Real estate agency and staff fined over tenancy bond and account failures

A Mount Lawley real estate agency, its supervising director and two staff members have been reprimanded by the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) over the failure to lodge three tenancy bonds with the Bond Administrator as well as related irregularities found in the agency’s accounts.

Beaufort Nominees Pty Ltd, trading as Michael Johnson & Co and Professionals Michael Johnson & Co at the time of the offences, and its supervising director Benjamin Ven Ryder were each fined $6,000 while sales representative Sally Ann Dooley was fined $1,000 for failing to exercise due skill, care and diligence in breach of the Real Estate and Business Agents Code of Conduct. Another sales representative Daniella Maria Sparta was reprimanded but not fined due to personal extenuating circumstances.

The first incident occurred when the agency received a tenancy and pet bond from a Karrinyup tenant in November 2013 which was mistakenly recorded as rent in the agency’s trust account ledger and disbursed to the property owner instead of being lodged with the Bond Administrator as required.

When the mistake was discovered by staff in February 2014, Ms Dooley and Ms Sparta made a further mistake in the amount that was eventually lodged with the Bond Administrator as it did not include the pet bond. They had also entered an incorrect date of receipt so that it would comply with the 14-day timeframe and provided a false explanation to the Bond Administrator.

The offending came to the attention of Consumer Protection in 2019 when the tenant requested the full bond be returned but, due to the poor record-keeping, the agency did not refund the full amount.

In determining the penalty, the SAT took into account that the agency and its supervising director did not act dishonestly and it was an isolated offence. Neither tenant nor owner were out of pocket as result of the mistakes made, as the full bond was eventually refunded.

Subsequently, the agency also admitted to further breaches of the Residential Tenancy Act and Code of Conduct in 2019 and 2020 by way of failing to lodge two other bonds with the Bond Administrator within the required timeframe – a bond from a Craigie property was seven days late and a bond from a Woodvale property was 21 days late.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping said it is concerning licensed sales reps would take actions to cover up a mistake to avoid the consequences.

“The intent of entering an incorrect date and giving a false explanation in the paperwork submitted by the two staff members was to avoid them being held to account for their mistakes, but it only made matters worse,” Ms Chopping said.

“The agency has now learned its lesson by reviewing its bond lodgement practices and manuals and providing staff with further education and training to ensure there is not a repeat of the offending in the future.

“It would be a worthwhile exercise for all real estate agents and property managers to do the same, as late bond lodgements are a major focus for us and we won’t hesitate to take action if any failures are found. This applies equally to private landlords as well.”

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