Property investor

 

Political parties are promising to reform the Irish property market – but what will they do with the toothless, expensive NPSRA?

THE OUTGOING Government’s long-awaited proposals to reform the Irish property market have fallen by the wayside – but we are still paying for them. The National Property Services Regulatory Authority (NPSRA) has been open for business in Navan since 2007. It has no authority, no power, no role. Its enabling legislation fell when the Dáil was dissolved. Yet it still exists and continues to send the bills to the taxpayer.

A trawl through published Government records shows the total projected current expenditure on the State-financed body for 2010 was €738,000, comprising €425,000 on pay and €313,000 on “non-pay” expenditure. This does not include rent on the modern Abbey Buildings property in Navan which one report put at €143,840 per year.

Also, the total pay figure for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (€157,593,000) includes “elements of pay” of officials of various bodies including the NPSRA, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General. No further information is available. Then for 2009, the current expenditure on the NPSRA was given at €657,000, compared with almost €600,000 in 2008. The figures do not detail the continuing costs. Again, detailed information was not available when sought from the Department of Justice. Apart from the costs of running an organisation with no statutory functions, the Government’s fallen proposals to reform property selling, letting and managing agents’ law and practices have also been costly in Civil Service time.

After years of slow gestation, the Property Services (Regulation) Bill, 2009 failed to make the cut when the outgoing Dáil was dissolved. It had passed second stage in the Dáil. Countless hours were spent on it by junior and senior civil servants in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and by lawyers in the Parliamentary Draftsman’s Office who carefully drafted the tightly-worded, 125-page Bill with 98 sections and eight schedules.

But the NPSRA continues its existence in fact, if not in law, until the outgoing or incoming Government decides what to do. It has a staff of about 10 officials, headed by chief executive designate and former Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform principal officer, Tom Lynch.

The NPSRA does have an interim website “pending the establishment of the Authority on a statutory basis”. It provides a simple and helpful guide to the property market. It contains a voluntary code of practice for estate agents and provides a register of agents throughout the country who have signed up to the code. So, useful work has been done.

But if in government after February 25th, the Labour Party wants consideration to be given to the functions of the NPSRA being handed over to an existing State body such as the Property Registration Authority or the National Consumer Agency. Pat Rabbitte TD stated in the Dáil last November that “one of the questions that arises is whether we need another agency”. Labour in government would start anew but its proposals would be enacted within one year.

Fine Gael says it supports the purpose of the Bill and that it would re-instate the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009. Significantly, it would also re-instate it at the same stage as at the dissolution of the Dáil. Fine Gael’s Justice spokesman, Alan Shatter TD, also believes that there should be an inquiry into the conduct of estate agents and auctioneers during the property boom period between 2000 and 2007.

So the 1947 law on estate agents and the selling of property remains in force almost six years after then Justice Minister Michael McDowell, lamented that it was “outdated, inappropriate and inadequate”. Even estate agents, who stand accused of contributing to the catastrophic over-heating of the property market, have been calling for reforms. If pre-election promises are to be believed, they may get them.

Pat Igoe is a solicitor in Blackrock, Co Dublin