The Act Party says it saw no need to disclose that one of its high-ranked new candidates had been censured by the Real Estate Authority.
According to the most recent political poll from Roy Morgan, Zane Cozen’s number 19 placement on the Act Party list would be easily enough to elect the former Taupō councillor to Parliament.
Cozens was a real estate agent known in the industry for his big sales numbers – over 19 years, he says he did about 2500.
Now, in response to Newsroom queries, he acknowledges he was the subject of four formal complaints, one of which resulted in a censure, an order to refund his elderly client her legal fees, and to retrain.
In 2013, he was found to have placed “undue pressure” on her – not the only time he’s been accused of pressuring customers.
“I had four complaints against me and for three of them, I was vindicated, found to be without any blame,” he tells Newsroom.
“And one was where they felt the extra lawyer charges should be on me, which was $800. So there’s nothing nefarious, and the party is fully knowledgeable.
“It was to do with timeframes for auctions.”
The Real Estate Authority found he pressured the vendor, a woman named Selina Watson. But Cozens rejected that: “I do believe you’re looking for a story that’s simply not there.”
He refused to answer further questions and hung up the phone.
The Authority’s finding was upheld, on appeal, by the Real Estate Agents’ Disciplinary Tribunal. In a ruling delivered by the chair, Judge Paul Barber, it said: “The committee determined that the licensee had placed undue pressure on the complainant to declare the contract unconditional prior to the auction.”
Two years later, Turangi couple Christine and Dr Ian Millward laid another complaint, that also went to appeal. Ian Millward complained of Cozens having “beaten him down with pressure upon pressure” to sell at $685,000 which was $50,000 less than he ever intended.
Millward stressed that he found the sale process “incredibly stressful and upsetting and, indeed, he feels bullied by the licensee”, Judge Barber said.
“Dr Millward says he now feels foolish and cannot understand why he kept acceding to the licensee’s pressure to drop his price and that, in the course of the sale process, he wished to either stand firm or take the property off the market, but he felt bullied and threatened by the persistency of the licensee,” the judgment says.
“Dr Millward takes the view that because the licensee so pressured him, and the vendors have dropped $50,000 from what they sought, he and Mrs Millward should not need to pay $25,000 commission to the licensee for such poor service as they allege.”
Christine Millward had been Cozen’s personal assistant for a year, and so she had trusted him. The couple felt Cozens “took advantage of that to put” pressure on Dr Millward to accept a lower sale price.
In support of the complaint, another of Cozen’s customers named Jock Penrose gave evidence that Cozens “had a propensity in his general business life as a real estate agent to pressure and bully vendors over price”, but the tribunal dismissed that as hearsay.
That complaint was not upheld, after Cozens apologised for his office disclosing confidential details of the sale.
“Real estate agents must not impose undue pressure on vendors simply to get a sale so they gain commission income. That is most unprofessional,” the tribunal ruled. “Having said all that, while we respect how Dr and Mrs Millward feel, we cannot be satisfied that any sense of pressure and urgency imposed on them by the licensee was undue in all the circumstances.”
Act leader David Seymour says Cozens disclosed the complaints to the party in seeking nomination, but Act hadn’t believed it was necessary to make them public.
He is sure Cozens regrets his actions. “If voters insisted candidates all needed to be perfect, then I suspect they wouldn’t have any people running for Parliament.”
After being approached by Newsroom, Seymour read the appeal judgment last night. “I’m really satisfied that it wasn’t malicious, and that he’s fundamentally a good person. And as I understand, at the end of the day, the person still purchased the property and they remained a friend of theirs for the rest of their lives.”
“Having talked to him further, this is someone who’s had an outstanding career in a small town for a long time, which bears out that you can make a mistake, which he did, but I’m really satisfied that it wasn’t malicious.”
Newsroom spoke this week with Selina Watson’s husband, Richard. He says his wife was angry at the time, but the censure had resolved matters.
To call them friends was overstating things, he says, but she bore him no ill-will. “She was a forgiving person,” he agrees. “They lived in the same town, a small town. You’ve got to get on in a small town like that.”
However, Cozens’ estranged brother, Tayte Cozens, says he does not believe his older brother should be elected an MP. The two have not been on speaking terms since they were in their 20s, he says, and the only time they’ve seen each other in recent years was at their mother’s funeral.
In his opinion, the accounts of Zane Cozens putting undue pressure on people are consistent with his personal experience.