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Real Estate Ontario tribunal rules to let realtor accused of theft keep licence

A quasi-judicial appeals tribunal has rejected the Real Estate Council of Ontario’s proposal to revoke the licence of a realtor it accused of theft, leaving the industry regulator mulling whether to seek judicial review in Divisional Court.

“RECO continues to believe that there are grounds to revoke the registrations of both Akbar Zareh and [his associate] Roy Houshmand. We are disappointed about the decision that [the Licence Appeal Tribunal] handed down, and we are considering whether to appeal,” said Joseph Richer, RECO registrar.

In 2015, RECO issued a Notice of Proposal to revoke the registration of Mississauga realtor Akbar Zarehhossainabadi, who uses the shortened “Zareh” in business and who is also broker of record of Kingsway Real Estate Brokerage. There were five key allegations around financial and personal misconduct, the most significant being “a large-scale theft from a residence listed for sale by him.”

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That claim stems a 2015 lawsuit by Sofia Oliviera, in which Mr. Zareh admitted that he removed more than $30,000 worth of “chattels” – including a piano, an armoire and exercise equipment” – from a house Ms. Oliviera purchased in a power-of-sale transaction, with Mr. Zareh representing the seller and mortgagee, the Royal Bank of Canada. He was never charged criminally for this incident, but the judge in the civil case said that Mr. Zareh “nefariously” removed the unclaimed items. He was also ordered to pay $40,000 in costs to Ms. Oliviera at the conclusion of the trial.

“Sometimes we make bad decisions, we make errors and we grow from that,” Mr. Zareh said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “It was misused, the word ‘theft’ – there was no such thing. There was no criminal charges, there was no police, there was no arrest.”

“Mr. Zareh has, without question minimized his responsibility in this incident,” wrote Patricia McQuaid, vice-chair of the Licence Appeal Tribunal and adjudicator, in her ruling on the license proposal. “It is undisputed that Mr. Zareh took items from the home in November, 2009. Whether he took three or ten, he did so without clearly established permission to do so. Mr. Zareh’s conduct in relation to this incident … reflects a lack of integrity and honesty. He did not acquit himself at all well.”

RECO’s contention was that Mr. Zareh could not be relied on to meet the standards set out in the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002, and that he “cannot reasonably be expected to be financially responsible in the conduct of business.”

“His past conduct provides reasonable grounds to believe he will not act with honesty and integrity and in compliance with the law,” Mr. Richer, the RECO registrar, said.

To buttress its case, RECO raised concerns about his finances, business practices and personal conduct. Mr. Zareh has an outstanding debt to the Canada Revenue Agency; as of early 2019, he owed $555,680 in back taxes. RECO also flagged a $70,000 fine to his brokerage from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for violations of telephone marketing aimed at individuals on the do-not-call list, and raised concerns about a mortgage business he had an interest in but did not report on his RECO reapplication forms.

RECO also raised Mr. Zareh’s 2009 conviction on a sexual-assault charge involving a former employee, which he did report to the regulator at the time. The Crown filed 11 charges; he was found guilty in one, not guilty in six and the jury hung on four other charges. He received no jail time, but was ordered to turn over a DNA sample to the province and served a year probation.

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“I regret it of course," Mr. Zareh said when asked about the conviction. “Since then I employed more than a thousand of male, female, young, old – there [was] never any issue with anyone. There was no reason for RECO to bring that up again and use it against me.”

“The seriousness of the incident cannot be diminished by saying it was a long time ago,” Ms. McQuaid wrote in her decision. Nevertheless, she ruled: “It is well settled in the Tribunal jurisprudence that a criminal conviction does not necessarily preclude registration.”

On the theft and financial issues, Ms. McQuaid wrote that, “revocation is not the only remedy available” and “I have concluded that revocation is not the appropriate outcome.”

Instead, she imposed three conditions on Mr. Zareh’s continued registration: He has to enroll in an Ethics in Business Practice course by the end of 2019, he has to notify the registrar immediately if there are any future complaints made against him and he also must notify RECO within five days if any information in his registration application changes. These conditions will apply for the next four years. Associate Mr. Houshmand received similar conditions.

RECO had 21 days from the date of the June 11 decision to ask the tribunal to reconsider, and it had 30 days to appeal to Divisional Court. In a statement to The Globe this week, RECO said it has not requested a reconsideration but is still considering an appeal. The last time RECO appealed an LAT decision was in 2016.

Mr. Zareh views the matter as closed. “I’m happy about it, I think justice [was] served. … I had a feeling from Day 1 that this is what the outcome [was] gonna be,” he said. “I respect the registrar. … They are doing an awesome job, I’m all with them, there are a lot of bad apples and they have to be removed.

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“Sometimes I encounter with other brokerages other representatives, they do a lot of unethical things, and 80 per cent of them never get caught – they are still in the business. We have to clean up our industry to protect the public.”

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