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COVID-19 eviction threats land Melbourne agency in hot water

By Grace Ormsby
13 September 2022 | 10 minute read
Melbourne Magistrates Court reb

The West Melbourne business was fined for behaviour that “had the potential to bring the industry into disrepute” among multiple breaches of estate agent professional conduct regulations.

Waterdale Property Agent, trading as Waterdale Estate Agents, was convicted and fined in the Melbourne Magistrates Court for reportedly threatening to deny three international students legal access to their rental properties at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A statement from Consumer Affairs Victoria stated that the court heard that Waterdale had cancelled two students’ access to their West Melbourne apartment building.

It was reported that one of these students was only able to access the building with the help of another tenant, and then remained in her apartment all weekend, out of fear she may be locked out again.

Consumer Affairs added that the agency had also threatened to deny access to the building for other renters if they didn’t attend its office, with Waterdale claiming that the threat had only been made “as a means of getting the renters’ attention”.

Consumer Affairs Victoria had taken action after complaints were made about the agency’s conduct.

Following a contested hearing, Waterdale was found guilty, convicted and fined $5,000 for making a false and fraudulent misrepresentation to its renters, having served a notice to vacate in breach of COVID-19 rental laws.

It was also convicted and fined an aggregate sum of $2,000 for multiple breaches of the Estate Agent Professional Conduct Regulations, Consumer Affairs said, citing behaviour that “had the potential to bring the industry into disrepute, and failing to perform its duties as an agent with due care and skill”.

Following the verdict, Waterdale was also ordered to pay $5,000 in legal costs.

Consumer Affairs Victoria director Nicole Rich highlighted that the changes to the Residential Tenancies Act that were put in place at the beginning of the pandemic “protect vulnerable renters during an unprecedented time of insecurity and uncertainty”.

Stressing that everyone has the right to feel secure in their rental property, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Rich said these renters “were particularly vulnerable as international students far from home and families at the start of the pandemic”.

Acknowledging that the threat of being locked out or evicted “must have been very frightening”, the director concluded that “this sort of conduct does not align with the care, diligence and fairness expected of estate agencies and is a disservice to those who do the right thing”.

A nationwide moratorium on evictions was first announced in March 2020, with a mandatory code agreed to by members of the national cabinet in early April

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Grace Ormsby

Grace Ormsby

Grace is a journalist across Momentum property and investment brands. Grace joined Momentum Media in 2018, bringing with her a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) from the University of Newcastle. She’s passionate about delivering easy to digest information and content relevant to her key audiences and stakeholders.

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