Charity welcomes reports of new measures to protect tenants but says more is needed to “ease the immediate burden on those in rent arrears”
Introducing legal definition of a rental deposit would “avoid unintended consequences”
National housing charity Threshold has welcomed reports of a number of proposals to strengthen protections for renters, but the charity has cautioned that the new proposals do not go far enough in addressing the issue of affordability and the indebtedness that is already prevalent among many living in the private rented sector.
Recent reports suggest that Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris are to bring a number of proposals to Cabinet. The measures aim to strengthen protections for tenants living in the private rented sector and students living in purpose-built student accommodation. They include the extension of the protection of the Residential Tenancies Act 2021 – which had been due to lapse in July – to January 2022; that landlords may only charge tenants the equivalent of two months’ rent upfront as a deposit and the first months’ rent; that students will be given the option to pay rent monthly, as opposed to upfront, for the entire semester, in the case of further waves of Covid-19; and that termination notices given by students will be limited to no more than 28 days.
Responding to the reports, Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold said: “While the extension of protections under the Residential Tenancies Act is welcome, Threshold has pointed out previously that this only extends to a very small portion of renters – the vast majority of renters in Ireland have been subject to the pre-pandemic rules on renting since April. Moreover, the move doesn’t address the pressing issue of the affordability of rent – particularly for those on HAP or rent supplement – and does nothing to ease the immediate burden on those in rent arrears. We eagerly await the Minister’s proposals in this regard.
“The introduction of a limit on upfront charges is very welcome. This move will mean that, in most cases, tenants will be charged upfront one months’ rent and a deposit, which can be equivalent to no more than the amount of one month’s rent. As we have seen in recent weeks with some tenants facing rent increases of up to 8%, the wording of these measures needs to be legally robust in order to avoid unintended consequences, so we look forward to seeing the proposed wording of the legislation. Specifically, Threshold hopes to see the introduction of a legal definition of a rental deposit, limiting it to the equivalent of one month’s rent, a measure that Threshold has long advocated for.
“Deposit retention is one of the top five issues brought to Threshold by tenants every year; in 2020, Threshold supported over 1,500 tenants who had difficulty in retrieving their deposit. Threshold has advocated for a Deposit Protection Scheme for over ten years, to overcome this issue. We propose the establishment of a ‘custodial’ model, whereby an independent entity holds the deposit on behalf of the landlord and tenant, returning it accordingly at the end of the tenancy. There are a number of experienced providers already delivering such schemes in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland.
“The unlawful retention of deposits – often equivalent to one or two months’ rent – can make the difference between someone being able to secure a new tenancy, or becoming homeless. While a Deposit Protection Scheme was legislated for in 2015, it is yet to be implemented. The current government has committed to its establishment, and Threshold hopes they will deliver on this commitment.”
“Students have been particularly challenged by the pandemic in terms of renting, so it is welcome to see student-specific legislation being proposed. While students may not have to pay upfront going forward, many students may still be liable for their entire semester or college year, as per their contract. In the event of further waves of Covid-19 and campuses being closed down again, students need an option to rent month-to-month, rather than being forced to sign extended contracts. It would be welcome for this protection to be extended on a permanent basis, and not only enacted in case of a further wave of Covid-19.
“Ultimately, we need to see measures that will assist people to pay off rent arrears in the long-term. While the measures being brought to Cabinet today will provide relief to some, Threshold’s stance is still that the moratorium on evictions must continue until after the end of the pandemic, with steps taken in the interim to ensure long-term security of tenure in the private rented sector.”