Agents and developers preying on elderly residents for control of their voting rights

At one condominium in Ang Mo Kio, the developer, which also owned units in the property, seized control of the management council and tried – albeit unsuccessfully – to push through a collective sale as well as a proposal to build a covered car park using the maintenance and sinking funds.

At another development in Simei, property agents infiltrated its management council and then transacted several units, with residents suspecting they did so by accessing their personal data or leasing information.

Such “proxy wars” have been waged for years at condos across the island: Home owners who are also property agents or developers allegedly coerce or harass other residents for proxies in a bid to seize majority voting power, get themselves elected into the management council and ultimately make decisions to their benefit.

Association of Management Corporations chief executive Francis Zhan told TODAY: “The whole idea is to get into the management office, copy down residents’ information and contacts, which will help (property agents) in their daily work of selling property. It’s a simple opportunity for those without many contacts.”

He added: “The agents target seniors who are … not so well-educated. They coerce them, harass them … to get them to sign the (proxy) forms.”

Mr Zhan noted there is also the risk of property agents sitting on management councils appointing either themselves or their affiliates as managing agents for the developments.

Last month, condo resident Tan Chuan Poh wrote in to this newspaper to voice his concern at such tactics. He described how a property agent who lived at his condo collected more than 50 proxy votes from owners who could not attend the AGM and voted in three property agent associates and a client, before making himself the chairman of the management council.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is reviewing the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act, including the use of proxies at annual general meetings, its spokesperson said in response to TODAY’s queries. The review is undergoing public consultation till the end of this month. It is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Mr Zhan and property agents TODAY spoke to suggested that the authorities disallow the use of proxies for the election of council members.

Mr Tan also proposed banning property agents from holding key appointments on a management council. However, property agent Daniel Ong pointed out: “If it’s a lawyer, insurance agent or a salesman, do you stop them? It does not matter who the person is, we all do what is necessary to survive as long as it does not break the law.”

Ms J Lim is a property agent who also chairs the management council of her condo in the Novena area.

She makes it a point to stay out of matters involving sales of units at her condo. She also tells her husband, who is an engineer, not to get involved or to provide quotations for building inspections.

She noted that the impending introduction of the Personal Data Protection Act will address concerns about potential misuse of personal information.

Ms Lim told TODAY: “It is not all bad, as the experience I have comes in useful at times. The other members will ask me for my advice when it comes to doing things that may affect the valuation of the building … it is about how open you are.”

The BCA spokesperson reiterated that all condo management council members who have direct or indirect interests in any matters or contracts should declare the nature of this interest and abstain from any discussion or voting.

On the issue, Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) Deputy Director (licensing) Yeap Soon Teck warned that property agents “should not take advantage of their position and influence (in the management council) to benefit their estate agency work.”

Also, under CEA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care, salespersons “must not use threatening or harassing tactics or apply unreasonable pressure on any person to get themselves elected (to the management council), and bring discredit or disrepute to the real estate agency industry.” The CEA will look into complaints and property agents who are found guilty of breaching the code could be fined, or have their licences revoked or suspended, Mr Yeap said.

Source : Today – 2012 Jun 11

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