Guest Column – Stan Albert – We need our ombudsman

“A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with bricks, so that others may throw at him or her.” — David Brinkley, NBC News.

From Wikipedia: “An ombudsman is an official, usually, but not always, appointed by the government or by parliament, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens. An ombudsman need not be appointed by a legislature; they may be appointed by a corporation, a newspaper, an NGO, as an organizational ombudsman, or for the general public in a city, appointed by a mayor, like the executive ombudsman. In some countries, an inspector general may have similar duties as or have overlapping duties with an ombudsman appointed by the legislature.”

Okay, so now that we have a firm grasp on the meaning of the word, why on earth would I think that we Realtors need one?

Sure, in each province/territory we have regulatory authorities, who dole out discipline and fines whenever necessary and relevant. But who protects us from dishonest sellers and buyers? When either the provincial or federal courts dole out the required verdicts and/or disciplines, they usually satisfy the unhappy buyers or sellers and sometimes the Realtor is vindicated (but not often enough). This is one of the most common complaints we receive as broker/owners and/or broker/managers.

I guess that to illustrate my point, over the years I’ve come across some tremendously unlawful sellers and buyers, who seem to stake out the Realtors in hopes of obtaining financial gain, and their claims are totally without merit. How many of you readers have received complaints from your provincial authority or your local board in respect to unsubstantiated claims against you? The authorities have to hear the claims, unless they deem them “no jurisdiction.” In the meantime, we have to answer the claims and await a decision of whether the claim will be heard or not.

Most of us go through an unnecessary period of angst waiting for the decision(s) and waste a great deal of energy coping with the claim, which may result in “no jurisdiction”. I know that some of the members of our board and regulators will say that we are given fair and just reviews and decisions, and that the various rules and regulations protect us from being sued, fined, disciplined, suspended or even lose our licences. With these elements in place, should we be able to rest easy?

It is my belief that certain fundamentals of client and agency relationships are taken for granted by the public. Otherwise, why would boards and provincial authorities be saddled with frivolous claims and allegations of Realtors being dishonest?

Here are some of the ridiculous claims from over the years that Realtors have had to deal with – of course, many never went to any authority, but as Realtors, we have to answer them.

1. You should have known there were cockroaches in the home. (So we are expected to be exterminators?)

2. The seller won’t give me back my deposit (maybe you shouldn’t have lied about your finances!)

3. The agent misled me on mortgage financing (but I got a letter that approved me, and then bought higher priced home.)

4. The agent should have told me that there were raccoons in the adjacent parkland. (We’re supposed to be Forest Rangers?)

5. The tenant you gave me went bankrupt in the third month. You should give me the commission back! (We’re supposed to be forensic auditors for our clients?)

6. You looked at all my sensitive documents (in a tenanted property. This actually went to the Rental Tribunal.)

7. My new neighbour cut down my fence without asking! (Are we supposed to investigate the neighbour’s ongoing disputes?)

8. There was mould under the kitchen sink area and you should have known. (Even a diligent home inspector would not have discovered this, only a certified inspector who specializes in mould.)

9. As my listing agent, you should have known that the cheque from the other agency would not clear. (Yeah, sure.)

And Number 10 on my all time “hit parade,”

10. How is it that if your brokerage sells more homes in our area, that ours hasn’t sold? (Well, whose price was it anyway?)

Now, as stated, many of these silly claims or allegations never go anywhere. But for those that do, what happens to the Realtor who really was an innocent bystander in some of the claims/allegations that do result in fines or penalties?

Usually the Realtor, if he has been unjustly penalized, has two options. He can sue in the courts or just walk away shaking his head and wonder why he’s paying fees. My advice to all Realtors: make yourself “judgment proof,” by seeking advice from a good litigation solicitor and a C.A. or C.G.A.! This action may save his investments and holdings from being seized by the courts in the event of an adverse decision by the courts.

I’d like to hear from you if you feel that Realtors across Canada need a provincially appointed ombudsman – one who could answer with impartiality to the public and Realtors alike to resolve specific claims without a great deal of costs involved.
What do you think?

Stan Albert is celebrating his 39th year in active real estate, and is with Re/Max Excellence in Woodbridge, Ont. He serves on committees at RECO and at the Toronto Real Estate Board. He is an established trainer and business consultant and can be reached at salbert@trebnet.com.