Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is welcome if it achieves what it proposes to do. It will provide additional protection to people who purchase houses and property or who enter into contracts. It also provides for regulations on the registration of letting agents. The explanatory memorandum states:

‘‘Property service'' is defined as provision in the State of any of the following services: auction of property other than land; purchase and sale of land; letting of land; and property management services. In future, auctioneers, letting agents and property management agents will require a licence from the Authority. This licensing requirement will apply both to the property services employer, e.g. an auctioneering company or partnership, and to individuals providing a property service in the course of employment or as an independent contractor. If the service is provided in the State, a licence will be required whether or not the property concerned is located in the State.

A certain number of properties which may cause indigestion in the system are located outside the State. The manner in which regulations are applied to such properties may be interesting.

The courts are at present dealing with numerous cases in which members of the public claim to have been misled into purchasing properties which transpired to have title and other impediments. An amnesty has been proposed to deal with the hundreds of individuals who now find themselves in possession of landlocked and useless properties. I ask that the Minister consider this proposal. In some cases, properties sold through established auctioneers or estate agents which purportedly passed the various legal requirements have come before the courts.

It is usually presumed that a property is valid for sale once a search does not reveal previous failed applications. However, it may also be the case that a full investigation of adjacent properties would reveal that the site in question had no chance of getting planning permission for a house. In many cases permission is being sought for a starter home.

In recent times, management companies seem to have taken on responsibilities that should not go with the whole area of management. In some cases, the construction company told the public that the management company was about to take immediate control of the development, even though it might have been just three quarters finished. In other words, a new company was being given responsibility for the rest of the duties that accrued to whoever applied for the planning permission in the first instance. There are countless cases of that nature in the courts. More of them will come to the courts in the future. The present economic climate is making it extremely difficult to ensure those who purchased their homes in that kind of environment do not suffer major losses. That is another aspect of the regulation of the construction sector.

I referred earlier to the house builders guarantee scheme and the building control regulations that were introduced in 2004. The regulations place various responsibilities on architects and contractors. They must have been interpreted loosely by somebody somewhere. There are countless cases in which those responsibilities have become vague or opaque. It would be equally appropriate to apply the term "opacity" to some of the situations in which people find themselves.

I wish to speak about duplex houses, which are found in many multi-unit developments. Local authorities do not have the same responsibility for gated developments that has traditionally been the case. There are countless circumstances in which the local authority is the most appropriate body to maintain the open spaces and to provide services. I refer to normal developments where entire buildings are owned and accessed from the ground floor up. A somewhat different situation applies in multi-storey developments where the ownership changes at various elevations. Management companies are the best option in such circumstances, in the absence of a change of responsibility on the part of local authorities.

Two or three problems have arisen with management companies. I want to pay tribute to the effective and conscientious management companies that do a good job, do not charge too much and look after residents to the best of their ability, even in difficult circumstances. Other companies do the opposite. They opt out when they find that huge arrears have built up due to residents being unable to pay. There is a difference between being unwilling and unable to pay. Nothing happens and no maintenance takes place. In many cases, the management company asks the residents to form a new management company to take over from where it left off. The whole situation is fraught with problems.

In County Kildare, like every other part of the country, there are countless multi-unit developments. There is no tradition of such developments in Ireland. A new form of responsibility for the residents needs to be nurtured in such developments. Local authorities do not have any responsibility for them, as I have said. There is a tendency for management agencies to increase these levies to the extent that it becomes impossible for residents to pay them. This is a huge problem as unemployment continues to grow. Both partners in the household are unemployed in some cases. Thousands of euro can be owed to management companies if their fees are allowed to build up. As there is no possibility of rescuing such situations, there is a case for some kind of amnesty that would allow residents to start from scratch. The benefit of these new regulations should be passed, if possible, to those who are already in situ. This Bill, as it stands, would not protect them.

