Update 16 June 2017
For details on how to submit your complaint to the CCPC see this post.
On 11th April 2017, with the support of Irish MEP Brian Hayes, 3 Irish owners have submitted their cases outlining the mis-selling of French leaseback properties and how the commercial leases that they signed constitute unfair contracts under certain EU Directives, to the CCPC, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The CCPC is the Irish body with statutory responsibility for consumer protection.
See the response from the EU Head of unit at Consumer Law at the European Commission, Veronica Manfredi, to earlier discussions held by Irish MEP Brian Hayes and the owners where Ms Manfredi outlined the applicable EU Directives to protect owners. Protection which has eluded owners to date. Check out consumer rights and the law.
Meeting with CCPC
Earlier on 28th March, Brian Hayes met with Isolde Goggin, CEO of the CCPC, Fergal O’Leary (Member of the Commission) and Vivienne Ryan (Director of Consumer Enforcement) to discuss the issues and the protection that could be afforded to Irish owners.
The response from the CCPC at this time, without seeing the detailed submissions from owners, raised some issues such as:
- as owners signed ‘commercial’ leases and may have been ‘investors’ that perhaps they could not be deemed to be consumers.
- the CCPC receives a large number of complaints/cases and must prioritise.
- they appreciated that owners had already approached the Irish Central Bank and had established that the Central Bank had no role in the regulation of property.
- Isolde Goggin outlined that there is a network of European competition authorities and through this a joint action procedure can be launched, despite the fact that there is no central European competition authority. She mentioned that even with a joint action it would still be the French competition authority that has to take the final action against the trader.
- the CCPC’s view was that ultimately the case will come down to what it says in the contracts.
- Vivienne Ryan said there is a question of whether or not the French Consumer Authority can intervene at the moment given that there some owners are engaged in legal cases ongoing in France. In the Irish legal system, there is provision to allow the CCPC to investigate issues that are going through legal cases but it is unclear whether the French legal system allows this.
- there may be 2 approaches for a case like this that involves another EU member state:
a) the two consumer authorities would jointly examine the issue with the expectation that a common policy view could be arrived at. The CCPC has multiple cases like this on-going.
b) the CCPC would examine the case and then submit an enforcement request to the French consumer authority. The CCPC would need to clearly establish that there has been a breach of consumer law that can be proven in a court of law. It would then fall to the French consumer authority to carry out an enforcement action if a breach has been proven.
The owners are fully confident that they CCPC will analyse the submissions and investigate the detail of this issue. It is complex and cross-jurisdictional.
Though it has to be said, that the financial loss to the purchasers is less complex – not to mention their worry whether French banks can pursue them in Ireland for arrears and uncertainty over whether their family home is safe…
Some things to note:
On point 1, it would seem to me that of all the owners I have spoken to that this notion is not something that would even have occurred to them. They were never going to France to engage in a commercial activity – this was business to consumer selling and was marketed as such.
On point 2, given the numbers of purchasers in Ireland alone that are involved and the huge financial stakes, the case for prioritising the issue is strong.
On point 3, the Irish Central Bank have been approached in relation to the issue of agents selling French leaseback property while claiming that the ‘guaranteed’ rent represents a secure investment for your pension etc. The response was that any kind of property sale is not within their remit.
For clarity, the Central Bank of Ireland has no role in regulating the property sector or property investments.
I asked if companies that set up in Ireland and act as agents selling property they claim is a safe investment for your pension should be regulated ? No response to that question.
On point 4, the response given to me from the ECC, the European Consumer Centre Ireland, when they approached their French equivalent with the issue was that the French did not have the resources to deal with it and were not going to investigate it.
On point 5, one of the main issues is that the contract was by it’s nature misleading and violated the EU Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts (UCTD). Amongst other things, owners were never told that a ‘commercial’ lease in French law went on forever. Fundamental omission and deception. When I tell people, they are incredulous !
On point 6, not all owners are involved in legal cases in France.
It is clearly a very complex issue and in many cases the original sales companies will have been wound up.
However, we have every confidence in the CCPC’s abilities to deal with this issue.