Consumer watchdog targets underquoting – media release

South Australia’s consumer watchdog has begun a campaign aimed at encouraging people in the real estate sector and consumers to report any cases of underquoting within the industry.

Underquoting occurs when a property is advertised for less than the vendor is willing to accept or less than the agent estimates the property will sell for in the hope of attracting a higher number of buyers and driving up the price.

“The practice of underquoting is not common in the sector, and most real estate agents in South Australia do the right thing,” Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Dini Soulio said.

“But there are still some who will flout the law.

“It’s unacceptable, unethical behaviour, which is why we’re encouraging people both in the sector and consumers to come forward and help us stamp out underquoting.”

Mr Soulio said Consumer and Business Services will be contacting each of the more than 6,000 licensed real estate agents and sales representatives in South Australia, encouraging them to report any instance of underquoting.

“If anyone knows of any cases of underquoting, I encourage them to report it to CBS – to help protect both consumers and the sector,” he said.

The Chief Executive of the Real Estate Institute of South Australia, Greg Troughton, said agents that engaged in underquoting should be taken to task.

“REISA supports action that encourages a level and legal playing field for consumers,” he said.

“I look forward to working with the Commissioner and his team on this matter and, more importantly, achieving better real estate consumer protection outcomes.”

An agent or sales representative must have reasonable grounds for advertising a property at the price stated in the advertisement, or they can face penalties of up to $500,000 for an individual or $10 million for a company.

An agent or sales representative must also ensure that they advertise the property at the price which is the greater of the vendor’s acceptable price and the agent’s estimated price, or face penalties of up to $20,000 or imprisonment for 1 year apply.

People can report a case of underquoting via the online form on the CBS website at www.cbs.sa.gov.au/contact-us


Tiling work not the Best – media release

A tiling company has been fined more than $11,000 for providing three clients with substandard renovations and for undertaking work it was not properly licenced to do.

Best Tiling and Renovations Pty Ltd and its sole director Mr Branislav Zivlak last week pleaded guilty in the Adelaide Magistrates Court to offences under the Building Work Contractor’s Act 1995 relating to contracting outside the scope of his licence.

Mr Zivlak’s company held a licence limited to wall and floor tiling, however made contracts with consumers to undertake bathroom and laundry renovations.

In sentencing submissions, the court heard that the work was completed to a poor standard and, in one case, resulted in the Office of the Technical Regulator placing an encumbrance over a property due to the non-compliant plumbing work.

The court heard that Mr Zivlak had shown a “flagrant disregard for the law” by continuing to advertise services outside the scope of his licence.

In her sentencing remarks, Chief Magistrate Mary-Louise Hribal said Mr Zivlak understood he had undertaken work he was not licenced to do.

“The court must make it clear that tradespeople must comply with the regulatory regime and failure to do so results in serious consequences,” she said.

Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Dini Soulio said that the three consumers had been left at “considerable inconvenience”.

“This is a clear example of why the Act requires people contracting for building work or supervising building work to be properly qualified to perform the work they have contracted for,” he said.

“It is important that the industry understand that they must comply with the regulatory regime created by this Act, and that they are not to carry on business as a building work contractor beyond the scope of what is authorised.”

Best Tiling and Renovations was fined a total of $11,840, and ordered to pay a total of $5500 in compensation and a further $800 in prosecution costs.


$175,000 penalty for “greedy” unlicensed builder – media release

A “greedy” unlicensed builder who gambled away money paid by clients and left a trail of substandard or incomplete work in his wake has been fined $175,000 in the Adelaide Magistrates Court for breaches of consumer protection laws.

In court, Peter John Wotton admitted to breaches of the Australian Consumer Law and the Building Work Contractor’s Act.

The court heard Wotton, as sole director of Simplified Installs Pty Ltd trading as Australia Pools and Patios, had entered into contracts with 7 clients for the installation of swimming pools and associated works, ranging in value from $33,000 to $130,000.

In most cases, the work was either substandard or incomplete, with some clients complaining of damage to their property as a result of the works he’d undertaken.

Three clients paid deposits and received nothing in return.

The court was also told that in many cases, Wotton had used a fake builder’s licence number on invoices, and that Wotton also entered into a contract with a client worth around $130,000 after being warned by authorities that his actions were illegal and when he knew his business was in financial trouble

Magistrate Brett Dixon fined Wotton $175,000 and ordered he pay a total of $58,964.40 in compensation to four of Wotton’s clients.

In addition, Wotton was barred from managing companies for the next seven years.

“These were significant breaches that left a number of consumers out of pocket,” Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Dini Soulio said.

“Wotton never held an appropriate licence and continued to engage in work, even after he’d been warned his actions were illegal.

“I’m pleased to see the court recognise the seriousness of these offences and impose a significant fine and order compensation”


Imported eyeliner removed from SA shelves – media release

Nearly 100 imported eyeliner bottles potentially containing dangerous levels of lead have been removed from South Australian shelves following action from Consumer and Business Services.

Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Dini Soulio said Consumer and Business Services responded quickly to protect South Australians following concern about the sale of these products in New South Wales.