I referred briefly to duplex properties. I hope we never see schemes involving duplex properties in Ireland again. The quality of some of them is appalling. Problems can arise when two parents with two or more children are living upstairs in a duplex apartment that is accessed by means of an external staircase. The parents may have to carry children and buggies up those stairs in all kinds of weather. One child might be in the buggy and the other child might be in the hands of a parent. I am familiar with countless cases of children being blown off such stairs, or people slipping in icy weather and being seriously injured on such stairs.

I cannot understand, from a health and safety perspective, how these duplex developments were ever allowed to be developed. They seem to have been constructed in the same fashion as the old farmyard granaries of years gone by. The external staircases that were used in such buildings to carry grain into the loft were always regarded as very dangerous. I do not know what can be done to address the issues that are arising in this context. Duplex properties are fine for young single people but the health and safety issues associated with them can be hugely threatening for older people and children. I ask the Minister to reflect on this aspect with a view to ensuring something is put in place to protect the health and safety of those who live in this form of accommodation.

I do not have enough time to cover the full extent of this Bill. I hope I will be able to do so on Committee and Report Stages. This legislation has been promised and threatened for a long time. I want to make a final point before I finish.

The Deputy has two and a half minutes remaining.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. In recent times, a new type of drainage system has been provided in many developments throughout the country. I refer to the attenuation system, which involves a soak pit that is stuck in the middle of an estate. That is all it is. It is a different name for it. The system operates like a wick by drawing and holding water before allowing it to percolate into the surrounding area. The tanks get flooded, however, when it rains heavily as it does in this country from time to time. In many developments throughout the country, there is no system of drainage from attenuation tanks. I am not an engineer, but I cannot understand how anybody designed something like that and expected it to work properly. This system does not work.

I would like to refer to the famous Waterways development in Sallins, which is in my constituency. The Minister said the estate was appropriately named, or words to that effect, when it flooded last year. He forgot that it was named after the canal beside it, which is owned by Waterways Ireland. There are many other estates that do not have the drainage they need. The flooding that took place in Sallins might not have happened if a drainage system was in place. It should never have happened. All that was required was a drainage system. The estates that depend on attenuation tanks which have flooded in the past will flood again. There is no guarantee that we will have dry weather for the rest of this century or any other century.

I ask that through building controls and regulations, particularly as they relate to architecture, this be done at an earlier stage in order that the unfortunate people who pay high prices for property do not find themselves in the same position many of my constituents found themselves in this time last year.

I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I was involved in the regulation business for a while, especially in the context of company law and accountancy. My experience was that self-regulation does not work. It does not work in the accountancy industry or the legal system where changes are being made slowly. Hopefully, those involved will get to it one of these days. The Medical Council, for example, felt it was able to look after its members but it has brought in non-medical administrators. It is important, therefore, to have outside regulation. Without regulation in society, it would be chaotic.

Regulation has many meanings but the simplest is "the controlling of human or societal behaviours by rules or restrictions". It can take the form of legal restrictions, self-regulation through trade associations, social norms within a community and so on. Regulation mandated by a state tends to produce outcomes that might not otherwise occur, to produce or prevent outcomes in different places as to what might otherwise occur or to produce or prevent outcomes in different timescales from what would otherwise occur. Regulations are justified for a variety of reasons such as the possibility of market failures, the risk of monopolies, to ensure there is a collective action for the common good, lack of information and unforeseen externalisations. There are many reasons regulation should be brought about.

The property service business is broad and it can have a serious impact on those who take advice from property professionals such as auctioneers, estate agents, management agents or letting agents. When people deal with them, mostly in regard to the purchase of houses, they are usually making the biggest financial deal in their lives and there is a need for total and utter confidence and trust in those providing the information. For many years, service providers were self-educated but in this day and age that is not sufficient. There must be an education standard and training systems and the standards and systems must be regulated by a competent body recognised by the State. They must be up to scratch to address what is needed in society.

