In a move some auction house leaders reportedly found surprising, New York City Council legislation eliminating auction industry regulations took effect earlier this week. The policy change is part of a broader effort to stimulate business and economic activity in the city to counteract the slowdown from the pandemic.
The regulations removed include the required disclosure of whether a third party has a financial interest in a lot — such as when someone has placed an irreversible bid — and whether the auction house itself has a financial interest in a lot. Also lifted will be a ban on “chandelier bidding,” wherein auctioneers make up fake bids to generate hype, below the “reserve price” — the lowest price at which a consignor is willing to sell a lot.
Auction houses will no longer need to abide by setting estimates below the reserve price, a measure that was previously in place to ensure value transparency. And beginning June 15, auctioneers will no longer need to be licensed.
City officials authorized these changes last year, saying in a statement that the regulations were “outdated provisions and unnecessary licensing schemes.” They cited a low number of consumer complaints when it came to auctions and said that “most grievances by consumers in relation to deceptive sales practices and misleading advertising could be addressed by the City’s Consumer Protection Law.”
Regulations surrounding auctioneering in the city were first implemented in the 1980s after a series of lawsuits were brought against auctioneers whose hazy practices impinged on sellers’ interests. The auction industry has exploded in the intervening decades, mushrooming into a global multi-billion dollar industry that facilitates the often opaque movement of large sums of money across borders, and is projected to continue growing.
According to the New York Times, major auction houses including Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips claimed that they had not petitioned for the changes. Christie’s and Phillips both indicated that they were not yet considering a change-up in their procedures in response to the removal of the regulations. Meanwhile, the arts industry had a range of responses: Art lawyer Thomas C. Danziger, for instance, expressed that getting rid of the regulations would erode trust in auction houses, ultimately hurting their business.
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