High-flying realtors in million-dollar spat
TWO elite Queensland real estate agents are fighting a million-dollar legal war over commissions, with claims of betrayal, deceit and defamation, including a claim that one agent said he heard creditors wanted the other's agent's legs broken.
Piers Crawford, the principal of Ray White Holland Park, an affluent enclave on Brisbane's southside, has sued his former most successful agent Andrew Oostenbrink, after their relationship soured when Oostenbrink defected to establish his own agency - Belle Carindale.
In his Brisbane Supreme Court suit, Crawford is claiming a total of $1.1 million in damages from lost sales commissions for breach of a co-agency agreement, as well as 10 claims of defamation for comments allegedly made to colleagues and vendors or on Facebook.
Crawford is also suing for deceit and for misleading and deceptive conduct, alleging Oosterbrink tried to harm the Ray White Holland Park business by both posting online and saying things, and by inducing or soliciting Ray White Holland Park staff to leave, and earning secret profits by abusing Ray White Holland Park confidential client data, court documents state.
Crawford alleges that after Oostenbrink resigned from Ray White Holland Park on July 6, 2017 to set up his Belle property franchise, Crawford learned that Oostenbrink had been setting up his competing business while still employed by Ray White Holland Park.
Oostenbrink denies all the claims, alleging he can't have breached the co-agency agreement because he never signed it.
Oostenbrink claims he reached the top level of performance at Ray White with only 28 members nationwide after only four years with the company, he claims he was awarded the title of No.1 Belle principal in Queensland last year, and the fourth-best principal nationwide.
Oostenbrink is alleged to have told Ray White Holland Park colleague Joseph Leong on July 29, 2017 during a meeting at Oostenbrink's house that "people have threatened to come over and break his legs", referring to Crawford.
"Piers has had a new house built and is not paying the builder for it. He is not paying his business bills and has even received threats of violence from his creditors," Oostenbrink is alleged to have told Leong.
Oostenbrink denies the claims have harmed Crawford's reputation, arguing two former employees of Ray White Holland Park told him they had warned Crawford they would break his legs if their debts were not paid.
In his defence, Oostenbrink also argues he did not gratuitously denigrate Crawford to colleague Leong by sharing a "scandalous" story of what Crawford did during a work trip to the US.
Oostenbrink also alleges he saw what appeared to be a recording device activated by Leong on that day, and he believed Leong may have been drunk.
Crawford has also sued Oostenbrink over his post on Facebook on July 30, 2017, where he allegedly wrote, "This is what happens when you don't pay your bills," alongside a video of a man being assaulted.
Crawford alleges he was defamed because this implies he is likely to be assaulted, he lacks morals and can't pay his bills when they are due.
Crawford is claiming aggravated damages for the defamation, alleging malice, and that he was further hurt after Oostenbrink claimed Crawford's reputation was not adversely affected by the Facebook posts because it was "previously a poor one".
Oostenbrink argues the comments could not have injured Crawford's reputation or that Crawford "did not hold sufficiently high reputation that the words which were spoken and written would have detracted from his reputation."
Oostenbrink defends four of the allegedly defamatory comments, saying they were for the sole purpose of debt recovery, and says imputations that Crawford doesn't pay debts are substantially true.
Crawford is also suing Oostenbrink for allegedly implying in comments to the owners of a home in July 2017 that Crawford runs a low-quality business, is in the business of selling homes below the market rate and does not do the best by clients.
Oostenbrink allegedly told the vendors Crawford operated the "cheaper" agency, a claim that Oostenbrink says is substantially true as his commissions are higher.
Oostenbrink is also alleged to have defamed Crawford in a Facebook post on July 23, 2017, when he wrote, "Some people will only like you if you fit inside their box. Don't be afraid to shove that box up their ass."
Crawford alleges this implies he is unreasonable, an unscrupulous businessperson and unkind employer.
Oostenbrink claims the lawsuit is hurting him financially, his lawyer telling the court he was paying interest of $27,000 per month, $22,000 more than he would if he did not have adverse credit report due to the lawsuit.
The case is set to be heard by a judge alone. No trial date has been set.