Q: I heard a Realtor who was convicted of drunk driving lost his real estate license because of that conviction. I do not think drunk driving has anything to do with real estate sales. Can the Florida Real Estate Commission really take away a real estate license for drunk driving?
A: The Florida Real Estate Commission is charged with regulation of real estate licensees under Chapter 475 of Florida Statutes. Section 475.25 of Florida Statutes provides specific disciplinary authority. Under that statute, the commission may deny an application for license or renewal, may issue a reprimand, place a licensee on probation, suspend a license for not more than 10 years, revoke a license and impose an administrative fine not to exceed $5,000.00 for each count or separate offense, if it finds that a licensee is guilty of a wide variety of actions, all of which are specified in the statute. Guilt of other activity will not support punishment by the commission.
The statutory grounds for disciplinary action by the commission include the following:
1. Making deceptive or fraudulent representations related to the licensee’s profession.
2. Violation of any of the commission’s rules.
3. Conviction or plea of nolo contendere to a crime which relates to the practice of or ability to practice real estate.
4. Having been held liable in a lawsuit for knowingly filing a false report or complaint with the commission against another licensee.
5. Assisting an unlicensed person to engage in real estate activity requiring a license or paying a commission to a non-licensed person.
6. Engaging in fraud, misrepresentation concealment or dishonest dealing.
7. Mishandling of funds, including the failure to timely and properly deposit or disburse escrow.
8. Conviction or a plea of nolo contendere of a crime which involves moral turpitude.
The concept of moral turpitude has been a particularly interesting area. Not every crime involves moral turpitude in eyes of the courts or the commission. For example, possession of cocaine with intent to sell is a crime involving moral turpitude for purposes of suspension of a real estate license. Possession of cocaine for personal use is not.
Conviction for battery and criminal mischief involving smoke bombing offices of a government agency in political protest is not considered a crime of moral turpitude. A manslaughter conviction involves moral turpitude as does a conviction for driving under the influence. Bookmaking is a crime of moral turpitude, but petty larceny requires proof of intent. Even where a conviction, guilty plea or plea of nolo contendere might have been entered, a 49 year old woman going through menopause with anxiety syndrome who took a $3 steak from a supermarket was found by the court to lack necessary intent and therefore not guilty of a crime involving moral turpitude. Similarly, mere possession of lottery tickets in violation of a statute was found not to involve moral turpitude.
The statute authorizing disciplinary action is quite broad, but is not unlimited. It does not provide for discipline merely because a licensed real estate broker or salesman has violated a statute or committed a crime. The circumstances of each case will vary, but the determination of moral turpitude can be confusing and difficult. Where there is any doubt, a license real estate licensee facing disciplinary action by the commission should retain an experienced attorney.
William G. Morris is an attorney with offices at 247 North Collier Boulevard. His practice covers a broad range of subjects, including civil litigation, real estate, business and corporate law, estate planning and probate, domestic relations and contracts. He writes this column periodically with respect to legal matters that frequently affect non-lawyers. The information contained in this column is not intended as legal advice and, of necessity, is generalized. For questions about specific circumstances, the reader should consult a qualified attorney.
Questions for this column can be sent to William G. Morris, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax, (239) 642-0722.