A property manager and his company have been ordered to pay $129,000 in fines and restitution for misappropriating rental income.
Patrick Vincent Fitzgerald pleaded guilty in the Cairns Magistrates' Court to 74 counts of failing to ensure his company, P Fitzgerald Pty Ltd, complied with the law.
He was also fined $12,500, ordered to pay $33,300 in compensation to owners and permanently disqualified from holding a property agent licence or certificate.
Meanwhile, his company, of which he was the sole director, pleaded guilty to 32 counts of misusing trust money, 12 counts of retaining a reward it wasn't entitled to and 30 counts of making false representations about property.
The company was fined $50,000, ordered to pay $33,300 in compensation to owners and permanently disqualified from holding a property agent licence.
A conviction was recorded against both Mr Fitzgerald and his business.
Mr Fitzgerald’s crimes occurred between September 2012 and December 2013, when he served as on-site manager of Club Tropical Resort in Port Douglas, and retained income that should have been paid to owners.
“Mr Fitzgerald let property but failed to declare these stays to owners, depriving them of the rental income,” according to the Queensland Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
The regulator said that Mr Fitzgerald overcharged his landlords for marketing expenses and credit card fees that he then retained for his own personal use.
“Mr Fitzgerald charged owners twice for marketing: first by setting aside a percentage of all income for the purpose, but then again by paying marketing expenses out of money held on behalf of owners,” the OFT said.
“Mr Fitzgerald’s agreements with owners also permitted him to retain monies for credit card expenses, but he charged the fee on all expenses, not just those paid by credit card. Additionally, the credit card fees charged were over and above cost.”
Fair Trading executive director Brian Bauer said the court outcome showed the Office of Fair Trading was serious about ensuring property managers were held to account for misusing trust monies.
“Property owners place a significant amount of trust in agents to handle their money, and it is an agent’s foremost responsibility to ensure money that belongs to others is properly accounted for,” he said.
“It serves as a reminder for agents to get help, from legal or financial professionals or the OFT, when trust account questions arise.”