An estate agency that threatened to deny three international students legal access to their rental properties at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been convicted and fined in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
West Melbourne-based Waterdale Property Agent Pty Ltd (ACN 121 837 581), trading as Waterdale Estate Agents, was convicted of breaching laws introduced to protect vulnerable renters during the first coronavirus wave.
The court heard that in April 2020, Waterdale had cancelled two students’ access to their West Melbourne apartment building. One student was only able to access the building with the help of another tenant, and remained in her apartment all weekend, out of fear she may be locked out again.
The agency also threatened to deny access to the other renters if they didn’t attend its office, although Waterdale claimed that the threat was only made as a means of getting the renters’ attention.
At the conclusion of a contested hearing, Waterdale was found guilty, convicted and fined $5000 for making a false and fraudulent misrepresentation to its renters by serving a Notice to Vacate in breach of the COVID-19 renting laws.
The company was also convicted and fined an aggregate sum of $2000 for multiple breaches of the Estate Agent Professional Conduct Regulations, including behaviour which had the potential to bring the industry into disrepute, and failing to perform its duties as an agent with due care and skill. It was also ordered to pay $5000 legal costs.
Consumer Affairs Victoria took action after complaints about Waterdale’s conduct at the start of the pandemic.
Director Nicole Rich said the temporary changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 were put in place to protect vulnerable renters during an unprecedented time of insecurity and uncertainty.
“Everyone has the right to feel secure in their rental property, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
“These renters were particularly vulnerable as international students far from home and families at the start of the pandemic. The threat of being locked out or evicted from their homes must have been very frightening.”
“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.”
For further information about the rights and obligations of renters and rental providers, see consumer.vic.gov.au/housing/renting