Two organisations, the IPAV and IAVI, dominate the industry. These agencies recognised it was necessary to amend the 1947 regulations to make them relevant to the modern era. A review group conducted a study, which made 42 recommendations to the Department. This Bill has taken on board many of the key recommendations. The group has done a great service to the industry but, most especially, to the nation. It has recognised that the system cannot continue to exist as it has because it has not been fit for purpose and it is still clinging to the set up of 60 years ago. In the accountancy profession, practitioners can put a plaque on their wall stating they are an accountant or adviser without having experience or training. I pursued this issue to ensure this would not be allowed and this should also apply to auctioneers and estate agents. They must obtain a licence and must do the necessary training because property services is a vital industry, as people must take advice from those who sell property.

The improvement of consumer protection, systems for investigating and adjudicating on complaints and the establishment of a property service compensation fund are provided for in the Bill. The fund will compensate those who suffer financial loss as a result of dishonesty on the part of property service providers. Every business should be required to have insurance. Many have but some do not and they will be required to do so in order that they can obtain a licence. It is necessary to ensure those who are not licensed will be prevented from remaining in the industry.

For some time and, especially over the past ten to 15 years, the number of management companies and agencies has mushroomed, especially in multi-unit developments. The extension of the licensing system to property management agents and the statutory safeguard for the clients of such agents is an important element of the legislation and the Department's efforts to deal with problems that have arisen in this regard on housing estates and in multi-unit developments. It is causing severe problems for home owners and it is important that the issue be addressed. I am glad it has been included in the Bill.

I refer to the issue of deposit retention, which has been highlighted over the past few weeks. The Union of Students In Ireland, USI, has stated that more than 40% of students who responded to a survey stated their deposits had been withheld by landlords at the end of term without any reason being given. I have been contacted by a number of tenants at my clinics who complained that their deposits had been withheld after they had moved out of a property. Without going to court, it is difficult to get landlords to hand over the deposits, as they give many excuses as to why they should not. The deposits should be held by a third party and if damage is done, it should be assessed by an independent body and the cost of the repairs taken from the deposit. That needs urgent attention.

The Bill is progressive, timely, it will help improve trust and confidence in the property services business and it will protect the customer from those who are out to scam them. I welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage through the House.

I welcome the Bill. If we could do one job before the end of this term and pass this Bill, it would be progressive and make a big difference to people who live in apartment units and multi-unit developments. The part of the Bill dealing with this area in the one in which I have taken the most interest because the issues that have arisen between apartment owners and managing agents have been a major part of the matters about which politicians have been contacted in recent years. This Bill will provide practical help to people in those circumstances.

In recent years there has been huge growth in the number of people who live in apartment units. An increasing number of apartments were built in areas throughout the country. That occurred partly because of the guidelines covering higher residential density issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Thus, it transpired that applications for more apartments were given planning permission and were built. A related factor is that the very high price of housing in recent years has meant that for some people apartment living was a more affordable option. Many affordable units people have acquired in recent years have also been apartments. Deputies in every constituency, certainly it is the case in my own constituency, are dealing with many more constituents who live in apartments or units in areas which have management company structures and are managed by managing agents. Matters relating to apartment living are a much bigger issue in terms of the work of politicians. It is also a much bigger issue in the communities we represent.

A problem in this area identified in various reports is that many people who have bought apartments do not understand the difference between management companies and managing agents, nor do they understand their role in the whole scheme of things. People have often said to me that they will let the management company bring them to court and I have pointed out to them that they are a member of the management company. Many people do not understand that. They treat the management company as if it is some kind of separate institution such as a county council. There is great confusion over the role of the managing agent and that of the management company. Such confusion is very prevalent. There is a major information deficit among people who are responsible in this area. If one is a apartment owner, one is likely to be a member of a management company and, therefore, one should play a role in how the management company operates and who it employs to management the property.

