An Auckland Real Estate agent who short-changed three of his clients more than $40,000 has been stripped of his professional licence.
The High Court of New Zealand has upheld an appeal against Alan Morton-Jones for four charges of misconduct under section 73 of the Real Estate Agents Act 2008.
In June last year, he was found guilty and given a lighter penalty: the suspension of his licence for nine months, a fine of $2000 and an order to undertake further training.
The Real Estate Agents' Authority (REAA) appealed the decision and sought a tougher penalty - the cancellation of Morton-Jones' professional licence.
In a decision published today, the High Court ruled in favour of the REAA.
The charges against Morton-Jones were related to three incidents between 2009 and 2013 where he withheld rent received from tenants to his landlord clients.
In the first, he "short-paid" about $11,055.72 of rent to his client Rodger Sinclair between 2011 and 2012 - paying seven months later after repeated demands from Sinclair.
In the second incident, Morton-Jones short-paid about $22,798.50 of rent to his client, Anton Poynter, between 2011 and 2013 -- after three months and repeated demands from his client, including threats to get police involved, he paid back $17,114.76.
In the High Court decision, Morton-Jones' contention in respect to the first two charges was the shortage in rent payments was due to data entry errors by staff, and the money had been mistakenly paid to other landlords.
In the third, he short-paid client Karen Graham $9000 of rent between 2009 and 2012 which he eventually paid, with some $6,509.05 of it by cheque from another company he owned.
Morton-Jones' argument in relation to this charge was that there had been no failure to pay rent to Graham on time.
The final charge related to his failure to provide documents and information when requested by the investigating body.
Morton-Jones said computer problems meant he no longer had the documents when they were sought.
The High Court judge failed to accept his excuses and found in favour of the REAA.
REAA chief executive Kevin Lampen-Smith said he was pleased with the court decision.
He said it rid the industry of a "dishonest agent for good" and clarified an "important point of law".
He said the court's decision had shown how honesty was key to a person's fitness to hold a real estate licence - regardless of whether or not the dishonesty was done while performing real estate work.
The High Court decision stated, "proven dishonesty will almost invariably result in disqualification, whether or not that dishonesty led to criminal proceedings and criminal penalties".
Lampen-Smith said this set the scene for future acts of dishonesty, "in that if dishonesty is proven then cancellation of that person's licence is a likely outcome".