Topic 6.2: Penalties

Learning Objectives

After successfully completing this topic, you will be able to
• list the three types of penalties available to enforce the license law,
• list FREC’s three possible responses to violations of the law, and
• describe the process used in a citation.

Three types of penalties are available to enforce the license law in Florida—administrative, civil, and criminal.

Penalties for Violations of the Real Estate License Law

The FREC has three possible responses for violations of the real estate license law—notification of noncompliance, citation, and administrative penalties such as fines, suspension, and revocation.

Notification of Noncompliance

The notification of noncompliance is like a warning ticket you might get from a highway patrol trooper.

The FREC has prepared a list of minor violations that can be corrected with a notification of noncompliance. A violation is considered a minor violation if it does not result in economic or physical harm to a person or adversely affect the public health, safety, or welfare or create a significant threat of such harm. The notice of noncompliance shall only be issued for an initial offense of a listed minor violation. If, for example, a broker’s entrance sign does not include “Licensed Real Estate Broker,” the DBPR can issue a notice of noncompliance. The notice must show the specific statute and rule that the broker violated, and what the broker must do to correct the violation. If the licensee fails to correct the problem within the 15-day period, the licensee may be issued a citation.

Citation

A citation is like getting a traffic ticket from the state trooper. A citation offense is not substantial, and is not a danger to the public. The licensee can dispute the charges and request a formal hearing within 30 days, or pay the citation. Citations require payments of $100 up to $500, depending on the violation. If the licensee does not pay or dispute the charge within 30 days, the FREC may file an administrative complaint.

FREC has a list of violations that warrant a citation. DBPR investigators can issue citations for violations such as advertising without the brokerage firm name (a blind ad), or failing to notify the FREC of an address change. For a list of the recommended penalties for a citation, see FREC’s Citation Authority.

Administrative Penalties

The FREC’s penalties include refusing to issue a license, probation, fine, suspension, and revocation. For a list of the recommended penalties, see FREC’s Disciplinary Guidelines.

Deny a license application 

The FREC can refuse to issue a license to an applicant for errors of omission (incomplete application, etc.). These errors are correctable and the application may be resubmitted.

An application may also be denied for acts of commission, such as a criminal background, cheating on the state exam, or having practiced real estate without a license. The DBPR will deny an application if any state has revoked an applicant’s professional license. Conviction for moral turpitude (for example, writing bad checks or embezzlement) may result in denial of the application.

Impose a fine

The FREC may impose a fine of up to $5,000 per violation of Chapter 475, F.S. or Chapter 455, F.S. 

Letter of Reprimand

The FREC may send a letter of reprimand to the licensee. This is the lightest form of discipline.

Placing a licensee on probation

The FREC may impose a sentence of probation on a licensee which could include periodic inspections by the DBPR investigator or additional education courses.

Suspend a license

The FREC may suspend the respondent’s license. The maximum term for suspension is ten years. During the time of suspension, the licensee must complete continuing education and pay for license renewal. A second suspension offense may result in revocation, the most severe penalty.

Revoke a license 

Revocation is permanent, and is the most severe penalty available to the FREC.

When a broker’s license is suspended or revoked, licenses issued to sales associates and broker associates become inactive. Those licensees may receive active licenses when they find a new employer.

If the DBPR issues a license in error, it will revoke the license without prejudice, meaning that the individual can reapply for a license.

Criminal Penalties

There are ranges of criminal penalties for violations of Florida’s license law. Felonies and misdemeanors are measured on a scale of severity, known as degrees. First degree felonies and misdemeanors are the most serious; third-degree felonies and misdemeanors are not as serious.

Third degree Felony

There are two third-degree felonies associated with the license law: falsifying an application for licensure with the DBPR, and practicing real estate without a license. The third-degree felonies carry a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in jail.

First degree misdemeanor

The penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor is a fine of not more than $1,000 and not more than one year in jail. The one first-degree misdemeanor in real estate is failing to provide accurate and current rental information for a fee.  

Second degree misdemeanor

A violation of Chapter 475, Chapter 455, or any rule of the FREC is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $500 and a jail term of not more than 60 days. It’s important to note that a licensee may face jail time for violation of Chapter 475, but only a criminal court can impose the sentence. The FREC does not have the power to imprison violators.

Civil Penalties

Civil penalties are the result of a lawsuit. A civil penalty may include damages against the defendant in a lawsuit. If a person practices real estate without a license, a court may deny the payment of compensation to the person, or allow the plaintiff to recover any compensation paid.