Matters have been exacerbated lately because of the crisis in the property market. I know of areas where the structure of the management company and the managing agent almost seems to be falling apart. This has arisen where a developer has not finished the property properly, the building is not insured, there are no proper fire safety certificates, many people in the development are not paying their management fees and this means that money is not available to provide the services required. Matters will get worse in the next few years. More problems will arise, many of which will be related to the downturn in the property market. Some developers will not complete their work or will find it difficult to do so. We are moving into unknown territory in this area and such problems have already been raised with me, as I am sure they have been with other Deputies.

With all the problems faced in some apartment developments, it will be difficult to get some apartment owners to take on the responsibility of being directors of the management company because in doing so they will face huge potential exposure that is not within their control. If the management company and its directors have a problem with the managing agent and the developer, insufficient money is being collected from apartment owners towards the management fees and large arrears of payments are owed for insurance and maintenance costs, the directors of the management companies will face major exposure. We want responsible people to take on that role. In the case of a problematic development which has not been finished and where issues have arisen on foot of that, it will be difficult to get people who are willing to take on the role of directors of management companies to solve the various problems that arise because of the potential exposure they face in putting themselves forward. This matter is not directly related to this Bill but it is related in the sense that the Bill, by giving a statutory basis to the functions of the National Property Services Regulatory Authority, will provide a mediation mechanism between apartment owners and managing agents. That will be helpful as opposed to a confrontational approach of going to the courts to get people to pay their management fees. When a mediation mechanism exists, there will be discussions and people will probably become more aware of their responsibilities and the need to work with their management company and managing agents to solve whatever problems exist.

The most important feature of this Bill is the fact that it gives a statutory basis to the National Property Services Regulatory Authority in its functions related to managing agents. Management agents are currently unregulated. The experience of people in terms of managing agents is mixed. Some people who have gone into managing property developments in recent years have no experience in the field and do not know what they are doing. There is an element of that. When things were going well, that was okay. There was a problem with people not paying their management fees but matters will get much worse if people are in arrears and they also find it difficult to pay their mortgage. The issue arises as to whether there will be evictions. There are major issues for management companies and managing agents to face. The fact that this Bill requires managing agents to be licensed and to meet certain requirements is welcome. Hopefully, we will be able to weed out the good managing agents from the bad managing agents or the latter will have to bring themselves up to scratch. That is the main reason this Bill is welcome.

I am aware of both sides of the equation. There is the person who cannot afford to pay his or her management fees or does not want to pay them because he or she considers services are not being provided. I have dealt with that type of person and also with people, directors of management companies, who are experiencing a shortfall in the management fees and cannot pay the managing agent to do the job properly. It is costly for a management company to go to court and there is a certain element of risk in going down that route. Some of them have resorted to other measures, which probably bring them into a grey legal area. One hears of management companies clamping the cars of apartment owners who have not paid their management fees. Such a measure often works in that the fees are collected but in doing that they are entering a grey area. I would question whether they have the legal authority to do that. The clamping of cars on private land is another issue. I question the legal authority for management companies of developments to clamp cars. My car was clamped by a clamper in a private development last week while I was attending a local meeting and I had no option to pay the €120 fee. I question if there is a legal authority for cars to be clamped on private lands. This has not been challenged. In the case of public lands, the authority would the Minister for Transport in terms of the Roads Acts and so on. While one can see a chain of authority for clamping on public lands, such authority is not clear with regard to private developments. There is no control over what clampers charge.

Management companies are deciding not to go to court because the process is so fraught and costly and does not necessarily result in management fees being paid. If a case is taken to court, it can cause terrible hardship for the person against whom proceedings have been taken. I know a person who, believing they were within their rights not to pay their management fees, was taken to court by the management company and must pay not only the arrears owed for management fees but also a large legal bill. There are two sides to every story. It is preferable, therefore, to have the circumstances provided for in the Bill to enable disputes between parties to be mediated. This is the most important aspect of the legislation with regard to management agents. Mediation of disputes is much better than trying to solve disputes in court and the mediation process provided for will be extremely helpful. Similar arrangements could be extended to other civil matters.

