The provision of property services to consumers in Ireland is subject to a detailed legislative framework of licensing, regulation, monitoring and enforcement, under the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011. The Act also established the Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA), a statutory regulatory body specifically tasked with responsibility for licensing and regulating property services providers (auctioneers, estate agents, letting agents and property management agents).
Under the Act, any business or individual who provides a property service (other than those who are subject to a similar licence or authentication scheme in another EU Member State) must hold a valid licence from the PSRA. The licensing of property services providers ensures that licensees comply with certain standards aimed at ensuring protection for their clients. For example, licensees must possess specified minimum qualifications, have available to them professional indemnity insurance and pay an annual contribution to the Compensation Fund.
The PSRA is empowered to investigate complaints of improper conduct made against licensed property services providers, and to carry out investigations on its own initiative for the purpose of ensuring compliance by property services providers with their statutory obligations. Improper conduct is defined in the Act as the commission by a licensee of an act which renders him or her no longer a fit and proper person to provide property services, the commission of a contravention of a specified provision of the Act or of a provision of regulations made under the Act, or the giving by the licensee of a statement of advised market value or advised letting value of land (including buildings) which is clearly unreasonable.
The Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011 (Minimum Standards) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 564 of 2020), which came into effect on 30 November 2020, set out a range of minimum standards to be observed in the provision of property services by licensees to their clients. These Regulations include, amongst other provisions, requirements that licensees act in a fair, reasonable and just manner, respond to all communications from a client by whatever means agreed within a reasonable timeframe, and act in the interests of their client. Moreover, a licensee is required to inform the client in writing, as soon as reasonably possible on becoming aware of any conflict of interest, or potential conflict of interest, in the provision of a property service. I am therefore satisfied that the Regulations adequately address the issues of high minimum standards of service, including conflicts of interest, in the provision of property services.
As I have already stated, failure to comply with the standards set out in the Regulations amounts to improper conduct. Where a finding of improper conduct is made by the PSRA, it can impose a range of sanctions: namely, issue a reprimand, warning, caution or advice, suspend or revoke a licence. It can also direct the licensee to pay a financial penalty of up to €50,000 into the Property Services Compensation Fund, up to €50,000 to the PSRA towards the cost of the investigation, and up to €250,000 to the PSRA by way of financial penalty or any combination thereof.