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Managing complaints and disputes

CEA takes all complaints seriously. By providing details of the case and supporting documents, you will help us greatly in our investigations.

You engage a property agent to help you to buy an apartment. However, he gave you some wrong advice and even misrepresented some crucial figures on the property. There is also a dispute on the commission amount payable. You are unhappy with the agent and decide to lodge a complaint against him to the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA).

After receiving your online complaint, CEA informs you that we will look into the matters on wrong advice and misrepresentation on the part of the agent, but are unable to assist on the commission dispute. Why is this the case?

Types of complaints that CEA handles

CEA looks into complaints against licensed property agencies and registered agents in their conduct of estate agency work. We are empowered to investigate into complaints against agents for any possible breach of the Estate Agents Act, including the Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care (CEPCC), and to impose penalties if a breach is proven.

Some of the common complaints CEA receives against agents include advertisements with misleading information, unprofessional agents, misconduct and misrepresentation by agents, and others.

CEA also looks into complaints against entities or individuals suspected of conducting unlicensed or unregistered estate agency work. If you are thinking of engaging an individual as your agent but you can’t find his name in CEA’s Public Register, it means that the individual is not a registered agent. You should report him to CEA immediately.

If you are lodging a complaint against a property agency or agent, be specific in your complaint, provide a brief description of the case, and include all the supporting documents. This will aid us greatly in our investigations.

CEA takes all complaints seriously. The complaint form will form part of the documents required if CEA subsequently charges the entity or individual in Court or takes disciplinary action against them before a Disciplinary Committee.

In addition, it is an offence under the Penal Code to provide false or misleading documents or statements. You may be subject to prosecution and upon conviction, there may be a fine not exceeding $5,000, imprisonment of one year, or both.

How we conduct investigations

After receiving the case, an investigation officer will review and assess the available information and evidence.

As part of the investigation, the officer may interview the complainant, the agent being complained against, witnesses, and other related parties to obtain statements detailing their accounts of the events. The officer could also obtain reports from the property agent on the matter and visit the site if needed. The investigation will naturally take some time, depending on the complexity of the case and volume of complaints received by CEA.

After gathering all the information and evidence, CEA will evaluate each case carefully before deciding on the next course of action.

If there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation, CEA will take the appropriate action on the property agent or agency. CEA could issue Letters of Advice or impose composition fines for certain compoundable offences on errant agencies and agents. CEA could subject the agency or agent to disciplinary action before a Disciplinary Committee or prosecute them in Court in cases that merit such action to be taken.

For more serious cases, CEA could subject the agency or agent to disciplinary action before a Disciplinary Committee or prosecute them in Court.

Types of issues that CEA is not empowered to resolve

So why is it that CEA is unable to look into commission disputes?

The answer to this is simple – commission disputes are considered as monetary disputes between clients and agents. If you recall, we explained earlier that CEA can only act on complaints against agencies and agents regarding their conduct of estate agency work. We are thus not empowered to look into such monetary disputes.

CEA is typically unable to look into or follow up on issues that fall into these four categories:

Minor service lapses

If the complaint is related to minor services lapses by the property agency or agent, CEA will refer such cases to the property agency to resolve.

Examples include punctuality issues, no-show at appointments, and poor communications.

Insufficient information and anonymous complaints

CEA might not be able to look into the matter if the complainant is unable to provide sufficient information or evidence about the case, or if the complainant prefers to remain anonymous.

CEA can only act on substantiated cases with evidence. Hence, it is not possible for CEA to look into anonymous complainants.

Under another agency’s purview

Upon receiving a complaint, CEA will assess if the case falls within CEA’s ambit or if it comes under the purview of another government agency. If it is the latter, we will direct the case to the appropriate agency to handle.

Outside CEA’s purview

CEA is unable to handle complaints and disputes that fall outside of the conduct of estate agency work.

This includes monetary and contractual disputes between parties, property management, and criminal wrongdoing. Check out the infographic below to understand more.

Resolving monetary and contractual disputes

If you have any monetary and contractual disputes with a property agent or agency, first approach the property agency to resolve the matter.

If matter remains unresolved, and if you have signed an estate agency agreement earlier to engage the property agency to facilitate your property transaction, you can consider using CEA's Dispute Resolution Scheme.

The Dispute Resolution Scheme consists of two approaches – mediation or arbitration - to resolve the dispute.

In general, mediation is a process where a mediator facilitates the consumer and property agency to resolve a dispute and come to a mutually acceptable agreement. The decision is left to the parties and is not dictated by the mediator.

As for arbitration, the arbitrator will consider the issues of both parties and arrive at a decision that is binding on both parties.