While sitting in a virtual courtroom much of the day yesterday, awaiting our case to be called up (it’s a long story), I had the distinct privilege of listening to all the cases on the docket before ours; which happened to be exactly all of them since we were, apparently, last on the docket. Ours was the sole case to be heard that day that was not criminal. While sitting in court listening to criminal cases all day has never been on my bucket list, it did provide several hours of free fun-filled entertainment. I take back the part about being “free.” We paid our attorney to sit there the entire day as well. It was far from free for us.

Either way, the day provided me with time and cause to reflect on the myriad of opportunities that one has in the chosen profession of Realtor, to break the law. Since the list is lengthy, I’ll skip a bit and just deliberate on the highlights.

The most reassuring state statute in place is the declaration that anyone having been convicted of a criminal offense involving “moral turpitude” within five years of application for a license, including a conviction based upon a plea of no contest (not guilty but not innocent), regardless of whether the crime was related to real estate or not, will not be granted a license. “Moral turpitude” is defined as conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals. It is possible that this law is broadly interpreted. In fact, it’s a given. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Another state law that could result in a loss of license if violated is substantial misrepresentation. If the home does not have a sprinkler system installed and the MLS listing states that there is, the agent could be liable for the misinformation, even if it was unintentional. This infraction has been witnessed on multiple occasions.

Here is an oldie, but a goodie: an agent cannot make any false promise of character likely to influence, persuade or induce. For instance, when an agent says, “If you list with me, I’ll get you more money than if you list with that other guy,” he or she is claiming something that they cannot guarantee to be true. Also, an agent who claims they are the No. 1 agent in the neighborhood when the claim cannot be substantiated with actual proof, is “misleading the public,” which is against state statute as well.

Easily unrecognizable, and even more difficult to compel reporting, is the offer to pay valuable consideration to an unlicensed person as a “referral fee.” Although an agent can give a gift of less than $150 as a thank you for a referral, it cannot be given under the assumption that this will be an ongoing and expected gift every time a referral is given. In other words, we can’t bribe our friends and clients to bring us business. If they feel like we have done a good job, they will give us business without having to be paid. That is how good businesses are built.

Last, but certainly not least, and unequivocally not all-inclusive, but all I had time to ponder before our case was called up, and I was immediately uninvited by the judge to attend the rest of the session (another long story), is the law that all real estate activities must be conducted by an active licensee under the direction of a principal broker. By “active,” this does not mean the person must attend to some sort of cardiovascular exertion at least three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes, (although I highly recommend at least that), but that they do not just go out on their own, willy-nilly, and begin writing contracts. They must have a person watching over them, a babysitter of sorts, making sure the rules, even the ones they don’t know about, are followed. Ultimately, it is the principal broker’s responsibility to keep their agents on a short enough leash that they can be easily reined in if they go too far out of pasture.

Although it is good and necessary to have these rules in place, they are only effective as far as they are enforced, and they are only enforced if the offender is caught. The cases I witnessed this day in the courtroom, although not real estate related, were “caught.” None of these ended well. As for myself, a bit of free advice for the courtroom: when in front of the judge, don’t speak out of turn, even if you have something super important and primarily relevant to say, he or she may just excuse you.

Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or jen@jen-fischer.com.

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