The Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011 (“the Act”) was introduced to address the integrity of property professionals (such as surveyors, valuers, auctioneers, management companies, estate agents and letting agents) and to improve the standards in the provision of property services to consumers.
Prior to 2011 a complainant had to bring a complaint to sometimes a variety of membership/regulatory bodies depending on the membership pf the property professional. These bodies were primarily representative in nature without the consumer at their heart. In many cases it was not clear which body they should make a complaint to. Disciplinary proceedings against property professionals were consequently rare.
Given the property apocalypse post 2008 and the blame which befell property professionals for their part in the crash, the public call for a new regulatory regime was overwhelming.
The Property Services Regulation Authority (PRSA) was established under the Act. It’s purpose is to regulate and discipline those Property Service Providers (“PSP’s”).
Prior to the Act an auctioneer applied for certificate from the District Court which permitted a further application to the Revenue Commissioners for a Licence to practice.
The establishment of the PSRA was designed to create confidence in a broken sector, to “enhance the standing and image of the sector” and “provide much-improved consumer protection for the clients of ‘property services providers’ and serve to assure the public that high standards will be applied and maintained” – Ministers Introduction to the PSRA Bill.
Powers of the PRSA:
One of the primary functions has been to provide and register all PSP’s with a licence. The PSRA has to be satisfied that the applicant has the necessary qualifications and is of good character. Before granting such a licence they investigate the financial standing of the applicant and professional indemnity insurance cover.
The PSRA also has the responsibility to investigate complaints made against a PSP and on its own initiative it can investigate the actions of PSP’s. Where such a complaint is made the PSRA appoints an Inspector who has a number of powers:-
- Request documentation pertaining to the investigation,
- Question a PSP, and
- Search a premises;
Following an investigation, if it deems it necessary the PSRA has the power to impose sanctions on the PSP. Sanctions include a reprimand, warning, caution, suspension, financial penalty and contribution to the compensation fund set up under the Act.
In addition, the PRSA can prosecute a PSP criminally specifically for operating without a licence or misusing client monies. Sanctions on summary conviction are a fine of €5,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both and on indictment (Circuit Criminal Court) conviction of a fine up to €50,000 and or 5 years imprisonment or both.
What Regulation so far?
The first thing to note about the PSRA is the lack of transparency on its record to date. No data on its regulatory activity can be found on the website. No annual reports by the PSRA setting out its regulatory activity have been published despite it being in existence since July 2012.
Secondly there has been a huge volume of complaints against PSP’s made to it since its inception. The PSRA does not make this information public.
Thirdly there is an obvious public misunderstanding as to what complaints come within its jurisdiction. Short-sighted draftsmen have ensured that the majority of complaints about poor service from PSP’s or the bidding process do not come within its remit, The PSRA are also receiving many complaints relating to deposit retention which ought properly be made to the PRTB.
Fourthly the PSRA is understaffed. It has two full time and one part time inspectors in total to wade through over 600 complaints. The result is significant delays in processing complaints.
So what disciplinary action has taken place? What sanctions have been imposed? Have any criminal prosecutions occurred under the remit of the PSRA to date? Again from primary sources within the PSRA we note the following: –
- From 2012 to late in 2014 the priority of the PSRA was to ensure all PSP’s were licenced.
- In 2014 an house legal team was employed for the first time.
- To date 600 complaints have been made,
- No data exists on sanctions imposed by the PSRA on PSP’s.
- No prosecutions have been made in respect of interference with client monies to date.
The PSRA has been positively unimpressive since it’s establishment over two and a half years ago. Understandably it needed to licence PSP’s before it could regulate them. From a sympathetic perspective the PSRA has had since 2014 to ramp up its regulatory activity. But there is no evidence of that activity except through the volume of complaints. If we presume that over 25% of complaints are valid and should result in some disciplinary action then that implies 150 complaints should have reached sanction stage. We would certainly have heard from the PSRA if it were doing anything like that volume. Sadly we haven’t heard much from the PSRA. Instead the frustrated public is being served with ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ by an unambitious state sponsored regulatory body. More unfortunate still is that this appears to be a regulatory body with a culture of secrecy. The reason we suspect is regulatory inactivity. Hardly the fodder to herald a new era of regulation.
Please contact Larry Fenelon for more information.
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