In Florida, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) is responsible for the licensing and regulation of of nearly 400,000 professionals in over two dozen different professions. Its Division of Real Estate is responsible for the examination, licensing and regulation of over a quarter of a million real estate agents, brokers, corporations, real estate schools and instructors.

The Florida Real Estate Commission (FREC) is a self-governing body made up of seven members who administer and enforce the real estate license law, Chapter 475, Part I, Florida Statutes. The Commission is also empowered to pass rules that enable it to implement its statutorily authorized duties and responsibilities. The Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board (FREAB), made up of nine members, administers and enforces the real estate appraiser license law, Chapter 475, Part II, Florida Statutes. Like the FREC, the Board is also empowered to pass rules that enable it to implement its statutorily authorized duties and responsibilities.

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When a Complaint is Made

Whenever a complaint is filed against a realtor, either to the DBPR via its Division of Real Estate, or the FREC, it is taken very seriously. A complaint is defined as any allegation of misconduct or violation of a rule of law. If your real estate license is in jeopardy because someone has made a complaint against you, or alleged that you are guilty of some form of misconduct or unlawful activity that either goes against Florida statutes or rules promulgated by the FREC, you will need the services of an experienced real estate license defense lawyer who has the knowledge and expertise to help guide you through the complaint process.

The necessity of hiring an attorney holds true whether or not, in your opinion, the accusations have any merit. In some cases, a simple mistake that you may have made can cause an unhappy client to assault your professional integrity and file a complaint against you, but the matter can be cleared up easily by your lawyer. However, in other cases, there may have been a valid reason for the complaint to have been made and you will have to address it in an appropriate, legal manner.

Examples of serious forms of misconduct include:

  • Fraud – A real estate agent or broker has intentionally deceived someone in some way by misrepresenting the truth in word or deed, or remaining silent about some situation when there was a duty to speak up
  • Practicing without a valid or renewed license
  • Culpable negligence/failure to supervise a sponsored salesperson or other employee
  • Poor record keeping/failure to follow proper paperwork requirements
  • Conflicts of interest/collusion/conspiracy
  • Misappropriation of escrow funds/personal use of client monies/embezzlement
  • Crimes of moral turpitude – Conduct contrary to honesty, good morals, justice, or accepted custom

The Complaint Process

When a complaint has been made and filed with the DBPR, it must first be established whether or not any state laws have been broken or if any rules of a governing body, such as the FREC, have been violated. If the DBPR determines that a complaint is valid, it will contact you and provide you with a copy of the complaint, asking that you respond with any pertinent information and/or documentation. This is your first opportunity to seek competent legal counsel on how to provide the DBPR with the relevant facts of the case.

If the DBPR decides to open an investigation (vague claims of unprofessionalism or rudeness will not generate an investigation) it will submit a report to a Probable Cause Panel, consisting of two appointed members of the FREC. The panel has 30 days in which to decide whether or not probable cause exists.

The panel may dismiss the case via a Letter of Guidance, suggesting what actions the realtor should take, or it may decide that the matter requires further investigation. If the panel ultimately determines that probable cause does exist, the process will continue with the issuing of a Formal Complaint filed by the DBPR against the licensee.

The Formal Complaint

The Formal Complaint will list the charges against you. You now have three ways in which to respond, all of which you should discuss vigorously with your attorney:

  • You may request a Settlement of Penalty, which must be approved by the FREC
  • You may choose not to dispute the charges and request an Informal Hearing before the Commission, in order to resolve the matter
  • You may dispute the allegations against you and request a Formal Hearing before the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), presided over by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

The Informal Hearing

You and your lawyer have the ability to correct a minor infraction at an Informal Hearing. The Commission will hear your case and decide what penalties or sanctions, if any, to impose. It may issue:

  • A Letter of Reprimand to be placed in your file describing a minor incidence of misconduct that results in no disciplinary action
  • A Notice of Noncompliance, which is a warning for a minor violation that you have 15 days to correct without consequence
  • A Citation for certain violations involving a fine that can range from $100 to $1,000
  • A Notice of Probation which allows you to continue practicing while implementing certain conditions or instructions under the guidance of the FREC

The Formal Hearing

A Formal Hearing will occur if it is requested by a licensee who refutes the allegations made against him or her, or if the matter cannot be resolved at an Informal Hearing. The process at a Formal Hearing is similar to how a case is tried in a civil or criminal court, wherein each party presents facts and witnesses. At the conclusion of the Hearing, the ALJ (formerly known as a Hearing Officer) will draft a Conclusive Order recommending any penalties to be assessed against a licensee who is found guilty. The order will be forwarded to the DBPR.

The Final Order

Regardless of the ALJ’s Conclusive Order, a Final Order can only be issued by the FREC, based on the ALJ’s recommendations. The FREC may accept, modify or reject the order, as it sees fit. The FREC can then impose any sanctions or penalties it deems appropriate. These can include:

  • Fines – The maximum administrative fine is $5,000 for each separate offense a licensee is found to be in violation of
  • License Suspension – The maximum period is ten years. (A summary suspension can only be issued by the DBPR Secretary if a licensee’s actions are considered dangerous to the public at large)
  • License Revocation – Permanent loss of the ability to practice real estate in the state of Florida
  • A licensee has 30 days in which to appeal a Final Order by filing a petition for judicial review, after which the Final Order becomes effective.

Consult a License Defense Attorney

If a complaint has been lodged against you, don’t attempt to resolve the issue alone. Contact us attorney before you respond to any allegation, no matter how trivial you think it to be. Losing your license to practice real estate can effectively end your career, and even lesser penalties levied against you can damage your reputation and your ability to make a living in your chosen profession.

The law office of John R. Samaan is here to help you with your case by conducting discovery on your behalf, drafting responses to investigation request, presenting objections to allegations made against you, and representing you throughout the administrative trial process. It can also help you appeal a license revocation, should the FREC impose that ultimate penalty.