National housing charity Threshold has today welcomed a number of measures included in the draft Programme for Government which relate to the private rented sector. While the document presents a commitment to strengthening the sector and improving protections for tenants overall, the charity has cautioned that the commitment to homelessness prevention within is not accompanied by specific measures or investment.
“There are a number of measures in the draft Programme for Government which, if implemented, would make the private rented sector a much better place for tenants and landlords,” said John-Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive of Threshold. “A number of the measures reflect the changes that Threshold has long been campaigning for, such as in relation to deposit protection, indefinite tenancies, cost rental and rent supports.
“While the document identifies ‘preventing homelessness’ as a ‘major priority for Government’ and the parties state that they will focus on ‘reducing the number of homeless families and individuals,’ we are conscious that there are no specific commitments named in relation to homeless prevention work or investment in same. While improving the private rented sector and keeping tenants secure in their homes does lend itself to the prevention of homelessness, it must be supported by targeted measures, and we would welcome further clarity in this regard.”
Threshold welcomed the parties’ commitment to mandate and resource the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) to hear dispute resolution cases concerning rental deposits and to examine the creation of a system of holding rental deposits. “The unlawful retention of deposits – sometimes amounting to two months’ rent – can make the difference between someone being able to get a new tenancy or becoming homeless,” said McCafferty. “We estimate that tenant deposits currently being held by landlords in Ireland could amount to €700 million, which is an extraordinary sum, largely belonging to people of modest or moderate incomes.
“The Programme for Government of 2011 promised such a scheme to end disputes concerning the return of deposits to tenants in the private rented sector. In 2015, legislation was passed by the Minister for Housing to enable the RTB to launch the long-awaited scheme; yet the Minister has not commenced the relevant section of the Act. We hope that the new government will re-energise this extremely important policy.”
Commenting on the draft Programme for Government, Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold said: “There are some sections of the Residential Tenancies Act which are a block to long-term renting. In particular, Section 34(b) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 allows for ‘no reason’ evictions at the beginning of every further Part Four Tenancy. We understand that the commitment in the Programme for Government is that this should be removed.
“Terminations using this section are undermining the Rebuilding Ireland commitment to move towards indefinite tenancies and are creating an imbalance in the operation of Rent Pressure Zones. In practice, landlords are incentivised to change tenants as regularly as possible due to the de facto decontrol of rents between tenancies resulting from the lack of a rent register. ‘No reason’ evictions have no place in a modern professional and regulated rental sector. Threshold has long campaigned for this policy change and it will be of benefit to tenants.”
“A commitment to a cost rental model was part of the Programme for Government 2016,” said Hayden. It is supported by the Housing Agency, recommended by the National Economic and Social Council and broadly supported by housing experts as a form of housing provision. By providing cost rental as a form of social rental or public housing catering for middle income groups, Ireland would be following in the footsteps of countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark or Austria where there is greater equality in access to housing.
“One of the greatest advantages of cost rental is the moderating impact it can have on market rents and this impact will increase as more units are built. If done correctly and on scale, it has the potential to not only remove the need for controls such as Rent Pressure Zones, but also to reduce rents across the private rented sector. It is vital, however, that the rents in any cost rental projects introduced are truly affordable and not in name only. Cost rental must be delivered at an affordable level to make it a viable and valuable element of our housing landscape.”
Housing Assistance Payment & Rent Supplement
Threshold also welcomed the commitment in the draft Programme for Government to ensure that Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) levels are adequate to support vulnerable households while the supply of social housing is increased. McCafferty concluded: “Current HAP limits fall short of market rent and must be increased. These limits were last reviewed in July 2016; the national average rent increased 18% between then and the last quarter of 2018. Realistic HAP limits are an essential mechanism for ensuring all people can access housing, from which they can build a home, a sustainable life and live in dignity.”
Threshold’s helpline remains available Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm at 1800 454 454, and via its website at threshold.ie/advice/help for any renter in need of advice or support.