We will have to await how the legislation plays out but I am anxious to see the Bill passed. I am often contacted by parties on both sides of these disputes, namely, apartment owners who are management company directors and apartment owners who are not paying management fees and are in dispute with the management agents. What advice am I to give to those who contact me? One can only offer a little information as one cannot direct people to any specific agency for assistance. The National Property Services Regulatory Authority will not be able to deal with these types of cases until the legislation has been enacted. It will be great for Members to be able to advise people who contact us to seek mediation services from the National Property Services Regulatory Authority. I hope many of these disputes will be solved through mediation and negotiation.

The National Property Services Regulatory Authority appears to have done considerable groundwork prior to the legislation being introduced. I have checked its website several times and it contains a great deal of information. It is important the authority is resourced and has systems in place to ensure a backlog of cases does not build up. People will take seriously the option of availing of an independent mediator. If the process of mediation between the two sides is relatively straightforward, many disputes will be resolved quickly through compromise. This may mean people agreeing to pay arrears by instalments and so forth.

Much more needs to be done to educate apartment owners about their rights and responsibilities. While good work is being done to provide information to apartment owners about the law as it stands, for example, on what is the position when one buys an apartment, this information is highly fragmented. Booklets and guides have been produced by the National Consumer Agency, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and other bodies. Perhaps the National Property Services Regulatory Authority will consolidate this information in a single booklet which sets out all the relevant information in user friendly language. It would not be a bad thing if such a booklet were delivered free of charge to all apartment developments and owners. If people understand their relationship to the management company or agency, fewer problems would arise. Education is important in this regard.

Representatives of the National Property Services Regulatory Authority should update Oireachtas Members on the latest developments while we are deliberating on the Bill. It could, for example, inform us about how the legislation will work in practice, what steps will be taken once it has been passed and what groundwork has been done to ensure matters run smoothly.

While all of us are interested in property regulation generally, the most pressing issue for Deputies in terms of the work we do in our constituencies relates to the problems that arise between people living in apartments and their management agents. The roles of management companies and agents overlap. It would be most helpful if the National Property Services Regulatory Authority were to update Members as part of our deliberations on the Bill.

While I welcome the publication of this long overdue Bill, its introduction is akin to closing the stable door when the horse has bolted. The legislation should have been enacted before the Celtic tiger period during which people joined the mad rush to buy property. It is one thing to buy a home to live in but many people bought property in response to campaigns by auctioneers and builders encouraging members of the public to purchase further properties. Whereas the main aim of most people used to be to provide a home for their family, many of us started to purchase houses for investment purposes. In recent years, I heard many people say they wanted to purchase a house as an investment for their retirement. In most cases, their investments have become a major liability.

Many people owe substantial sums of money arising from property investments they made in towns or in cities such as Dublin. These investments have landed them in serious financial debt. At the time, they acted in the best interests of their families and to provide some assurance for their future. That is not what has transpired, however, as their decisions have created great uncertainty in their lives. I am not blaming auctioneers, developers or any particular group for this problem as it was part of the culture of the time. How many times did we see photographs of people queueing outside estates in Dublin to view a showhouse and buy houses off the plans? Many of the houses they bought were not of a high standard. The recent cases involving pyrite are one such example.

The guidance provided to people on what they were purchasing left much to be desired and people were caught up in the rush. Regulations are required in this area because purchasing a home is a once in a lifetime decision for many people. For this reason, people need to be protected. I hope such regulations will be written into the Bill to assist those who are purchasing homes.

With regard to the new estates that have been built nationwide, the problems associated with getting them under the control of the local councils and concerning their management must be addressed. I hope they will be addressed by this legislation because many people who live in new houses have concerns about the empty houses. They question who will buy them, what will happen to them, who will keep the place tidy or who will keep the place clean. In the past 12 months in particular, I have visited several estates that builders have been unable to finish. Such people wonder whether the half-finished houses will be knocked down or will be left as eyesores and what will become of them.

