Property law may fall at finish line

 

Plans to regulate the property industry and set up a house price register look as if they may collapse

PLANS to regulate the property industry, promised for the past five years, as well as the setting up of a national house price register, may collapse in the next two months.

The Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 is unlikely to be passed before an election is called, says Pat Rabbitte, the Labour Party’s spokesperson on Justice. Alan Shatter of Fine Gael also believes it will not be “possible to enact this legislation before the election, because of the Government’s failure to act sooner”.

If the bill does not make it across the finish line before an election, plans to license and regulates auctioneers, letting agents and management agents will fall.

The role of the Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA) – a body set up five years ago but which will have no teeth until the Bill is passed – will be called into question. And the establishment of a national house price database, a job being given to the PSRA, would be delayed.

However, the completely unregulated activities of management agents of apartment complexes, which have become a major issue in the past decade, will be regulated by another piece of legislation, the Multi-Unit Developments Bill, which Mr Rabbitte believes will become law before the election is called. It was passed by the Dáil just before Christmas. However, management agents will remain unlicensed if the Property Services Bill is not passed.

The setting up of an independent authority aimed at “stamping out unscrupulous practices among estate agents and auctioneers” was announced by then Minister for Justice Michael McDowell in October 2005. It was to operate on an interim footing from January 2006 pending passing of legislation that year.

In the event, the Property Services Bill was published in May 2009, passed the second stage in the Dáil in November and has reached committee stage. A Department of Justice spokesperson said that it was now a matter for party whips whether it will be given Dáil time.

Meanwhile, the authority, has been operating out of offices in Navan, Co Meath with a staff of 10 since 2007. It has established a guide for users of property services and a voluntary code of practice; it investigates complaints, but has no authority to discipline rogue agents.

If the Bill is not passed, a new Fine Gael/Labour government is likely to introduce legislation to regulate the property industry, although not necessarily reproducing the current bill. “We believe legislation in this area is a vital necessity and should have been enacted over five years ago. Fine Gael supports the Bill but wants to see it improved substantially,” Alan Shatter said yesterday. “We would certainly publish a far more comprehensive bill in government.”

Mr Rabbitte also believes that regulation of estate agents is vital. “The Labour Party would certainly be committed to legislation to regulate estate agents and auctioneers but would examine if it could be done by an existing body, e.g., the Property Registration Authority ,” says Mr Rabbitte. He has also suggested that the National Consumer Agency might have a role to play.

A house price database promised by the Government last August to establish accurate property values is due to be administered by the PRSA. However, not everyone agrees that it is the right body to do this. Kersten Mehl, president of the Irish Auctioneers & Valuers Institute (IAVI), says that existing bodies – like the Valuation Office, Property Registration Authority and the Revenue Commissioners – already have information needed to produce a database.

Both bodies representing auctioneers want the the bill be passed. Ed Carey, acting chief executive of the Irish Auctioneers & Valuers institute (IAVI), says that it is “concerned that the legislation will get lost in the wilderness; we have sought regulation for many years. Establishing minimum education standards for entry into the business is our big concern”.

Fintan McNamara, chief executive of the Institute of Professional Auctioneers & Valuers (IPAV), says that there is broad acceptance of the need for regulation but says IPAV is concerned that the cost of running the PSRA (estimated at about €3m a year), which is to be paid by way of levies on agents, could be too great.