Charity encouraging renters to take action
The national housing charity Threshold has today reported a substantial increase in requests for help from renters whose tenancies are at risk due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a statement today the charity is warning there may be a substantial increase in homelessness once the emergency government measures protecting tenants are lifted. There is currently a blanket ban on rent increases and tenancy terminations.
The number of cases that Threshold’s advisors dealt with more than trebled in the three-week period between Monday 9th March and Monday 30th March as a result of the pandemic. Most renters impacted by the pandemic are seeking advice on rent supplement, followed by queries about tenancy terminations and rent arrears.
“There has been an unprecedented number of calls, and most are very afraid of falling into rent arrears due to a dramatic loss in income,” according to John-Mark McCafferty, CEO of Threshold. “We are afraid that what we are seeing now is minor in comparison to the number of tenants who will need support once the emergency protective measures introduced by government last month are lifted.
“We are currently helping many tenants make urgent applications for rent supplement and adjustments to their Housing Assistance Payment. We urge tenants facing difficulties to apply for their entitlements immediately, and also where possible to discuss with their landlords the possibility of a rent reduction or deferral due to the current crisis. We realise that this is not a realistic avenue for everyone, however. Any renter who is unsure of how to proceed should contact Threshold for advice and support.”
The Chairperson of Threshold, Aideen Hayden said that the crisis posed a real threat to many renters, but could also provide an opportunity. “We must seize the opportunity to return to a rental market that functions properly, rather than the out of control model we have had for a number of years now,” she said. “We have seen how we can have a rent freeze, and a ban on evictions, while at the same time there is now some downward pressure on rent levels. When eventually our society begins to return to normal, we must create a fair and reasonable rental market instead of the dysfunctional one we have had for several years.”
The issue raised most frequently by renters impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic is how they will pay the rent and whether they can apply for rent supplement. “Rent supplement is the most effective and suitable housing subsidy in a time of financial crisis, unexpected or sudden income loss,” said McCafferty. “Many of the tenants seeking advice on how to pay rent in light of job losses were unaware of the rent supplement scheme, how to apply and whether they were eligible.”
Tenants impacted by the pandemic are also frequently contacting Threshold on the issues of tenancy terminations, rent arrears and deposit retention. “Tenancy terminations have been temporarily banned, but this is still an active issue for many,” McCafferty explained. “A number of tenants, particularly those living in student accommodation or house shares, would have decided – or, in some cases, been forced – to leave their rented homes in light of the social isolation measures that have been introduced, thus terminating their tenancies. Many are unsure as to whether their deposits can be returned, and many students in particular would have paid rent upfront and need this to be refunded.
“Unfortunately, in many cases, deposits may not be refundable if a lease arrangement has been broken or valid notice has not been given. However, tenants should contact Threshold if they are unsure as to whether they are entitled to a refund.”
Aideen Hayden said: “As we have seen, since the onset of this pandemic, hundreds of thousands have suddenly become unemployed or had their income reduced. Many risk falling into rent arrears, which they may struggle to catch up on. Once the ban on terminations is lifted, any rent arrears will still need to be paid, and these tenants could face very difficult situations.”
“As of yet we have not seen a landlord try to act on a notice of termination during the emergency period, and anecdotal evidence suggests that landlords are showing flexibility in light of the unprecedented circumstances we are facing, despite the fact that some landlords themselves are facing financial uncertainty,” McCafferty noted. “We would urge all landlords to be understanding and as flexible as possible with tenants whose personal circumstances have been impacted by this pandemic.
“Where possible we would encourage all tenants who have been impacted by the pandemic to contact their landlord and attempt to renegotiate their rent payments. Where tenants feel they are not in a position to do this themselves, Threshold can negotiate on their behalf. The emergency measures that have been introduced are providing some relief, but once they are lifted, many renters will be left at risk of homelessness.”
Threshold has also received many calls to a dedicated freephone helpline to support workers in the hospitality sector impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. The service was set up last week and is being financed as part of the €1.5 million Guinness Fund. The service is providing tailored advice to anyone in the hospitality industry who is worried about their ability to pay rent as a result of the current situation.
Threshold’s helpline remains available Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm at 1800 454454, and via email at threshold.ie/advice/help for any renter in need of advice or support.