Real estate brokers whose businesses were affected by a “learner misconduct” investigation at Humber College are questioning why it took months for Ontario’s regulator to act in the case.
On Nov. 2 the Real Estate Council of Ontario announced it was revoking the registrations of 34 people who came through the Humber Real Estate Education program in 2021. Press statements said RECO acted after Humber informed the regulator of a pattern of what it called “deliberate and organized misconduct” during examinations.
“I’m really disappointed with Humber,” said Ajay Shah, broker of record for Homelife/Miracle Realty Ltd. “What kind of quality they are giving? Who knows how many have gone through the cracks, and those people will handle millions of dollars in sales.” The brokerage, which has offices in Toronto, Scarborough, Brampton and Mississauga, had hired three of the recently suspended individuals. “A question I’m asking myself every morning: If people got caught who are cheating by some different way, why are they still doing this online program?”
In 2021, Humber became the sole program for educating real estate professionals in Ontario, taking over that role from the Ontario Real Estate Association. Mr. Shah and other brokers The Globe and Mail spoke to now question the security and integrity of Humber’s all-digital online examination process given this unprecedented rash of revocations. In addition to all-online course work, Humber students are able to schedule their final examination for times that best suit them and take the tests on any computer. Going digital is a change from OREA’s method of in-person exam rooms, and is potentially less secure than what other professional bodies demand. Even during the pandemic, organizations such as the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada have had in-person monitoring of their accountancy exams.
Humber or RECO did not offer specifics on how the “learner misconduct” was organized, but did say that screen-mirroring software was detected on an exam-taker’s machine, which opens the possibility that exam questions were copied and shared with future test-takers. Some of the realtors who had their licences revoked spoke to The Globe on the condition that they not be identified. One said they were alleged to have completed the test too quickly – a red flag for Humber’s digital proctors. Humber said it reported the matter to the Toronto Police Service, but the details of the cases are confidential.
“I’ve been a broker-owner for 32 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Marilyn Ruttan, broker of record for RE/MAX By the Bay Brokerage in Wasaga Beach. She is urging RECO and Humber to allow more opportunity to appeal or address academic concerns, given the results could lead to a loss of livelihood.
Ms. Ruttan had hired one of the Humber students, Rashika David, over the summer and was shocked to find months later that there was an alleged issue with her credentials. Ms. David claims she didn’t receive an e-mail notification from Humber, and wasn’t aware until October that there was anything potentially amiss. Ms. Ruttan argues that rather than just sending an e-mail, Humber should send a copy of academic misconduct allegations via registered mail, much like RECO does when an enforcement issue comes up.
“I truly believe some of those people did cheat, but Rashika absolutely did not,” Ms. Ruttan said. “Humber is under no obligation to send her any proof that she cheated, and RECO automatically took away her licence. It’s shocking to me the college was given this much power.” She’s urging RECO to create an appeals board – separate from Humber – where registrants can make the case for keeping their licence. Ms. David declined to comment.
Mr. Shah is also incensed that Humber first discovered some of the issues as far back as April or May, and that RECO had also known about the allegations going back that far.
“Humber College informed RECO about the misconduct once Humber had confirmed the allegations in May 2021,” RECO said in a statement it attributed to registrar Joseph Richer. RECO declined to make Mr. Richer or any other RECO officials available for an interview on the topic, but said in a statement that once Humber completed its review and appeal process for all the affected students it acted quickly to revoke the registration of the affected individuals.
In the months between when RECO knew there was an investigation and when they revoked the licences, several of the agents in question worked on home sales, signed up clients and handled the kind of private and sensitive financial information that goes with a real estate transaction.
Mr. Shah compared the situation to a doctor who was giving care to patients while under investigation for academic misconduct from his medical school: Hospitals and patients would most likely wish to have known about the education issues as soon as possible. Worse, he says he has months where he brings in 50 agents to one of the five branches of his brokerage and he’s now reluctant to hire recent graduates from Humber. “I don’t have any kind of litmus test to say ‘okay’ or not. … I just have to assume if somebody comes to my table he did it genuinely?” he said.
Realtors who had their licence revoked were employed by a number of the largest broker franchises in the greater Toronto area, such as iPro Realty Corp., Save Max, Century 21 VIP Realty, RE/MAX Millennium, eXp Realty and Keller Williams.
Some of the students said they paid a for-profit tutoring service to help study for the exams, and are now concerned their association with those companies may have entangled them in a cheating scheme. There are several such programs operating in the Toronto area. Many are owned and operated by a registered real estate agent.
But RECO says it has no evidence that any of the tutoring services were connected to the “organized” scheme Humber said it uncovered. “If there is evidence that any RECO registrants were involved in these activities, RECO will investigate. We are also aware that both Humber College and the police are conducting their own investigations into the misconduct,” RECO said in e-mailed response to questions.
For those alleged to have committed the educational misconduct, there remains a path for them to return to real estate. Humber’s academic misconduct policies allow a student to finish incomplete courses after a period of suspension. A number of those former realtors The Globe spoke to say they will do just that.
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