A Queensland letting agent who breached the Property Agents and Motor Dealers Act over 1,100 times has been fined and ordered to pay restitution and court costs totalling $763,130.
Donald McGrath and Halmarn Pty Ltd were reprimanded by the Office of Fair Trading and the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) last week for keeping expenses from unit owners and for failing to disclose conflicts of interest to unit owners.
According to the Office of Fair Trading, Halmarn Pty Ltd was found to have breached the act on 1,135 counts by overcharging for credit or charge card transactions, agent's commissions, or charging fees and commissions without authority.
The company was also found to have breached the act on a further 11 occasions for “failing to disclose to unit owners entering the letting pool, it had interest in other units within the pool”, according to Fair Trading.
The company was fined $418,716, ordered to pay restitution of $209,358 to complainants, $135,056 in court costs and has also been disqualified from obtaining or renewing their resident letting agent licences.
QCAT heard that, under the terms agreed to in the company's appointment as a residential letting agent, Halmarn was only entitled to charge the unit owners the actual credit card or charge card commission as set by the bank.
Instead it charged a set rate, which was significantly higher than the bank fee.
The act permits resident letting agents to charge expenses and fees for services only if both parties agree in writing to those charges.
The investigation began in 2009, when the Office of Fair Trading received complaints from unit owners. The owners alleged Halmarn and Mr McGrath were unfairly profiting at the owners' expense.