In developing his website, REALTOR® A decided he would offer two pages of listings: his own and some featured listings of his competitors. Being careful not to present a misleading picture in his advertising, he was very careful to list the company name and phone number of the listing company with each of his competitors’ listings.
When REALTOR® B found one of her listings on REALTOR® A’s website, she filed an ethics complaint with the local Association of REALTORS® complaining that REALTOR® A had “blatantly and without authorization of any kind whatsoever advertised my listing on his website and in so doing was clearly in violation of Article 12 of the Code of Ethics as interpreted by Standard of Practice 12-4.”
At their next meeting, the Grievance Committee decided that the alleged conduct, if taken at face value, could possibly violate Article 12 and directed the Association’s Professional Standards Administrator to schedule an ethics hearing before a Hearing Panel of the Association’s Professional Standards Committee.
At the hearing, REALTOR® B produced a printed copy of her listing which was on REALTOR® A’s website. She produced a copy of her listing agreement and a photograph of the property, which matched the information in the listing. She testified that she had never been contacted by REALTOR® A for permission to advertise her listing.
When REALTOR® A presented his case, he showed the hearing panel several examples of REALTORS® providing links to sites with ads for other REALTORS®’ listings. He said he saw no fundamental difference between providing such links and actually advertising other listings on his website, especially when he was very careful to also give the listing company’s name and phone number. He went on to argue that REALTOR® B’s clients would be hard pressed to understand REALTOR® B’s objection to giving their properties the additional exposure they received on REALTOR® A’s website.
Upon the conclusion of all testimony and closing statements, the Hearing Panel met in executive session and decided that while providing a link to listings of other REALTORS® did not violate Article 12, by actually publishing REALTOR® B’s listing on his website REALTOR® A was not linking, but instead was advertising (by copying, as opposed to simply providing a link) without authority. In their findings of fact, the Hearing Panel also noted that even if REALTOR® B’s clients might not object to such advertising, the lack of objection could not be assumed and would not relieve REALTOR® A of the obligation to obtain REALTOR® B’s specific authority and consent to advertise her listings.
The Hearing Panel found REALTOR® A in violation of Article 12 of the Code of Ethics.