SINGAPORE - A property agent was fined $27,000 and suspended for 10 months for altering documents to collect additional commissions when he was not authorised to do so.
The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) said on Monday (Dec 23) that its disciplinary committee fined property agent George Peh Meng Woon for three charges in relation to breaches of the council's code of ethics and professional client care.
Peh, 45, who is from KF Property Network, also had his property agent registration suspended for 10 months over the three charges.
The suspension started on Monday, the CEA said in a statement.
Peh was formerly a property agent with DTZ Property Network (DTZ) when he committed the breaches. He pleaded guilty to three charges of altering documents without DTZ's authorisation to disguise and obtain commissions of $5,140, $29,040 and $21,699 as property management fees.
In total, Peh received $64,664 from these transactions as well as co-broking fees, which was about seven times more than what he would otherwise have received.
He also failed to declare the additional commissions to DTZ.
On three occasions between December 2013 and May 2014, three tenants had engaged Peh individually to help them source for suitable properties in Singapore to lease.
He took his clients to view properties, and the clients each agreed to pay him commission fees after agreeing to lease the properties.
At the same time, he asked three property agents, who were each representing a landlord, to co-broke the transactions with him. He withheld information that he would be collecting commission fees from his own tenant-clients.
All three landlords' agents agreed to the co-broke arrangements and signed agreements with him.
To disguise and obtain the commissions he was receiving from his clients, Peh altered three official DTZ commission agreement for lease (tenant) documents without the company's authorisation, and changed them to property management agreements instead.
In the property management agreements, he described the sums he received from his clients as "property management fees" for services rendered in relation to the lease of the properties.
For the three lease transactions, Peh received a total of $55,879, as "property management fees" from his clients, on top of the total co-broking fees of $8,785 he received from the landlords' agents.
"Peh only declared his co-broking fees to his property agency DTZ, but did not declare the sums received from his clients, thereby failing to act honestly towards DTZ in the conduct of estate agency work," the CEA said.
The council added that by altering the documents, Peh deliberately planned to evade the prohibition of the collection of commissions from both landlord and tenant in the same lease transaction.
"His disreputable behaviour resulted in multiple parties being defrauded over a series of different lease transactions. These actions went against the core of his professional duties," the CEA said.
The council's disciplinary committee also took into account four other charges against Peh for sentencing.
The charges involved failing to declare the three commissions of $5,140, $29,040 and $21,699 to DTZ, and altering the company's official document and using the property management agreements to disguise and obtain a commission of $10,700 as "property management fee" in a fourth lease transaction.
The CEA advised consumers who choose to have a property agent to facilitate their rental transactions to note that agents can represent only one party in a single transaction - either the landlord or the tenant - and not both parties.
Agents cannot collect commissions from both parties in that same transaction. This also applies to sale and purchase transactions, the CEA said.
Consumers can report agents whom they suspect to be unprofessional and unethical in property transactions by calling CEA on 1800-643-2555 or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
They can also visit www.cea.gov.sg/4steps for more information on engaging property agencies and agents.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.