrable issue. An arbitrable issue includes a contractual question arising out of a transaction between parties to a contract in addition to certain specified non-contractual issues set forth in Standard of Practice 17-4. Many arbitrations conducted by Boards of REALTORS® involve entitlement to compensation offered by listing brokers through a multiple listing service or otherwise to cooperating brokers acting as subagents, as agents of purchasers, or in some other recognized agency or non-agency capacity. Frequently, at closing, the listing broker will be paid out of the proceeds of the sale and will direct that a disbursement be made to the cooperating broker who the listing broker believes was the procuring cause of the sale. Subsequently, another broker who may have been previously involved in the transaction will file an arbitration request claiming to have been the procuring cause of sale, and the question arises as to who is the proper respondent.

In our example, assume that the listing broker is Broker A, the cooperating broker who was paid is Broker B, and the cooperating broker who was not paid, but who claims to be the procuring cause of sale, is Broker C. It is not unusual for arbitration requests filed by one cooperating broker to name another cooperating broker as the respondent. This is based on the assumption that the monies the listing broker paid to Broker B are unique and that the listing broker’s obligation to compensate any other broker is extinguished by the payment to Broker B, irrespective of whether Broker B was the procuring cause of sale or not. However, the mere fact that the listing broker paid Broker B in error does not diminish or extinguish the listing broker’s obligation to compensate Broker C if a Hearing Panel determines that Broker C was, in fact, the procuring cause of sale.

Does this mean that a listing broker is always potentially obligated to pay multiple commissions if a property was shown by more than one cooperating broker? Not necessarily. When faced with Broker C’s arbitration request, the listing broker could have initiated arbitration against Broker B, requesting that the Hearing Panel consider and resolve all of the competing claims arising from the transaction at the same time. Professional Standards Policy Statement 27, Consolidation of arbitration claims arising out of the same transaction, provides:

A listing broker may realize, prior to the closing of a transaction, that there may be more than one cooperating broker claiming compensation as the procuring cause of sale. In such instances, to avoid potential liability for multiple compensation claims, the listing broker, after the transaction has closed, can initiate an arbitration request naming all of the potential claimants (cooperating brokers) as respondents. In this way, all of the potential competing claims that might arise can be resolved through a single arbitration hearing.

There is also an alternative avenue of arbitration available to REALTORS® involved in disputes arising out of cooperative real estate transactions. Standard of Practice 17-4 recognizes that in some situations where a cooperating broker claims entitlement to compensation arising out of a cooperative transaction, a listing broker will already have compensated another cooperating broker or may have reduced the commission payable under a listing contract because a cooperating broker has expressly sought and/or chosen to accept compensation from another source, e.g., the seller, the purchaser, etc. Under the circumstances specified in Standard of Practice 17-4, the cooperating brokers may arbitrate between themselves without naming the listing broker as a party. If this is done, all claims between the parties, and claims they might otherwise have against the listing broker, are extinguished by the award of the arbitrators. Similarly, Standard of Practice 17-4 also provides for arbitration between brokers in cases where two (or more) brokers each have open listings and each claims to have procured the purchaser. Since the determiner of entitlement to a commission under an open listing is generally production of the purchaser, arbitration between the two (or more) "open" listing brokers resolves their claims against the seller. This open listing scenario is to be distinguished from the situation in which two (or more) listing brokers each have exclusive listings and each claim entitlement to a commission pursuant to their respective listing agreements. Because exclusive listing agreements generally provide for payment of a commission if the listed property is sold–whether through the listing broker's efforts or not–each listing broker could have a legitimate, enforceable right to a commission from their client. Thus, Standard of Practice 17-4 does not obligate listing brokers to arbitrate between themselves when both (or all) have independent claims to commissions based on their respective exclusive listing agreements. 

