The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission ("CCPC") has closed an investigation into anti-competitive conduct by the Irish Property Owners Association ("IPOA") after the IPOA's agreement to give certain behavioural undertakings.
The investigation was triggered by a press statement published by the IPOA in December 2016 in response to amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 which introduced rent controls in the private rental sector. It stated that, following a meeting of IPOA members, property owners were considering a range of potential measures, including withdrawing from State-sponsored rental schemes and introducing new charges for tenants. Concerned that the IPOA was potentially co-ordinating the business conduct of its members, the CCPC opened an investigation.
Private residential landlords are considered as undertakings for the purposes of the Competition Act 2002. Moreover, the IPOA, which is a national association representing private residential landlords, is considered an association of undertakings. As such, any agreements, decisions or concerted practices by them which prevent, restrict or distort competition would be prohibited under competition law.
In response to the CCPC's concerns, the IPOA has entered into an Agreement and Undertakings with the CCPC, under which the following binding commitments were given by the IPOA:
- To retract the offending press statement and to inform its members of same;
- To remind its members that the setting of rents and charges in the private residential sector is a matter for individual landlords and tenants;
- To introduce competition law compliance training for IPOA committee members;
- Not to seek to influence decisions of its members or other landlords, especially in relation to the setting of rents and charges and participation in State schemes.
This is the second time that the CCPC has investigated the IPOA for potential anti-competitive behaviour. Other trade associations have also been investigated recently, including the Irish Medical Organisation and Approved Tour Guides of Ireland.
The CCPC's action against the IPOA demonstrates its willingness to intervene to prevent businesses coordinating their behaviour via trade associations. It is important for trade associations to factor in competition law compliance when publicly reacting to developments, especially in relation to government policies or legislation.