In a move designed to “help educate both licensees and nonlicensees alike and to encourage and reinforce compliance with Real Estate Law,” the California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) has announced that it will cite and fine first and then ask questions and hear explanations later, much later.
Gone is the more genteel, but perhaps archaic, process of holding lengthy, and often costly, administrative hearings to ascertain the facts and determine guilt or innocence. In its place is the presumption of guilt or, at least, of a serious misstep deserving of a citation and maybe worth fining about.
According to an article titled “Cal BRE’s Citation and Fine Program Now in Action,” which appeared on page 6 in the Spring 2014 issue of the Real Estate Bulletin, “A citation or other formal action will be considered when a violation is found after an investigation, audit, or examination of a licensee’s records by CalBRE in response to a complaint, through random selection of a licensee for an office visit, or from completion of a routine audit.”
While this system would seem to offer several advantages for the BRE—namely, those of saving time and reducing costs—announcement of the new system has caused many Bureau watchers to wonder which offenses will result in fines, whether information regarding specific citations issued will be made public, and how the money the BRE collects will be used.
Regarding the latter, the Real Estate Bulletin article reassures readers that “all money will go into CalBRE’s Real Estate Consumer Recovery Account, which is used to assist victims of real estate fraud committed by licensed agents and brokers.”
But this reassurance leaves unanswered the questions about which sorts of offenses will be singled out for fines that, by statute, can range from $0 to $2,500 per citation, what the additional costs of an administrative hearing might be, and whether an administrative law judge will be able to render fair and impartial decisions and, on occasion, to reverse a Bureau fine after the fact.
To learn more about CalBRE’s new cite-and-fine program, read “California Bureau of Real Estate Rolls Out Its New ‘Cite-and-Fine’ Program” by Bob Hunt, which appears on pages 42–43 in the August issue of the Orange County REALTOR®, and “CalBRE’s Citation and Fine Program Now in Action,” which begins on page 6 in the Spring 2014 issue (vol. 3, no. 4) of the Real Estate Bulletin and is cited by Bob Hunt in his article.
By Sherri Butterfield