The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 was signed into law on the 31st May 2019. The new legislation includes a number of changes which Minister Eoghan Murphy has said will ‘bring greater affordability and security for people who are renting’. In this blog post, Policy Officer Alison Connolly will examine the most recent changes introduced and compare these to what we know about families entering homelessness from the private rented sector.
The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) governs rights and obligations in rented accommodation, as well as accommodation provided by Approved Housing Bodies like Focus Ireland. The 2019 amending legislation extends currently designated Rent Pressure Zones until 2021 and introduces a new definition of national average rent, which takes into account the distorting effect of the Dublin rental market. The Act also establishes a complaints, investigations and sanctions process which is designed to allow the RTB to take a more proactive role in enforcing the legislation. The former are relatively positive provisions which will mean that tenants continue to benefit from at least some amount of rent control. The latter should hopefully ease some of the burden on tenants to ensure landlord compliance with the legislation.
The recent amendments also include changes to landlord obligations when issuing a Notice of Termination (NOT), as well as changes to notice periods. In relation to NOTs, the Act introduces new requirements and procedures for landlords seeking to end a tenancy for one of the following reasons: if they or a family member wish to live in the property, if they want to sell the property, if they want to undertake significant refurbishment of the property or if they want to change the use of the property. Changes include extensions of the time period that the landlord must offer the property back to the tenant if it becomes availing for letting, as well as an extension of the time period the landlord has in which to sell the property. The Act adds criteria to the notice which must accompany an NOT if the landlord is selling to undertake substantial refurbishment.
Do They Address the Causes of Homelessness?
Recent research by Focus Ireland has provided a detailed insight into the pathways into homelessness for families working with us. Surveys conducted with 237 families demonstrate that seven out of every ten families becoming homeless rented their last stable home in the private rented sector. 58% of all the families reported that their tenancies ended due to issues specific to their rental accommodation, including affordability issues, landlords selling, renovating or requiring the property for their own use. 36% of families who had their last stable home in the private rented sector were evicted because their landlord wanted to sell the property or move themselves or a family member in.
58% of all the families reported that their tenancies ended due to issues specific to their rental accommodation, including affordability issues, landlords selling, renovating or requiring the property for their own use.
Many of the procedural changes to the RTA simply require landlords to be more careful about the manner in which they issue NOTs. Adding additional notice criteria and requiring landlords to offer their properties back to the tenant are more likely to dissuade fraudulent terminations rather than provide broader protections to tenants. We have not seen any research which enumerates the number of fraudulent terminations issued, and the concern is that the vast majority of terminations are lawful and therefore difficult to prevent without more sweeping preventative legislation.
the concern is that the vast majority of terminations are lawful and therefore difficult to prevent without more sweeping preventative legislation
Previously if landlords erred in issuing a valid NOT tenants could at least challenge the termination before the Residential Tenancies Board and potentially buy themselves enough time to find alternative accommodation while a new NOT was issued. However, the new Act introduces the concept of a ‘remedial notice’ which allows landlords to remedy a notice and gives the tenants only 28 days to vacate the property. This will likely be an insufficient period of time to source alternative accommodation given the difficulties families report in accessing HAP accommodation in the above Focus Ireland research.
While it is impossible to immediately assess the impact of legislative change, we are concerned that the current Act will do little to stem the flow into homelessness of over a third of families who are being evicted from the private rented sector. To do this we will likely need much more sweeping change to the regulatory framework around Notices of Termination. Other jurisdictions limit the ability of landlords to evict unless tenants have breached their tenancy or engaged in anti-social behaviour.
If we really want to prevent family homelessness, it’s time to do more than tweak.
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