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10 Aug 2017

Land Agents (Registration of Property Managers and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 21 June 2017.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (16:17): I rise to speak to the Land Agents (Registration of Property Managers and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2017. I speak on behalf of my Liberal colleagues, and advise honourable members that the Liberal Party will support the second reading of this bill.

The bill introduces a system of registration and regulation for residential property managers in South Australia. The ultimate aim of the bill is to strengthen protections for both landlords and tenants. Whilst currently agents who sell land or properties, and those who act as commercial property managers, are required to be registered, there is no equivalent requirement for residential property managers. The government has advised that South Australia remains the only jurisdiction not to have implemented any registration system to date.

The bill establishes a system of registration, ensuring that property managers have satisfied minimum probity requirements and possess the requisite knowledge and skills to perform the task of a property manager. Property managers are responsible for dealing with payment of bonds, rental payments and trust moneys, as well as being the responsible person for ensuring that both urgent and non-urgent repairs are completed on rental properties in a timely manner. This in itself justifies the need for this new regulation.

The government advised, when tabling this bill, that Consumer and Business Services receive numerous complaints per month in respect of property managers. However, currently, unless the behaviour complained of can be referred to the police for criminal investigation, the commissioner lacks the power to reprimand the agents for behaviour that falls below the threshold of criminal activity.

Naturally, concern has been raised that this lack of regulation has enabled less than satisfactory conduct to occur without repercussion. The government has provided informative detail in between the houses in relation to the matters referred to SA Police by Consumer and Business Services. In a letter dated 20 June 2017 from the Attorney-General to the member for Bragg in the other place, it was detailed that, in recent years, CBS has referred three matters to SA Police for prosecution, with an additional two matters referred by complainants.

Outcomes cited included a successful prosecution, eight public warnings issued, four assurances accepted and a referral to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. Three additional matters were referred to SA Police by registered land agents for trust account thefts by unregistered property managers.

Whilst the commissioner is already able to refer matters to South Australian police, usually for serious misconduct relating to major fraud, this information does not indicate there is a need for the commissioner to also be able to address misconduct that falls short of criminal activity. It is clear there is a need for oversight and for all employees within the real estate sector to be held accountable. The bill addresses this and will enable the commissioner to consider and enforce disciplinary action or prosecution, with significant penalties attached, to any proven misconduct that falls outside what is able to be referred to South Australian police.

The commissioner will also have the power to suspend or vary a registration in urgent circumstances when there are grounds for disciplinary action, the offender is likely to engage in misconduct and there is a danger that persons may suffer significant loss or damage. I note that both the CEO of the Real Estate Institute of South Australia and Anglicare South Australia made public statements in support of this bill. I commend the bill to the chamber.

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