This article will attempt to provide a basic overview and our firm's overall impression of the first phase of the complaint process with the Texas Real Estate Commission. The initial phase of the complaint process begins with the consumer initiating a complaint and ends with TREC's determination to pursue disciplinary action against the license holder. A complaint against a Texas real estate license holder is initiated by a consumer who completes the TREC complaint form for submission to Standard and Enforcement Services within TREC.
Standards and Enforcement Services within the Commission determines when it is appropriate to pursue disciplinary action against license holders and is comprised of legal assistants, administrative staff, investigators and attorneys.
Most recently, license holders are often notified of a complaint against them via an email from a legal assistant in Standards and Enforcement Services. A letter and a copy of the complaint is usually attached to the email. The letter advises a license holder that they may retain an attorney and reminds the license holder that failure to respond to a request by TREC is an independent violation. Tex. Occ. Code Ann. § 1101.652 (West). The letter may ask for a general response without much direction or specifically request documents, information, and responses to questions. At any time after a complaint is filed, TREC may choose to assign an investigator to the file.
The initial response by a license holder, either by written response or statements made to an investigator, is an extremely critical part of the complaint process. At this time, the license holder has an opportunity to provide information and respond in a way that discourages TREC from pursuing disciplinary action against a license holder. A well crafted response that appropriately cites the Texas Real Estate Licensing Act and TREC's administrative rules will be instrumental in the enforcement attorney's decision to pursue disciplinary action or not.
It is important that a license holder retain an attorney for assistance with a response. A good attorney will be able to highlight the facts surrounding a complaint in a way that focuses on compliance with the Texas Real Estate Licensing Act and TREC Rules. More significantly, an attorney experienced with the Act and the Rules will be able to help license holders avoid making statements about actions that are clearly violations. Remember that once TREC receives a complaint, there is no limit to the information and scope of their investigation. For example, a complaint about advertising practices can quite easily turn into a fishing expedition about broker responsibility. It is very important to not make unrelated, explicit admissions of clear violations of the Act and TREC Rules. However, violations central to the complaint should be addressed and presented in their most favorable light.
After a TREC enforcement attorney reviews statements, responsive documents, and any reports by an investigator, the enforcement lawyer will make a determination of whether to pursue disciplinary action. While TREC normally prioritizes complaints likely to cause harm to the public (e.g. a broker stealing trust monies), complaints generally take over 6 months for TREC to make an initial determination. Both the license holder and the complainant are usually notified via a letter regarding TREC's determination.
About The Author
Phil Silberman is a licensed real estate broker and attorney in the state of Texas. He is the owner of several real estate companies as well as the Silberman Law Firm, PLLC. Mr. Silberman's legal practice areas focus on real estate, business, and probate law. His firm has offices in Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
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