Ask Mr. Propwise #9 – What Can Be Done About An Errant Agent?

July 18, 2016

Ask Mr. Propwise #9 – What Can Be Done About An Errant Agent?

Dear Mr. Propwise,

I have an issue relating to my former tenant’s agent and wonder if might be a good case story to share with the other readers. Perhaps you could also give me your advice what I can do about it.

It all started with my apartment being rented out to a Chinese national by the name of Mr. D for a period of one year starting from 1 May 2014 to 30 April 2015.  He was being represented by his agent, Mr. L. 

The tenancy agreement, along with the inventory list, was clearly explained to Mr. D before he agreed and signed on the agreement. His agent Mr. L was beside him, assisting in the translation of the agreement to Mandarin and explaining the details of the agreement. After some months, issues started to surface:

  1. Late payment

Mr. D had a habit of making late rental payment and he needed to be constantly sought after to make his payment. His agent frequently used the reason that his client travelled a lot, and thus was not able to make payment on time.

That was not a valid reason to me and so I suggested he get his client to make the transfers via internet banking or tele-banking in the future.

However, the message was not conveyed to Mr. D. As such, during the entire rental period of a year, Mr. D defaulted in rental payment thrice, and payment was made only two to three weeks after the due date.

  1. Non-payment

On the final month (April 2015), Mr. D deliberately decided not to pay the rental fee altogether. He felt his one month’s deposit could be used as the rental for the final month instead of being withheld for any defects that may be found upon taking over.

When confronted, he said he was totally unaware that the deposit could not be used as rental payment while Mr. L agreed it was not necessary.

  1. Air Con not serviced

The rental agreement clearly stated that the air con must be serviced every quarter but it was not carried out. In fact, it was serviced only once, a week prior to end of the lease. Mr. D felt it was not necessary as he seldom used it. Again, Mr. L agreed and kept justifying that the one-time servicing was more than sufficient. He then challenged us to proceed with legal action if we wanted.

  1. Access to unit

During the tenancy period, we had requested to collect some personal stuff from the house, which we knew the tenant would not be using at all.

Our request was flatly rejected without any reason. Abiding by the tenancy agreement, we did not pursue further (we were not legally able to anyway). Later we found out that Mr. D wasn’t notified at all. It was Mr. L himself who made the decision to turn down our request without first consulting his client.

  1. Prospect viewing

It was stated in the agreement that we were allowed to arrange for prospect viewing two months prior to the end of Mr. D’s lease. Our request for this was again turned down by Mr. L, citing that his client was not in town. In view of this, we were unable to arrange any viewings of the apartment and lost the opportunity of securing a new tenant during that period.

Mr. L the unprofessional property agent 

While I understand all this was caused by the tenant’s negligence or ignorance and should be a disputed between the landlord and tenant only, Mr. L chose to side with his client by distorting everything in the agreement to his client’s favor. Despite claiming to have 20 years of experience in the property industry, Mr. L chose to disregard the rental terms (as if it were not binding) and supported his client’s decisions even though he knew they were wrong.

Based on some of the incidents I’ve mentioned above, he clearly chose the easier way out by making decisions on his own (instead of consulting his client first), resulting in disputes between landlord and tenant which could otherwise have been avoided.

As I could not tolerate a licensed property agent with such an unethical and unprofessional way of working with no regards to a binding agreement, I proceed to file a formal complaint to the CEA (Council of Estate Agencies) in May 2015.

My experience with the CEA (Council of Estate Agencies)

Surprisingly, the case took more a year to conclude. I had to constantly email the officer in charge for updates (otherwise there might not be any conclusion even now). This lack of action from the CEA gives the impression that the officer is too busy to bother about my case.

The findings were equally disappointing. The officer explained the CEA had interviewed Mr. L and he denied any wrongdoing. And since there was an amicable settlement (payment for the tenants’ non-service of air con and interest penalty for late rental fees), this suggested the matter had been resolved. So there was insufficient evidence for them to establish that the agent had breached the Estate Agents Act or its Regulations.

She then mentioned she had cases where complainants actually provided video recordings of the disputes as evidence, and concluded by informing me that no action (not even a warning) would be taken against Mr. L, although a record would be filed for reference if there was any future complaint against him.

I was speechless. The settlement I reached with the tenant was by no means ‘amicable’. All I wanted was to get the get my unit re-marketed ASAP. Challenging the tenant in the ‘small claims tribunal’ would cause more delay and effort, adding on to the full time job and family responsibilities that I’m busy with.

However, that is a separate issue between the tenant and me. The subject here is on the misconduct and misrepresentation of a CEA licensed property agent Mr. L. Should reaching a settlement with Mr. L’s client excuse him from his wrongful action and misconduct as a licensed professional?

Being a single unit landlord, and this being my first time facing such a property agent, I did not have the experience required to react in such a situation. Even my agent seemed helpless at the moment. It did not occur to me at the time of dispute to have all conversations recorded.

What can be done to set the record straight?

I wish to highlight that I am not seeking any form of compensation. I only want the record to be set straight. How can a property agent who claims to have over 20 years of experience prey on inexperienced landlords, knowing that most do not have the time or knowledge to seek recourse against him or his client. As a licensed property agent registered with Council for Estate Agencies in Singapore, such unprofessional and unethical behavior should not be condoned.

I am also puzzled by the conclusion from the CEA officer which resulted in no disciplinary action (not even a warning) taken against him.

So I’d really appreciate your advice – do I have a case to escalate or should I just treat this as an unfortunate incident?

Yours Faithfully, C.

Dear C.,

Sorry to hear about your experience – unfortunately I don’t think it’s uncommon.I’ve heard many horror stories involving both landlords and tenants. Given you’ve already escalated to the CEA and they’ve looked into it, I don’t think there’s much more you can do. Like you pointed out, taking legal action might not make sense given the cost and expense, and it’ll be difficult for you to prove what “damages” you suffered in this case.

To prevent this from happening in the future, I would suggest:

  1. Being more selective about the tenants and agents you work with (I know it’s tough given it’s a tenant’s market now).
  2. Having direct contact with the tenant – get their number, email etc. so you can contact them directly instead of going through the agent.

3.In the case of disputes, keeping records of evidence (e.g. emails, videos etc.) where possible.

To Wisdom and Beyond,

Mr. Propwise

P.S. Dear readers – do you have any other ideas about what can be done for C. to seek redress? Or do you think it’s not worthwhile for him to do so? You can email me at info@propwise.sg with your thoughts.

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by Propwise.sg on July 18, 2016 · 0 comments

Posted in Ask Mr. Propwise (AMP)

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