New call for Jersey estate agents to be regulated

Constable of St Mary David Johnson Picture: ROB CURRIE. (35409643)

A LACK of regulation for estate agents ‘doesn’t do Jersey’s reputation any good’, a backbench politician has said amid renewed calls for action from the government.

St Mary Constable David Johnson chaired a Scrutiny panel review during the previous term of office which made a series of recommendations, one of which was that estate agents should be required to sign up to a scheme which deals with disputes between clients and agencies.

Estate agents in Jersey are currently not required to hold any professional qualifications, belong to a professional body or abide by a code of conduct.

And during a recent States sitting, Environment Minister Deputy Jonathan Renouf revealed ‘there are no plans to introduce new legislation regulating estate agents’.

Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf (35409662)

Deputy Johnson said: ‘Our solution was that there are already professional organisations, and it should be a fairly simple matter to bring in legislation which requires estate agents to enter a redress scheme and estate agents association.

‘It doesn’t do Jersey’s reputation any good to have an unregulated sector.’

Former Environment Minister, Deputy Steve Luce, who served on the panel, added: ‘It’s disappointing after the Scrutiny panel worked so hard to produce such compelling recommendations. It’s a shame we’re not better regulated.’

All but one of the panel’s ten recommendations were deferred, partly due to the report being released a few weeks before the end of the previous political term.

Deputy Renouf said: ‘The existing consumer protection law already provides a comprehensive framework to deal with unfair commercial practices, and this extends to estate agent services.

‘That law supports estate agents in the Island to adopt good practice and importantly enable our trading standards team to deal with those who fall below the standards required. We have not seen much evidence of consumer complaints relating to this industry coming into the department, so there doesn’t seem to me to be strong consumer demand for further regulation of estate agents. Therefore I do not feel it would be proportionate to introduce new regulation specifically for estate agents.

‘However, as with other areas of regulation, we will keep the situation under review and take action should the need arise.’

Several leading Island estate agents have also called for better regulation in their sector, describing Deputy Renouf’s lack of action as a backwards step.

Harry Trower, director at Broadlands, said: ‘I would push back when the minister tells us that a code of best practice is good enough when we are dealing with most individuals’ largest asset. It wouldn’t fly in any other industry, so why are estate agents free from regulation?

Harry Trower. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (35409646)

‘It gives me a sense that the minister just cannot be bothered when all indications were that the previous government was very keen for this to happen.’

Gill Hunt, Propertymark regional executive and director at Christie’s Hunt Estates, added that she was keen to ‘keep pushing for regulation locally’.

‘We want to raise standards, improve the situation, ensure agents are the absolute best that they can be,’ she said. ‘The minister has said that he doesn’t have an appetite to enforce regulation, but an intermediate step would be to make all estate agency owners members of a professional body.’

Neville Benbow, chief executive of the Law Society for Jersey, added: ‘It is disappointing that, despite the compelling argument articulated by the Scrutiny panel for the regulation of estate agents, the Environment Minister has determined that regulation is unnecessary, instead preferring to rely on existing consumer protections and consumer choice.

‘Islanders should be able to choose an agent with confidence in the knowledge that there are suitable protections and redress processes if things go wrong.’

‘We consider that the opportunity should be taken to encourage a voluntary approach which may avoid the need to impose a regulatory solution. Simply relying on existing consumer protections and otherwise doing nothing is, in our view, insufficient.’

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