Another question that frequently arises with respect to arbitration requests is whether the fact that the listing broker was paid out of the proceeds of the closing is determinative of whether a dispute will be considered by a Hearing Panel. Initially, it should be noted that the Arbitration Guidelines (Appendix II to Part Ten) provide that an arbitrable issue involving procuring cause requires that there have been a “successful transaction.” A “successful transaction” is defined as “a sale that closes or a lease that is executed.” Some argue that if the listing broker is not paid, or if the listing broker waives entitlement to the commission established in the listing contract, then there is nothing to pay to the cooperating broker and, thus, no issue that can be arbitrated. This is an improper analysis of the issue. While the listing broker needs the consent of the seller/client to appoint subagents and to compensate subagents, buyer agents, or brokers acting in some other recognized agency or non-agency capacity, the offer to compensate such individuals, whether made through the multiple listing service or otherwise, results in a separate contractual relationship accepted through performance by the cooperating broker. Thus, if the cooperating broker performs on the terms and conditions established by the listing broker, the fact that the listing broker finds it difficult to be paid or, alternatively, waives the right to be paid, has no bearing on whether the matter can be arbitrated but may have a direct impact on the outcome. Many cooperative relationships are established through MLS and the definition of the MLS provides, in part:

While offers of compensation made by listing brokers to cooperating brokers through MLS are unconditional,* a listing broker’s obligation to compensate a cooperating broker who was the procuring cause of sale (or lease) may be excused if it is determined through arbitration that, through no fault of the listing broker and in the exercise of good faith and reasonable care, it was impossible or financially unfeasible for the listing broker to collect a commission pursuant to the listing agreement. In such instances, entitlement to cooperative compensation offered through MLS would be a question to be determined by an arbitration Hearing Panel based on all relevant facts and circumstances including, but not limited to, why it was impossible or financially unfeasible for the listing broker to collect some or all of the commission established in the listing agreement; at what point in the transaction did the listing broker know (or should have known) that some or all of the commission established in the listing agreement might not be paid; and how promptly had the listing broker communicated to cooperating brokers that the commission established in the listing agreement might not be paid.

(*Compensation is unconditional except where local MLS rules permit listing brokers to reserve the right to reduce compensation offers to cooperating brokers in the event that the commission established in a listing contract is reduced by court action or by actions of a lender. Refer to Part One, G. Commission/Cooperative Compensation Offers, Section 1, Information Specifying the Compensation on Each Listing Filed with a Multiple Listing Service of a Board of REALTORS®, Handbook on Multiple Listing Policy.)

Still another common question is whether a REALTOR® (often a cooperating broker with an arguably-arbitrable claim) can thwart the process by remaining silent for one hundred eighty (180) days and then bringing a lawsuit against another REALTOR (often the listing broker). As noted previously,  arbitration requests must be filed within one hundred eighty (180) days after the closing of the transaction, if any, or within one hundred eighty (180) days after the facts constituting the arbitrable matter could have been known in the exercise of reasonable diligence, whichever is later. REALTORS® cannot reasonably be expected to request arbitration in circumstances where they have no reason to know that a dispute with another broker or firm even exists. Under these circumstances, a listing broker with no prior knowledge of a dispute would have one hundred eighty (180) days from receipt of notice of a lawsuit to invoke arbitration with the other broker.

The foregoing are by no means all-inclusive of the consideration that must be taken into account in determining whether a matter will be arbitrated. However, they are some of the common questions raised with respect to arbitrable issues, and this discussion is provided to assist Arbitrators in their important role in evaluating arbitration requests.

Non-Arbitrable Issues that Can be Mediated as a Matter of Local Determination

As stated above, an arbitrable issue includes a contractual question arising out of a transaction between parties to a contract, in addition to certain specified non-contractual issues set forth in Standard of Practice 17-4. Arbitration proceedings should be limited to these issues, and Boards of REALTORS® should not arbitrate other types of claims. Examples of non-arbitrable issues include:

    •  tortious interference with business relationships
    •  tortious interference with a contractual relationship
    •  economic duress
    •  intentional infliction of emotional distress
    •  other tort claims, such as libel/slander
    •  employment claims, other than commission disputes
    •  fraud/misrepresentation claims
    •  property claims, both real and personal

In addition, Section 53 of the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual limits the award in an arbitration proceeding to the amount in dispute and so an arbitration award will not include punitive damages, attorney’s fees, or interest, unless the agreement between the parties specifically provides for such damages and the award is permitted by state law.

Associations may, but are not required to, provide mediation services for disputes of the type listed above.

 


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