Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority respond to questions regarding the conduct of Belvedere Trust
The new regulatory body that oversees compliance around property transactions has provided feedback on the alleged conduct of those associated with Belvedere Trust.
Belvedere Trust, trading as Retirewell SA, has faced backlash from former residents and the families of those who once occupied units at their retirement villages. Owned by a family which includes Juliana Steyn, who acts as the trust’s in-house lawyer, they provide retire packages whereby elderly persons invest in a permanent residence under the life-right model.
The Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority (PPRA) is an oversight body established under the Property Practitioners Act 22 of 2019 which came into effect in February 2022. The PPRA essentially absorbed the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EEAB) while broadening the definition of property practitioner as defined in the act. A Fidelity Fund Certificate (FFC) is the document that allows a person to act as, but not limited to, a developer, marketer or agent relating to residential and commercial property.
New definition of a property practitioner
The Property Practitioners Act broadens the scope of who and what can be defined as a property practitioner to anyone who is involved in the sale, leasing, marketing and collection of funds relating to a property transaction. This includes any intermediary who manages or facilitates transactions and includes those handling accounting records of all trust accounts as well as the documentation used in the administration of these sales and leases.
“People who perform the property practitioner activities specified in section 1 of the act fall within our jurisdiction. The sale of property by property practitioners includes any person who sells, by auction or otherwise, or markets, promotes or advertises any part, unit or section of, or rights or shares, including time share and fractional ownership, in a property or property development. This will include life rights,” stated Carol Sebeela from PPRA Marketing and Publications.
Questions asked about Belvedere Trust’s compliance
Asked whether the PPRA had received any complaints about Belvedere Trust or Retirewell SA, they could not confirm that Belvedere Trust were compliant. “Belvedere Trust or Retirewell SA-Belvedere Trust is not registered with the PPRA. There was an attempt to register such a firm but it was not completed,” relayed Sebeela, who noted that two other entities of similar names had once been registered with the EAAB but are dormant and have not traded since 2009. “There is no indication that either of these firms traded in our records as Retirewell SA. No such firm exists in our records under this name,” stated Sebeela.
She added that developers who perform property practitioners activities and do not honour their contractual obligations could be disciplined by PPRA as the regulator. “We are permitted by the act to mediate conflicts and complaints, and adjudicators hear cases of disciplinary misconduct against the practitioner. If found guilty, property practitioners can be sanctioned according to the provisions of the act.
More complainants speak out about not being paid timeously
Since this publication’s last report on the conduct of those associated with Belvedere Trust, several other affected families have spoken out. Ashlee Dormer’s mother passed away in March 2021 at Victoria Park Retirement Village in Honeydew. A new occupant took residence at that unit at the end of June and as per the life-right agreement Dormer expected reimbursement. She claimed the executors of her mother’s estate have had no correspondence on the matter since January 2022.
Evan Fraser claimed his aunt has been waiting for two years for her life-right reimbursement. He said the now 81-year-old has had to move in with her sister, Fraser’s mother, as she has depleted all her savings. The sisters only have their state pensions and rely on Fraser for financial assistance.
“The whole situation is playing on her mind and well-being. She is starting to go to pieces and developing dementia because of the stress of all of this. These swindlers just don’t understand what they are doing to old people” vented Fraser.
Many others have made contact to air their frustrations, all with the identical tale of relinquishing the life right before a new occupant was found, followed by a long and frustrating wait for payment. Frank Colombo is another facing a hopeless retirement, saying, “You can add my name to the list of people waiting for a settlement of around R750 000. My unit at Jacaranda was sold on October 13, 2021, and to date I have not even received a final statement, let alone any money.”
Possible repercussions for non-compliance
The PPRA does not have jurisdiction over contractual agreements but the FFC is the golden ticket that grants developers and agents access to the lucrative world of property trading. “As advised we would take disciplinary action against the property practitioner and institute charges under the code of conduct or legislation. If there is a large amount of money outstanding it would be grounds to request that the adjudicator withdraw the practitioner’s FFC so they may no longer trade,” advised PPRA’s Acting Executive Legal and Compliance Claims and Applications Manager, Debra Vial.
Avenues do exist within the PPRA to help resolve matters that arise between property practitioners but these may not be legally binding. Vial elaborated, saying, “We can also engage in a dispute-resolution process with the parties to see if we can resolve this. However, we are not a civil court and cannot hold a civil trial into the contractual breach and the consequences thereof in law. This needs to be done with the assistance of an attorney.” Confirming the scope of their authority, Vial stated, “We do regulate that industry and we would certainly welcome the opportunity to enforce the act and regulations against any practitioners, especially those abusing the system”.
Right of reply granted to Belvedere Trust and Juliana Steyn
Juliana Steyn as well as Willem Steyn, developer and trustee of Belvedere Trust, where both given the right of reply via email on June 22. They were asked about the progress of payments owed to those mentioned above, as well as any plans they may have to safeguard the interests of those who will leave the retirement villages in the future.
As of the time of publication, a representative from Retirewell SA had acknowledged receipt of the email and indicated a response would be forthcoming.