Can the Real Estate Commission Discipline You for Your Personal Facebook Page?

 

real estate commission

The Ohio Real Estate Commission will soon be considering a case concerning a licensee’s Facebook page. The Division of Real Estate is seeking to discipline an Ohio licensee for comments she made on her personal (but public) Facebook page. The basis of the charges is:

The licensee’s comments did not reflect high standards of professional conduct and integrity in dealing with the members of the public.

It is the first time I’ve seen a case where the Division has sought to discipline a licensee for personal comments on social media. However, social media can be a valuable tool for a successful entrepreneur.

As you recall from your many core law classes, the Division can seek to discipline a licensee for “misconduct.” The Ohio Supreme Court has held that “misconduct” is a violation of the Canons of Ethics for the Real Estate Industry. This is put into effect by the Ohio Real Estate Commission. The Canons of Ethics that were put in place when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled are different than today’s Canons of Ethics. The Division has continued to pursue charges against licensees that violated the Canons’ aspirational goals.

Examples of prior cases include:

  • Brokers that failed to personally oversee a brokerage
  • The failure to disclose a criminal conviction on an application
  • And the receipt of an adverse verdict in a civil case.

Those prior cases are quite different than some of the cases we are seeing today. That’s because the Division’s conduct charges typically have to do with the licensee’s capacity:

  • As a real estate broker
  • As a salesperson
  • Or in handling the licensee’s own property.

So, if the licensee’s conduct did not occur within their real estate practice or in handling their own property, the Division did not charge wrongdoing.

Recently the Division has brought a series of cases based on a licensee’s personal conduct. They argue the conduct violates the Canons of Ethics because it does not reflect well on the real estate industry. For example, the Commission recently sanctioned a licensee for having personal income tax liens. In that case, the Division argued because the licensee’s income was from real estate, it had the ability to sanction the licensee for the act of failing to timely pay income taxes. Arguably, the Commission could sanction any licensee that loses a house in a foreclosure. This could occur if the licensee failed to use his/her real estate income to pay their mortgage payments.

The current case involving a licensee’s personal Facebook posts demonstrates the Commission’s continued securitizing of the personal lives of licensees. Although Ohio’s courts have yet to weigh in on cases involving licensee’s personal conduct, these recent cases provide a cautionary tale. Although Facebook can be used to promote your business, this case demonstrates that licensees should take care in personal comments on social media.  I am monitoring the current case and will update you once the Commission considers the case and renders its decision.