An Auckland real estate agent who practised for nearly a year without a licence has been found guilty of misconduct, fined $5000 and barred from working in the sector for 18 months.
But the agent said an undiagnosed medical condition of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder might have contributed to his offending, he has since been diagnosed with that and he's now on medication for it.
The Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal, headed by Pamela Andrews, said the case against him "was serious and justified a serious disciplinary response".
Nikolai Mario Vulinovich admitted the charge of misconduct. He worked as an agent at CBRE South Auckland without being licensed for nearly a year, a breach of the Real Estate Agents Act 2008 which demands all agents hold tickets to practice.
The tribunal said he was first licensed in 2013 and three years later, moved to Sydney where he got a New South Wales licence via the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997.
Across the Tasman, he worked for CBRE South Sydney until 2017.
His New Zealand licence expired in 2016.
He returned to New Zealand and in January 2018, began working for CBRE South Auckland.
But his New South Wales licence expired a month later.
He didn't revive his New Zealand licence, nor did he apply to get his New South Wales licence recognised in New Zealand under the transtasman act.
He worked as a CBRE real estate agent without holding any category of a licence for almost an entire year, until December 2018, the tribunal said.
The work he undertook wasn't minor in nature and certainly required a licence.
"During this time Mr Vulinovich undertook real estate agency work as listing agent in respect of five properties and received commissions for real estate agency work in respect of four further properties," the tribunal said.
"He did not act alone and there was at least one licensee helping with the real estate agency work for each transaction. He received no more than 50 per cent of the total commissions for any of the transactions," it said.
In November 2018, CBRE undertook a global audit of all the licenses held by its salespeople and it was only then that Vulinovich's offending was in danger of being outed.
So he applied to Wellington's Real Estate Authority to get his ticket again but he didn't tell the Crown authority he was really working as an agent at the time and had been for months. Instead, he told them he was only working as an "agency analyst" - preparing for agency work in the investment sales team which was untrue.
He also told the Crown authority he had worked for CBRE South Sydney longer than he really had, saying he didn't finish there until June 2018, whereas it had really been in January 2018 that he started working for CBRE South Auckland.
The tribunal noted the difference between the dates.
Vulinovich further told his employer CBRE here that he had tried to get his ticket, which was also untrue, saying "[b]efore coming back to NZ I filled out the mutual recognition paperwork and sent it in but failed to follow up".
CBRE suspended him in December 2018 and told the authority about the situation.
His engagement with CBRE was terminated in March 2019 and the tribunal said he then went to work at Barfoot & Thompson.
In response to the charge of disgraceful conduct, Vulinovich said none of his acts was done with malice or the intent to disadvantage anyone. It was a big mistake and he had handled it poorly.
His initial failure to get a licence before starting work back here in 2018 might have been due to a then-undiagnosed medical condition of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder which had since been diagnosed and for which he was taking medication, he said.
He admitted the explanation he had given CBRE late in 2018 was untrue. He had not submitted any transtasman act form.
"He said that when he moved back from Australia he looked at the form, noted that he did not yet have all the information required to complete it, then forgot to make the application," the tribunal said.
He said he was incredibly sorry for his actions, no complaints had been made against him here or in Australia, he was open, transparent and compliant with the investigation and had already suffered greatly during the disciplinary process.
He had lost a job that he had held since starting his career and the uncertainty around the process had taken a mental toll over the past few years, the tribunal said.
But the authority said working without being licenced and statements to the authority and CBRE constituted conduct that would reasonably be regarded as disgraceful.
The penalty should be appropriate for the conduct, so it decided his licence should be suspended for 18 months and he should be fined $5000.
Vulinovich said when asked about the decision: "I won't comment just now."
Andrew Stringer, CBRE NZ's senior manager, said the business had a policy of not commenting on disciplinary actions taken against former employees.
So the Herald put questions to John Waymouth, a barrister who specialises in real estate agent law and practice.
Q: Does such a case of an agent working without a licence happen often?
Waymouth: "I've never encountered this before let alone in such a lengthy premeditated manner. Sometimes agents will forget to renew their licences but most real estate companies check to make sure their sales agents do renew their licenses annually, and the authority does follow up with agents constantly to make sure they don't forget to renew."
Q: How could his firm have employed him with a licence?
Waymouth: "It would appear CBRE didn't do the most fundamental check when employing him as every other real estate company does. As every licensed agent is given a one-off unique identifier number from the authority once registered and all they had to do was ask him for it, as all companies do, and then check it on the REA website to ensure he was currently licenced."
Q: Was the penalty appropriate?
Waymouth: "Very certainly. It's misconduct as it's serious and as such cancellation is correct especially under section 73(a) of the act and especially for such a sustained period of time but the tribunal was also correct in reducing that to suspension for 18 months which is in itself a very long period because of the mitigating factors they mentioned."
Q: Should people ask to see an agent's licence or check?
Q: "I think the public should be able to assume the person they are dealing with is licensed as it's the real estate company's obligation to make sure their sales teams are currently licensed so that the public can rely on the companies doing their job properly. I think CBRE dropped the ball on this one."