Probable Cause – What is it? Why do we need to know? Why should we care?
If you or someone you know has a complaint filed against you to the Florida Real Estate Commission you need to know happens next:
• The complaint is forwarded to a “complaint analysis,” who determines if it is “legally sufficient.”
If it is, a case number is assigned and the case is forwarded to the Investigative Field Office in this area.
• The investigator determines the facts, as best they can, by talking with all sides of the issue and files a report to the FREC legal department.
• If the legal department determines that there has been a possible violation, the case is referred to the Probable Cause Panel of the commission. This panel is comprised of 2 commission members ( 2 Commissioners, one past and one current) who are not employed by the state.
• If the panel determines there is Probable Cause, it is remanded to the legal department, which negotiates a settlement with the person involved based on standard penalties.
• If the person accepts the penalties, the case goes to the Comission for approval or renegotiation of penalty.
• If the person and the attorneys cannot agree on penalties, or dispute the facts, they can go before an administrative law judge for a hearing.
After serving two terms (8 years) on the Florida Real Estate Commission, I still continue to participate in the Probable Cause Panel for the Commission. In the course of the past 14 years, I have sat on many Probable Cause panels, but this is the the first time I was totally ashamed of many of the real estate licensees in our state. Of the 40 complaints almost 3/4 were Escrow thefts.
Now I understand that mistakes are made. A deposit check in the wrong account and it is rectified quickly. Depositing the escrow check 1 or 2 days beyond the mandatory due date. The Probable Cause Panel and the Commision understands these…but the escrow problems we are now encountering are outright thefts, with absolutely no intention of returning the deposits. And the comments of the real estate licensees? “Well I didn’t know I couldn’t do that”. How about when the licensee just moves with no forwarding address and no way for anyone to contact them?
Now we are not talking about small amounts of money. We are talking 5 and 6 figures. Something is seriously wrong here. Do they not know it is not their money? Do they not know that we do not get paid till it closes and certainly not before? Where is the integrity? Where is the professionalism? Dare I ask, where is the moral fiber here? I guess they reason that it is happening in many professions so that makes it OK? I used to tell my Dad, “But everyone is doing it.” And he would quietly say, ” You are not everyone” .
We all need to remember that we are entrusted with what, for many, is the biggest investment of their lives. We need to maintain the public’s trust. We need to maintain our integrity. We need to maintain our professionalism. Remember: We are not everyone. We are REALTORS. Let’s set the example and keep the bar raised high.
Until Next Monday…