Property manager fined $10,000 for misleading conduct (Josephine Wei-Wei Liau)
A former property manager of a real estate agency has been fined a total of $10,000 and ordered to pay costs of $2,220 by the Perth Magistrates Court for misleading and deceptive conduct.
Josephine Wei-Wei Liau of Mount Pleasant pleaded guilty on 7 March 2014 to 16 charges of breaching the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), Fair Trading Act, Real Estate and Business Agents Act (REBA Act) and the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) over a two year period. The offences related to misrepresentations she made as an employee of the agency and after she left the agency in January 2011.
Consumer Protection told the Court that Ms Liau’s misrepresentations included advising owners of properties in Yangebup and Mount Pleasant that she was representing the agency when in fact the agency had no record of the properties being under their management. Ms Liau used the agency’s logo in statements sent to the owners. Under the ACL it is an offence to make a false or misleading representation regarding affiliation.
Ms Liau misrepresented to owners the amount of rent that was actually being paid. The Mount Pleasant tenant was paying weekly rent of $950 while the owner of the property believed only $800 was being paid. The Yangebup tenant was paying $380 in weekly rent while the owner was advised that $350 rent was being paid. When the tenant’s rent was subsequently increased to $400, the owner understood the rent payments had remained the same. In both cases, Ms Liau retained the difference and, when confronted by the owners, had returned the rental income they were owed. Ms Liau made a similar misrepresentation regarding a water bill for a Willetton property. Under the ACL, it is an offence to make a false or misleading representation regarding the price of goods and services.
Charges under the RTA included demanding six months’ rent in advance totalling more than $30,000 from the Mount Pleasant tenant, when only two weeks’ rent in advance is allowed, and taking longer than 14 days to lodge bonds with the Bond Administrator.
Ms Liau advised clients she had a real estate agent’s licence when she only held a certificate of registration as a property manager from March 2010 and March 2013, a misrepresentation which was in breach of the REBA Act.
Magistrate Zempilas said the offences were serious and owners had the right to feel protected in relation to their property, and bonds are required to be held in a safe place. An application for a spent conviction was refused.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said such serious deception is unacceptable.
“Property managers have a trusted position as the liaison point between a property owner and tenant, so they must display the highest standards of honesty and integrity as required by law,” Ms Driscoll said.
“Those who choose to profit from misleading and deceptive conduct in the real estate industry will face prosecution and suffer financial penalties as well as serious damage to their reputation.”
Real estate agents, property managers, landlords and tenants can find more information on tenancy laws on the Consumer Protection website: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/tenancy or contact us on 1300 30 40 54 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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