Whether providing property management or selling real estate, North Carolina brokers serve the public and will inevitably meet a client who cannot be satisfied, no matter how hard they work. If you find that a former client or an anonymous individual has filed a complaint against you with the North Carolina Real Estate Commission, here's the process you'll likely experience as the case progresses through the agency.
First, the case will either be assigned to a Consumer Protection Officer (CPO) or an Auditor/Investigator. Typically, most cases are first assigned to a CPO, a Commission staff member who will investigate the allegations of the case by letter and telephone inquiry. Should you fail to respond to a Letter of Inquiry sent to you by a CPO within 14 days, you could be subject to disciplinary action, regardless of whether the underlying complaint has any merit, so you should always respond to a Letter of Inquiry received from the Commission. If you can't respond in the limited time given, call the CPO and ask for additional time to prepare your truthful and full response. If you have any questions about how you should respond, or what documents you should provide, give us a call and we can help you navigate through this difficult time.
If the case is assigned to an Auditor/Investigator, it may be a sign that you face a more serious complaint or that you've failed to resolve your case with the assigned CPO. In this case, you will likely receive a knock on your door and be asked various questions related to the Commission's investigation. You should expect that the investigator has already spoken to the complainant and other interested parties who have some knowledge of the issues. Before speaking with the Commission, you should consider your right to be represented by an attorney. Always be courteous to the Commission's staff, but know your rights and take your time to ensure that you provide accurate statements and relevant records to the Commission. Pam Vesper of The Vesper Group, LLC was an auditor/investigator for the NCREC for 7 years, so our firm can help you handle this stage of the process properly.
During the investigation, you may be asked to settle or resolve your case through a Consent Order. Such a document will be drafted by one of the Commission's in-house attorneys and will include stipulated facts and a punishment against your license and ability to practice real estate brokerage. Before signing any legal document, you should consult your attorney and understand that these documents have serious consequences that will almost always become a public record, including publication in the NCREC bulletin.
Once the investigation is completed, which can typically take between six and eighteen months, the file will be transferred to a Commission attorney, who will read the investigation summary, interviews, and examine the entire file of evidence collected against you. The assigned attorney will make a determination of what violations of law and Commission rules there may be and summarize his or her findings to share with the Executive Director and other members of Regulatory Affairs. Based on the attorney's presentation, the Executive Director will present a recommendation to the full Commission at its next public meeting to either close the matter or call a hearing against you.
If the matter is called for hearing, a Notice of Hearing will be sent to you, which is the first time you will receive a formal explanation of the violations allegedly committed. The Notice will set a date for your hearing. At the administrative hearing, you will appear before the Commission members for a proceeding conducted like a civil trial in Court, with certain important differences as set forth in the North Carolina Administrative Procedures Act. You will have the right to testify in your defense and call witnesses on your behalf. However, you will first have to sit through the prosecution's evidence and their witnesses, at which time you may cross-examine these witnesses to ensure that the whole story is revealed to the Commission.
This entire process is daunting, because it's unfamiliar to most people and your livelihood is often at stake. Note, once an investigation is opened, there is no limit to the scope of the Commission's investigation and investigators often inquire into the status of your trust account records, especially if there are any allegations of misrepresentation or mishandling of funds. This is why hiring the right attorney is important. Both Pam Vesper and Adam Stallings have been in-house counsel for the NCREC, so they can assist with your defense at the hearing.
Should you find that a complaint is filed against you, the sooner you involve an attorney familiar with the Commission's process, the better. We can help you resolve the case quickly and if need be, vigorously defend your license should the matter go to hearing before the nine members of the Commission.