The real point of this debate concerns the protection of people, houses in the estates and their environment, as well as the role that estate management companies will play in this regard. The economic climate has changed so much that this issue must be addressed. Clear guidelines are required from local authorities on estate management companies to ensure the high quality of people's lives. Having returned home in the evening to take their rest, spend time with their families and so on, such people should be sure on rising the next morning that everything remains the same and that people have not run riot. I refer to boy racers and other huge issues that concern all such new estates. This is a new phenomenon in rural Ireland as people now live in housing estates to a far greater extent than used to be the case. Personally, I have never done so as I have the privilege and luxury of living in the countryside and am quite happy to so do. However, having visited housing estates, I have concerns regarding the issues that face people there. These people are under financial pressure and have concerns regarding their future, whether their houses will be left intact and how valuable will they be. In some cases, people who put their houses on the market are afraid to put up an auctioneer's sign because so doing would run down the value of a house. I am unsure whether this Bill addresses the concerns of ordinary people who have great commitments to various financial institutions.

Estate management and the appearance of an estate is always central to the value of one's house. The councils and local authorities have much of which to be mindful in this regard, as does the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There are villages in the part of the country from which I come where new housing estates were built without the installation of sewerage schemes. I must admit there are not many such cases but there have been certain instances. Some months ago, the aforementioned Department received a list in respect of sewerage plants for villages in south County Tipperary, all of which have been turned down. I wonder how serious is the Government about protecting these villages, estates and those who live in them.

The lack of legislation has caused estate agents, developers and financial institutions to eliminate any form of competition in the housing market. If this is the case, and I believe it is, it is a sad state of affairs. When discussing this legislation and having noted previously the tardiness of its implementation, I welcome its introduction and believe it will have a positive effect. However, the proposed authority must understand the needs of the many people who live in such estates, as well as those who live in ordinary houses, flats, apartments or whatever the case may be. I reiterate my welcome for the introduction of this legislation and hope it will be good for both the community and the people.

I thank Members for their contributions to the debate. It is clear that the Government's objective of ensuring high standards in the provision and delivery of property services, which this Bill is designed to achieve, is broadly shared on all sides of the House. While Members were broadly supportive of the Bill's objectives, a number of detailed points were raised, which can be clarified by the Minister in due course on Committee Stage. In the meantime, I will clarify some of the following points.

On the publication of house prices and details of commercial leases, I welcome the support shown by Deputies Shatter, Rabbitte, O'Brien and Broughan for the Minister's proposal that the Bill should provide for the publication of data on property sales prices and commercial rents. As the Minister indicated, he intends to introduce amendments on Committee Stage to provide for the publication of such data. Specifically, the Minister intends to introduce amendments to provide that the authority will publish information in respect of the addresses and sales prices of individual properties, which it will obtain from the Revenue Commissioners. Publication of this information will help to promote transparency in the residential property market.

As for commercial leases, the Minister established the working group on transparency in commercial rent reviews earlier this year to focus on practical issues that might help to lessen the mistrust that appears to attach to the rent review process. The working group recommended the establishment of a public database, which would include relevant details of commercial letting agreements and rent reviews. As the Minister already stated, he intends to take the opportunity presented by the passage of this Bill to give the responsibility for the establishment and maintenance of the necessary database to the property services regulatory authority, PSRA. The Minister fully endorses the views of the group to the effect that access to all relevant information is critical in respect of ensuring that a true market rent emerges from the commercial rent review process and that it is of particular importance that all parties to the rent review are on an equal footing in respect of the ability to obtain such information.

