A Caversham real estate agency and its property manager have been fined a total of $12,000 by the State Administrative Tribunal for overcharging eight owners of Pilbara rental properties 132 times.
Arcturus Nominees Pty Ltd, trading as Polaris Realty, was fined $8,000 and property manager Robyn Dale Staggard was fined $4,000 for failing to exercise due care, diligence and skill, breaching the Real Estate and Business Agents Act and the Code of Conduct. They were also reprimanded.
The agency and Ms Staggard agreed to pay back the overcharged amounts totalling $9,144.15 to the affected owners.
In July and August 2017, the agency and Ms Staggard had informed the owners of eight properties in Newman that the management fees outlined in their ‘exclusive management authority’ agreements would be increased. The original agreements stated a fee of either five or six percent of gross collections, but this was increased to between 7.00 and 9.35 per cent.
In each case, Polaris Realty and Ms Staggard failed to get the required written consent from owners for the increase in fees which were charged over several months. The individual total amounts overcharged for each owner ranged from $699.15 to $1,830.72.
Polaris Realty and Ms Staggard have conducted an internal audit and identified further properties where overcharging occurred and have agreed to offer refunds to relevant owners.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Penny Lipscombe said, for the agency and property manager, it was an expensive failure of duty but they have acted to rectify the situation.
“To vary these property management agreements mid-term and not get the written consent of the owners is a fundamental failure and has now resulted in a large financial penalty for both the company and individual involved,” Ms Lipscombe said.
“Their actions to provide refunds and identify other potentially affected owners indicates that they regret that this has occurred and will put in place procedures that will prevent it happening again.
“I would recommend that other agents check to ensure that they are not withdrawing fees greater than what has been agreed in writing and to ensure that the process of increasing fees is carried out in accordance with the law.”