“Hashmi eyeliner products are predominantly sold in South Australia through shops that stock goods imported from Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said.

“Tests conducted on these products in New South Wales have indicated dangerous levels of lead, as well as the presence of other dangerous metals, including arsenic, cadmium and mercury.

“Officers from Consumer and Business Services have been visiting shops across Adelaide, finding these products in three stores and a similar product from the same brand in one store.

“Pleasingly, these store owners have been very cooperative when alerted to the issue, and have immediately taken all products from their shelves.”

Mr Soulio said that, so far, 97 units have been taken off shelves – some of which have featured labels claiming the products are lead free.

“Officers from CBS will continue to check shops that may be stocking these products to ensure they are taken off the shelves as a matter of priority,” he said.

“I would urge any stores that sell cosmetics to check their shelves to ensure they aren’t selling any products of concern, which at this stage are the Hashmi Surma Special and Hashmi Kohl Aswad eyeliners.

“If these products are found, staff should remove them from sale immediately and contact us directly.”

SA Health’s Chief Medical Officer and Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Paddy Phillips, said anyone who has the product should refrain from using it.

“It only takes a very small amount of lead to pass into your bloodstream to result in serious health impacts,” Professor Phillips said.

“Lead can be harmful to people of all ages, but the risk of health effects is highest for unborn babies, infants and children.

“If anyone has used the product, they should seek medical advice.”

Mr Soulio said CBS will continue to work with authorities in New South Wales, who are leading the investigation into this matter.

Consumers who have purchased these products are being urged to contact CBS on 131 882.


Consultation begins on reforms – media release

Members of the public are being encouraged to have their say on proposed consumer protection reforms, including measures aimed at cracking down on ticket scalpers.

As the Government prepares regulations to govern proposed tougher anti-scalping laws, feedback is being sought on how aspects of the laws will operate in practice.

Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Dini Soulio said feedback would help guide the proposed new anti-scalping laws, which include penalties of up to $20,000 for an individual and $100,000 for corporations that engage in the practice.

“There are a number of issues that need to be considered in looking at how these laws will operate in practice,” he said.

“This includes a possible cap on tickets that can be purchased to an event at any one time, possible exemptions to the new requirements and whether legitimate ticket re-sellers can recoup administrative or transaction costs associated with their original purchase.”

The Government is also seeking feedback from the public on exemptions to laws that will require a minimum three-year expiry date on most gift cards sold in South Australia.

Proposed exemptions include:

  • Reloadable pre-paid cards, such as mobile phone recharge cards
  • Credit and debit cards
  • Cards or vouchers that are only redeemable for phone credit, internet access or other utilities, such as iTunes cards.

“I would encourage members of the public to have their say on how we can ensure these reforms better protect consumers while remaining common-sense and practical,” Mr Soulio said.

To comment on gift card exemptions, head to yoursay.sa.gov.au/gift-cards and to comment on anti-scalping reforms, head to yoursay.sa.gov.au/ticket-scalping.

Public comment is open until 5pm, July 20 for both reforms.


Be on the lookout for unscrupulous shonks – media release

South Australia’s consumer watchdog has urged consumers to take extra care, with shonky tradies ripping off in excess of $230,000 from consumers in the past seven months.

Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Dini Soulio said Consumer and Business Services continued to receive calls from people who have paid what appear to be a group of itinerant tradies for work that’s either been performed to a very poor standard or not even started.

Read more – Be on the lookout for unscrupulous shonks


Former travel agents fined $15K – media release

The Supreme Court has ordered that pecuniary penalties of $150,000 be paid by the operators of a former Adelaide-based travel agent for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law which included leaving clients in the lurch at the check in gate in foreign countries.

Consumer and Business Services began legal action against the former operators of Olympia Express Tourist and Travel, Vasilios Koutropoulos and Mary Boufkas, in December 2015, alleging that they engaged in conduct that was misleading and deceptive, made false and misleading representations, and wrongly accepted payment from consumers in connection with the supply of international airline services and other travel products.

Read more – former travel agents fined $15,000

Call for compensation – 17 July 2018


Real estate agent sanctioned for misconduct – media release

The District Court has ordered a multitude of sanctions against a South Australian real estate agent for professional misconduct.

The Commissioner for Consumer Affairs alleged that Robert Stephens acted improperly as a sales representative while working at the Clare office of Elders Real Estate by selling a property at Snowtown to a company whose sole director was one of his co-workers and by brokering the sale of a Clare property to another colleague.

Read more – Real estate agent sanctioned for misconduct (PDF 89KB)


Consumers warned to beware of threat based scams – media release

South Australians are being urged to look out for scammers who use threats to scare people into giving them money or personal information, as part of Scams Awareness Week from 21 to 25 May 2018.

Dini Soulio, Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, today said that South Australians lost more than $3.6 million to scams in 2017, including almost $26,000 to scams that scared victims into parting with their money, such as threatening someone’s life.

Read more – Consumers warned to beware of threat-based scams (PDF 107KB)