Threshold calls for clarity on new legislation for renters

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Charity suggests amendments to new Bill, citing tenant protection shortcomings

The national housing charity Threshold has warned that the proposed legislation designed to protect tenants at risk because of the Covid-19 crisis is too narrow and will fail to protect many tenants who are at serious risk of homelessness.

The Residential Tenancies Bill 2020, introduced in the Dáil last week is designed to deal with the expiry of the current emergency moratoriums on evictions and rent increases in two weeks’ time (10 August). However, Threshold says a number of elements of the Bill are overly complex and fail to ensure that all tenants who need protection will be able to access it.

The Bill states that a person seeking protection under the legislation must self-declare as a ‘relevant person’ to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) in order to receive support. “If a person clearly is a ‘relevant person’ but does not self-declare in advance, are they excluded from the protections?” asked Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold.

“There are many reasons why someone might not self-declare, including language and other difficulties.  If people in precarious situations don’t self-declare in advance, are they now at risk of losing out on vital support? Placing this onus on tenants is not a workable solution, in our view.

“It is just impractical to suggest that all vulnerable tenants should go through some registration process of self-declaration in order to be protected: if they all do so, this will require a huge amount of administration work on the part of the RTB, which simply does not have the capacity or resources to carry out such a task.”

She said the Bill does not adequately address the issue of rent arrears or explore potential solutions to same. “The process assumes that all Notices of Termination served to tenants are valid. At Threshold we know this to be untrue – in 2019, 44% of the Notices of Termination for rent arrears that were brought to our attention were ultimately proven to be invalid. Establishing the validity of a Notice is always the first step taken by our housing advisors, and the process needs to be mindful of this and allow sufficient time for Notices to be appealed by tenants.

“While the measures introduced in the Bill will provide breathing space for some renters, we believe that as it stands, the legislation simply serves to kick the issues further down the road, rather than enabling meaningful interventions – which thousands of tenants urgently need – to be made. With the measures expiring in early January, should we simply expect a surge in those entering homelessness at that stage, instead of in two weeks’ time? In the first instance we are calling for the overall process to be simplified – as in its current form it cannot be considered to be reasonably accessible to tenants,” Ms Hayden concluded.

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