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Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Realtors May Regulate Property Managers

Carl Gotts testified against the Real Estate bill, but everyone else was for it. (Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

Property managers are not realtors, and Carl Gotts, vice president of Vacation St. Croix, testified firmly Monday at the Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection that he wants it to stay that way.

He testified against a bill relating to real estate brokers, sales associates, and property managers. “Vacation rental companies like ourselves would now be forced to get this new license and be forced to join the Board of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors,” he said.

He added that the National Association of Realtors was the target of recent lawsuits. “Senators, this is their mess to clean up, not yours to clean up, and certainly not mine,” he concluded.

However, the five other testifiers at the hearing supported the bill, and the senators agreed with them and passed the bill so that it could be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

Sen. Novelle Francis, the bill’s sponsor, said, “The bill reflects the evolution of the territory’s real estate industry over the past 50 years.”

“The proposed modernization of our existing 1968 law is long overdue. Many of the changes are technical in nature–adding references to electronic communication, the internet, and bringing the statute into alignment with federal anti-trust laws and federal real estate settlement regulations, as well reflecting current practices,” B.J. Harris, vice-chair of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Real Estate Commission, said.

She added that property managers have never been regulated. It was discussed whether another board should be created to regulate property managers.

“We know no one wants to create another board,” Francis said. (The territory has a record of not being able to fill public service boards.)

Dan Savaro, president of the Territorial Association of Realtors, testified, “This bill proposes comprehensive amendments that better govern real estate practices.”

He said the bill empowers the Real Estate Commission to conduct hearings, subpoena witnesses, recommend legal actions, and establish fees.

He added that the bill updates real estate definitions that have not been updated in several decades and clearly outlines requirements for real estate brokers, sales associates, and, for the first time, property managers.

He concluded that the bill protects real estate consumers. Among them is the requirement for licensees to disclose their agency relationship in writing.

Laurent Alfred, chair of the Real Estate Commission, said the rules and regulations would be drawn up within 90 days of the bill’s passage.

Sen. Carla Joseph’s questions called attention to recent scams attempted in the territory. In instances recounted, people have posed as owners of property that they don’t own and tried to sell it to unsuspecting victims. Joseph said the scam had been tried on her, but it was discovered before any money changed hands.

Ava Gail Bourdon, the president-principal broker at RE/MAX St. Croix, said the bill’s key consumer benefits included disclosure requirements from agents and education requirements for real estate agents and property managers.

Horace Graham, DLCA assistance commissioner, said 429 real estate professionals were in the territory.

Francis said the industry outgrew the old statute long ago, and “We have seen where gaps in the statute have been exploited for financial gain and to the detriment of the Virgin Islands community.”

Harris testified, “As a Real Estate Commissioner, I am here to report that we have repeatedly found the existing laws lacking in depth and specifics, to a point where when we receive a complaint, we are so limited in what we can legally do to help the complainant, that we feel useless.”

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