The legislative proposals to give effect to the recommendation will draw heavily upon the suggestions contained in the report of the working party. That report notes that certain basic information is currently available to the Revenue Commissioners that could feed into the overall process. It also notes it would be necessary to provide additional information to the entity charged with making public the detail attaching to lease agreements and rent reviews and that the provision of such information would probably necessitate the imposition of a statutory obligation on relevant parties. The Minister is fully committed to implementing the working group's recommendation in this area. Inevitably, however, there are matters of detail to be resolved before the amendment is finalised and those matters still are being worked on within the Department.

In respect of the issue of data protection, the legal advice available to the Minister is that once a statutory obligation is imposed on the authority to publish the data, it will not be necessary to amend the Data Protection Acts. Finally, the issue of publishing residential property sales prices going back a number of years is being considered in the Department in the context of the drafting of the proposed amendments to the Bill.

As for multi-unit developments, several speakers mentioned the Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009 and it was suggested that the issues being dealt with in that Bill and in this legislation could have been dealt with together. Deputy Tuffy explained in greater detail the type of problem that arises in apartment buildings. However, the Multi-Unit Developments Bill deals with the ownership and management of the common areas of a multi-unit development and its provisions are designed to help owners' management companies to operate in an efficient, fair and effective manner. It is common practice for owners' management companies to engage property management agents to assist in the management of the developments and as such, the property management agent provides property services to the owners' management company and should be regulated under the same Bill as other service providers.

Deputies Burke and Browne queried the composition of the board of the property services regulatory authority. This issue also was discussed in great detail in the Seanad and as a result, the Minister tabled a number of amendments to section 10. It was considered in the Seanad that property service providers should be represented on the board of the authority to bring expertise in respect of the property service industry to the board but that those representatives should be in a minority. As a result, the Bill was amended to provide that a maximum of three members of the board could be representatives of the property services sector. The Minister is at present examining the possibility of giving more prominent representation to consumer interests on the board. He intends bringing forward a suitable amendment on Committee Stage and with regard to the appeal board, I assure Deputy Burke that it will be completely independent of the authority. Schedule 5 provides that the chairperson of the board must be a practising barrister or solicitor of seven years' standing. This should ensure the independence of the appeal board.

Deputy Shatter referred to the need to regulate ethical standards in the property services industry. Section 92 provides that the authority can make regulations setting out standards to be observed in the provision of property services, with particular reference to the public interest, the duty owed to clients and users of property services, professional and ethical standards and conflicts of interest. These regulations will set out in greater detail the standards which auctioneers, estate agents and property management agents will have to comply with in the future. It would not be possible to include the necessary detail in the Bill.

Deputy Shatter also raised concerns about the involvement of auctioneers and estate agents in facilitating and putting together financial packages to enable individuals to purchase properties. As the Minister already said, in order to avoid conflicts of interest section 60 specifies the conditions under which a licensee acting for a vendor may provide a financial service to a purchaser. It prohibits the provision by a licensee of such a financial service to a purchaser without the prior written consent of both parties.

The question was raised of how long licences will last. Section 32(vi) provides that licences will normally last for a period of one year.

Deputy Kenneally asked how the provisions in the Bill relating to letters of engagement will affect clients who appoint more than one auctioneer or letting agent. Schedule 2 provides that in the case of the sale of land, which includes houses and other buildings, the letter of engagement will include details as to whether the auctioneer or estate agent will be the sole agent or whether other auctioneers or letting agents will also be employed by the client. It also provides that the letter will include details of the obligations, if any, which will apply to the client should he or she dispose of any part of the land otherwise than through the auctioneer or estate agent concerned.

Deputy Burke also raised concerns in relating to lack of transparency in private treaty sales. In the case of such sales, section 61 imposes an obligation on auctioneers and estate agents to keep records of all offers received for land, including houses and other buildings, for a period of six years. They are also required to keep records of all conditional acceptances.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, I thank all those who contributed to the debate. The Minister will consider the points raised in the context of possible Committee Stage amendments.

Question put and agreed to.