Property firms facing legal action for not registering with watchdog
The PSRA has the power to question any person, enter and search premises, and inspect bank accounts
UP to 30 businesses involved in property sales and management are facing prosecution in the new year after failing to register with a new watchdog.
The Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA), set up to regulate auctioneers, estate agents, letting agents and property management firms, is planning a raft of court actions against businesses who have failed to fall under its umbrella.
The body was set up last year amid concern over unscrupulous practices in the industry.
It is now an offence to operate without the approval of the PSRA, which has so far licensed 5,500 businesses.
Its chief executive Tom Lynch told the Irish Independent it was now examining around 30 firms, which are currently operating without licences.
"Anyone we have evidence of who is trading without a licence, then we will prosecute them," he said.
The offence carries a prison term of up to 12 months and fines can also be levied.
Mr Lynch said the prosecutions would most likely be in the new year as, until now, the authority has mainly been focused on licensing businesses.
Separately, he said some businesses had already been reprimanded about their conduct, usually in cases where there was a complaint about bad service or incorrect handling of a customer's affairs.
"We have issued some warnings to businesses already, but the major complaints, we are really getting into that properly now," he said.
Under the new regulatory regime, people running property sales or management businesses must hold a qualification equivalent of a two-year diploma at third level in a certain range of subjects, including valuation and law.
However, there is an exemption for people without qualifications if they had been trading lawfully for three of the five years proceeding the setting up of the authority in July 2012.
The authority can appoint an inspector to investigate a business where there is a complaint of improper conduct.
The inspector can require a business to supply all information relevant to an investigation. They also have the power to question any person, enter and search premises, and inspect bank accounts.
"For example, let's say somebody is offering something to you for sale and clearly they are aware as an agent that it is defective and they don't inform you of that, then there is a problem," said Mr Lynch.
"Clearly we may find they are guilty of improper conduct within the meaning of the legislation.
"In such circumstances, there are a wide number of sanctions we can impose on them, ranging from warnings, which would be the norm for minor cases, first breaches, to fines of up to €250,000."
The PSRA is currently investigating a complaint after a number of paintings were withdrawn from auction after concerns were raised about their authenticity.