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CityPress - - Business - MATTHEW HAT­TINGH busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Ef­forts to trans­form the prop­erty in­dus­try are be­ing thwarted by the very laws touted as en­cour­ag­ing change.

That was the warn­ing from some in the in­dus­try at hear­ings held in Dur­ban on the new Prop­erty Prac­ti­tion­ers’ Bill.

De­part­ment of hu­man set­tle­ment of­fi­cials re­minded guests at the start of hear­ing that trans­for­ma­tion was one of the pil­lars of the bill and that it was part of ef­forts to cor­rect apartheid dis­tor­tions.

Quot­ing from Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s state of the na­tion address, Wil­liam Jiyane, a deputy di­rec­tor­gen­eral in the de­part­ment, pointed out that less than 5% of the coun­try’s R7 tril­lion-plus prop­erty in­dus­try was in black hands.

But the mes­sage did not wash with some of the es­tate agents and other the del­e­gates present.

Edwin van Niek­erk, KwaZulu-Natal chair­per­son of the SA Prop­erty Own­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, ini­tially struck a con­cil­ia­tory note in his sub­mis­sion to the hear­ing.

The in­dus­try, he said, was happy to do its bit to bring more black peo­ple into the fold, he said.

How­ever, he then went on to cas­ti­gate the de­part­ment for, in his view, the bill’s fail­ure to lift the com­pli­ance bur­den on the in­dus­try: “What I see is bar­ri­ers to trans­for­ma­tion,” he said.

A key issue Van Niek­erk – who is also a di­rec­tor of Max­prop, a KwaZulu-Natal-based prop­erty com­pany – raised was the re­quire­ment in the bill for all agency di­rec­tors to have a prin­ci­pal-level fi­delity fund cer­tifi­cate.

This re­quired a la­bo­ri­ous three-year process, said Van Niek­erk, who pro­posed that, in­stead, only one di­rec­tor in a firm should be re­quired to hold a prin­ci­pal cer­tifi­cate.

“The ques­tion is: How is the bill en­abling trans­for­ma­tion?” he asked the hear­ing.

Ad­vo­cate Jan Tladi, a le­gal ad­viser to the Es­tate Agency Af­fairs Board, replied that a com­mit­tee had been set up and “a whole range of mea­sures are be­ing con­tem­plated to mit­i­gate those bar­ri­ers”.

Tladi also men­tioned a planned hu­man set­tle­ments academy, which was ex­pected to ease the train­ing bur­den on es­tate agen­cies.

Jan le Roux, CEO of the Real Es­tate Busi­ness Own­ers of SA, said the bill “paid lip ser­vice to trans­for­ma­tion”.

He said apart from re­quir­ing prac­ti­tion­ers to have a BEE cer­tifi­cate – “they think they are wav­ing a magic wand with cer­tifi­cates” – the bill of­fered lit­tle else to ad­vance trans­for­ma­tion beyond re­quir­ing the board’s suc­ces­sors to pro­mote trans­for­ma­tion in the sec­tor.

He queried whether the draft law was con­sti­tu­tional, say­ing es­tate agents were be­ing forced to have a cer­tifi­cate merely to op­er­ate.

He was dis­ap­pointed that the bill opened the way to add new com­pli­ance bur­dens.

The high costs of main­tain­ing such ac­counts was “killing small busi­ness”, par­tic­u­larly one-man bands and new­com­ers; yet, for the most part, served no pur­pose, said Le Roux.

The SA In­sti­tute of Black Prop­erty Pro­fes­sion­als of­fered a mea­sured re­ac­tion to the bill.

“We wel­come any move to pro­fes­sion­alise the in­dus­try. But if this is the in­ten­tion of the leg­is­la­tion, it must be prop­erly writ­ten,” said Mashilo Pit­jeng of the in­sti­tute’s pol­icy com­mit­tee.

He said the in­sti­tute would sup­port stan­dards that were spe­cific on own­er­ship, en­ter­prise de­vel­op­ment, skills de­vel­op­ment and em­ploy­ment eq­uity.

One of strik­ing dif­fer­ences be­tween the bill and the act, es­tate agents agreed, was the in­clu­sion of auc­tion­eers, developers and prop­erty man­agers with agents, un­der the catch-all “prop­erty prac­ti­tion­ers”.

Al­though this had been ex­pected in some quar­ters, the fur­ther ad­di­tion of mort­gage orig­i­na­tors, home in­spec­tors and prop­erty fa­cil­i­ta­tors made the def­i­ni­tion too wide, said some.

Tladi told the hear­ing the bill al­lowed for the min­is­ter to ex­empt some ser­vice providers, but he of­fered lit­tle fur­ther clar­ity.

In the mean­time, these dis­ci­plines can brace them­selves for a host of new com­pli­ance re­quire­ments.

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