When the Department of Real Estate seeks to discipline a licensee or deny a license application, it is required by California law to establish specific “criteria for rehabilitation.” These criteria are very important to understand for licensees and applicants. Essentially, by publishing these criteria, the Department of Real Estate (DRE) provides a statutory list of things that licensees can do to show the Department that they deserve to remain licensed (or, in the case of an applicant, the applicant can show that they deserve a license in the first place). This list of factors carries the force of law, and should be cited in any argument to the DRE concerning a license case.
The Criteria of Rehabilitation are located at §2911 and §2912 at Title 10 of the California Code of Regulations. Although these criteria are very important, they are not always well-understood. The DRE specifically mentions the “criteria for rehabilitation” in its RE 515D (the Conviction Detail Report form provided by the Department) but provides only one inch of space for an applicant to provide his or her positive changes. Sections 2911-2912 have fourteen subsections, each of which provides an applicant the important opportunity to demonstrate their fitness for a real estate license.
Subsection (a) credits an applicant for the passage of not less than two years since the most recent criminal conviction. For licensees with a conviction more than two years old, this section should always be argued. However, California case law suggests that rehabilitation does not begin until the end of any probation sentence. For this reason, early termination of probation is essential for licensees with recent convictions. Early termination of probation is itself evidence of rehabilitation, at subsection (e). Licensees also get credit, through subsections (b) and (g), for complying with the terms of their sentence, especially by paying restitution. Expungement of the conviction, while not relieving applicants of their responsibility to disclose, counts in the licensee’s favor through subsections (c) and (d).
Obviously, successfully obtaining post-conviction relief can dramatically affect a licensee or applicant’s chances of success with the DRE. However, there are more opportunities to demonstrate rehabilitation through strong character references. Subsection (i) credits an applicant for having new and different social or business relationships from those which existed at the time of the conviction, while subsection (j) credits an applicant for having a stable family life and social responsibilities. Demonstrating these changes can be done very effectively with the use of a strong character reference letter. A family member, a friend, or a colleague who is fully informed of a licensee’s criminal case can touch on all of these aspects in even a very brief character reference letter. Even simple statements like “[licensee] is a good husband and father” or “I would trust [licensee] in my business” or “[licensee] is a completely different person now” can be used to form a strong argument for licensure.
Licensees who are active in civic or religious institutions, benevolent societies, community service programs, or who do any kind of volunteer work can also get credit for that involvement through subsection (l).
Finally, strong character letters serve an important purpose under subsection (m) of §2912 (subsection(n) of §2911). The Department of Real Estate is particularly concerned with the applicant or licensee’s attitude about their criminal case. A change in attitude, particularly an applicant who is willing to take full responsibility for their conviction, is an important element in most successful disciplinary cases. Even before a disciplinary hearing, however, this attitude-change can be demonstrated by character reference letters. In fact, subsection(n)(2) specifically mentions family members and friends as a good source of evidence about an applicant or licensee’s attitude.
Licensees often are unaware of the ability they have to generate positive evidence for their case, just by talking to their family and friends and making a full presentation of their rehabilitative efforts. If you have an adverse license decision before the Department of Real Estate, we strongly recommend that you contact an experienced license defense firm who can help you use these laws to your benefit.