Not all disputes require the intervention of an attorney — a good thing, as legal intervention often costs more than it’s worth and can kill transactions.

But where can an agent or their client turn for help moderating simple disagreements or misunderstandings?

CalBRE’s Complaint Resolution Program moderates disputes between real estate licensees and their clients or other consumers. In some cases, it also moderates disputes between licensees.

What the program does

The Complaint Resolution Program is a way for CalBRE to respond to complaints in an informal way. Receiving assistance through the program is an initial step to take when disagreements occur.

As such, the program is free of cost and strives to be objective and impartial. Participation is voluntary and confidential, meaning CalBRE will not notify the public of a licensee’s participation in the program. The outcome won’t be linked to the licensee’s name or license number, and will not be shared publicly (the exception being when a criminal case is brought against a licensee).

Examples of instances where the Complaint Resolution Program may be helpful include:

  • unresponsive real estate agents;
  • disagreements between a client and their agent about fees;
  • cancellation of a transaction by a client;
  • tenants facing eviction following foreclosure when they feel the appropriate timeline has not been followed;
  • disagreements between a client and an agent in a short sale transaction;
  • agents who believe their clients’ offers have not been presented, as required by law;
  • clients seeking the return of (illegally) collected advance fees;
  • disagreements between clients and homeowners’ associations (HOAs) when the subdivision is under CalBRE jurisdiction;
  • disagreements between a client and a subdivider;
  • disagreements between clients and timeshare sellers or operators;
  • clients seeking information they cannot obtain from escrow officers, lenders or inspectors; and
  • clients seeking information on where their earnest money is being held.

The program moderates approximately 300-500 disputes each year.

This program is not unlike receiving mediation services, the preferred alternative to arbitration.

A binding arbitration provision is found in the purchase agreement published by the California Association of Realtors (CAR). This provision requires buyers and sellers to give up their rights to a trial by jury and prohibits them from appealing an arbitrator’s decision, even if the decision was made in error or if they applied the law incorrectly. [Hall Superior Court (1993) 18 CA4th 427]

As a matter of policy, Realty Publications, Inc. (RPI) forms do not include arbitration provisions. RPI forms include a mediation provision, which gives clients the option to take their complaint to court if it can’t be resolved in mediation.

Clients who agree to arbitration and later have a disagreement or issue with a licensee may still use the Complaint Resolution Program. They do not need to first seek arbitration, as licensees and consumers in dispute with a licensee may always file a complaint with CalBRE. [Calif. Business & Professional Code §143.5]

However, the program is not to be used for a dispute between only two consumers (say, a buyer and a seller).

Related article:

U.S. Supreme Court to hear arbitration case

What the program doesn’t do

The Complaint Resolution Program does not act as a court of law. As such, it can’t demand that money be paid or that contracts be canceled. These formal and legal processes are best conducted by consulting an attorney.

How to contact the program

Clients and agents with complaints regarding mortgage or lending services, contact:

Mortgage Loan Activities Unit at (916) 263-8941.

Clients and agents with complaints regarding subdivisions, contact:

Subdivisions Northern California: (916) 263-8879

Subdivisions Southern California: (213) 576-6927

All other complaints can direct their call to:

State-wide Facilitation: (213) 576-6885

For more information on filing a general complaint with CalBRE, see: Filing a complaint.

Related article:

Mediation opens communication lines