Local real estate agent Alan Morton-Jones had his licence permanently cancelled by the High Court this month – a decision that is not only rare, but also provides an important precedent for the industry.
In June last year, the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal found Mr Morton-Jones guilty of four charges of misconduct in relation to short paying a number of clients of his property management business. The Tribunal subsequently suspended his licence for nine months, fined him $2000 and ordered that he complete training (HM November 4, 2015).
Both parties – Mr Morton-Jones and the Real Estate Agents Authority (an independent ‘watchdog’ for the industry) –appealed that penalty; the Authority believed that the licence should be cancelled outright and Mr Morton-Jones contested the misconduct decision itself.
In his decision dated August 8, Justice Woodhouse found for the Authority, and cancelled the real estate licence.
The Authority’s chief executive, Kevin Lampen-Smith says that this is a big decision for his organisation.
“Not only is a dishonest agent out of the industry for good, but we have also had an important point of law clarified for us,” he says.
The High Court stated that “… proven dishonesty will almost invariably result in disqualification whether or not that dishonestly led to criminal proceedings and criminal penalties”.
“This is a big deal for us as it shows how honesty is key to a person’s fitness to hold a real estate licence,” Mr Lampen-Smith says. “It sets the scene for future dishonesty prosecutions, in that if dishonestly is proven, cancellation of that person’s licence is a likely outcome.”
The Authority submitted in its appeal that the Disciplinary Tribunal failed to correctly identify and apply important principles and that dishonestly should result in licence cancellation in all but rare cases.
Suspension of an agent’s licence is uncommon in NZ – there have been only 15 since the Real Estate Agents Act came into effect in 2009 – and only six licences have been cancelled outright since 2009.
Mr Lampen-Smith says it is even more rare that a licence is cancelled for non-real estate agency work. “It was cancelled in this case because while Mr Morton-Jones was not carrying out real estate agency work, he was a licensed agent and the case involved serious dishonesty in relation to the handling of clients’ money. It is important that anyone who is proven to have behaved dishonestly is no longer able to be a part of the industry. Consumer protection is paramount and this is great decision for the Authority, the industry and New Zealanders.”