Property 101: Trust account dealings, rooming house operators under microscope

Property 101: Trust account dealings, rooming house operators under microscope
Property 101: Trust account dealings, rooming house operators under microscope

Trust account dealings and rooming house operators came under the microscope of Consumer Affairs Victoria in the second half of 2015.

Consumer Affairs Victoria Director Simon Cohen has released the regulator's Half Year Report, which details hundreds of inspections of estate agents and rooming house operators state-wide – resulting in fines, estate agent licence suspensions and jail sentences.

The state’s 4,370 trust accounts are held by more than 2600 estate agents and are worth nearly $2.1 billion.

During the second half of last year, Consumer Affairs Victoria issued 54 infringements to estate agents for failing to get their trust accounts audited within three months of the end of their reporting cycle or failing to submit a copy of the audit report to Consumer Affairs Victoria within 10 business days of receiving it. Penalties ranged from $948 to $1820.

Court action was taken against 16 estate agents over trust account deficiencies, resulting in penalties including a licence suspension of nine years for an agent who caused trust account deficiencies of $37,000. In February 2016, Huntingdale estate agent Anthony Brancatella was sentenced to a 40-month jail sentence for trust account offences of nearly $2 million.

“Victorians put their trust in estate agents to sell their home. While most estate agents are doing the right thing, those who don’t meet their trust account obligations can expect to be investigated,” Mr Cohen said.

“Buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants rely on estate agents to deal with deposits and bonds honestly and scrupulously. Any deviation from strict probity requirements is a serious matter.”

Rooming house operators also came under scrutiny. Consumer Affairs Victoria will inspect all 1,100 rooming houses this financial year, to ensure compliance with minimum standards and the state’s rental laws.

In the second half of 2015, 376 rooming houses throughout Victoria were inspected, and 48 re-inspections were completed to make sure any problems found were quickly addressed.

“Rooming house standards are there to protect the state’s most vulnerable residents, and these are enforced by Consumer Affairs Victoria inspectors.”

In October, following a Consumer Affairs Victoria prosecution, the Magistrates’ Court awarded $800 compensation to a rooming house resident after SLM Housing Pty Ltd interfered with the resident’s rights by withdrawing a fridge from his room with the aim of causing the resident to leave. SLM Housing Pty Ltd was also fined $3000 by the Court. 

Consumer Affairs Victoria has commenced further proceedings in Sunshine Magistrates’ Court against the same operator, which is facing 158 charges in relation to alleged breaches of the minimum standards at rooming houses it operates.

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Victoria Rooming House

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