Caught Off Guard – What You Should Do

Have you ever shown a property and walked into an unexpected situation? Many brokers have no idea how they might respond in an emergency until they are faced with one. This article is designed to help you consider scenarios that could occur and be prepared in advance with a proper response. What would you do if you discovered smoke? What about a burst pipe where water could potentially flood throughout the house? In these situations it is likely that you would call for help immediately, whether 911 or the listing agent/property owner or someone who could address the issue. But what would you do if you encountered a person in the property, legally or not, who may be in some sort of distress? Would you leave and go to the next property? Would you call for help, or attempt to notify the listing agent or owner?

Discovering People in Unknown Condition/Situations

There have been many instances of licensees entering properties for business purposes and unexpectedly discovering someone is there. Some situations are simple mistakes, confused timing of showings, forgotten appointments. Others are more alarming, like someone who has broken into a vacant home and is living there. What if you encounter someone who is unresponsive, and you are not clear about if they are in distress or not?

Action you can take:

  1. If someone appears to be unresponsive, and you are not trained to render aid, a call to 911 or local police could allow the person to receive assistance from someone who is. If you are uncomfortable or alarmed, exit the property and get to safety, then call for assistance.
  2. If you are unsure whether a situation warrants a call to police or emergency responders, the safest course is to call 911, tell them the facts, and let them assess whether an official response is warranted. In addition, call your Broker-In-Charge or another trusted advisor and share the scenario with them to get an opinion of any other action that might be warranted.
  3. You should always immediately notify the listing agent of your experience and allow them to follow up as needed with their client or local authorities.

Discovering Property in Danger

If you enter a property and discover a situation damaging/affecting the property, like a fire or flood, remember that you have a duty to protect the seller’s property while showing it. It is not advisable to walk away and do nothing. At a minimum a broker must take reasonable steps to contact the listing agent or owner and report the issue. Is there an affirmative duty to also contact emergency services? Not specifically by law, but an agent’s duty to safeguard and protect the property may require you to do so.

Action you can take:

  1. If you discover an imminently dangerous condition, get yourself/clients to safety first.
  2. Once safe, call 911 if a situation such as a fire exists, that could cause harm to property or others.
  3. If not a significantly dangerous situation, contact the listing agent or property owner, and/or authorities that can address the concern appropriately.
  4. Notify your BIC and record a note for your records of the event and your actions in the file, in the case that questions come up later about what happened or about action you took.

Liability Concerns of Brokers

Brokers often express concern that if they encounter a person in distress, they don’t have the proper training or duty to render aid, or that they might be liable under North Carolina law. In fact, North Carolina law provides in NCGS § 90-21.14 that any person who renders first aid or emergency treatment to a person who is unconscious, ill, or injured, and receives no compensation for that assistance, “shall not be liable for damages for injuries alleged to have been sustained by the person or for damages for the death of the person alleged to have occurred by reason of an act or omission in the rendering of the treatment unless it is established that the injuries were or the death was caused by gross negligence, wanton conduct, or intentional wrongdoing on the part of the person rendering the treatment.”  

Other Considerations/Actions:

  1. It is never a good idea to make social media posts about situations where you found someone in any sort of distress.
  2. If you are alarmed or in distress yourself, get to a place of safety and call for help.
  3. If you discover someone deceased in a property, call the police immediately; likewise, if you discover someone unconscious or in apparent medical distress, call 911.
  4. 4. If you discover an animal deceased in the property, immediately notify the listing agent/owner
  5. If you discover a squatter or evidence of one in a vacant property, notify listing agent/owner.
  6. If you discover property damage that was unexpected (broken window or door, tree on roof, etc.), notify listing agent/owner.
  7. Keep meticulous records, so that you can answer/respond if questions come up about a situation that you inadvertently found yourself in.