Rent watchdog ‘not fit for purpose’ as tenants and landlords wait for compensation, TDs told

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Amy Molloy

Ireland’s rental watchdog has been slammed as “not fit for purpose” by politicians and organisations representing landlords.

The joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage heard today that property owners have been unable to register their tenancies with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), how tenants and landlords have not received compensation after the RTB ruled in their favour and how decisions are taking “months” to be made.

Fine Gael senator Mary Seery-Kearney told how she assisted a friend through the dispute resolution process after a tenant damaged their property and had 44 fridges stored in the back garden.

“When we eventually did get to the RTB and produced photographs, they ruled against the landlord,” she said.

“Where there are difficult tenants it isn’t fit for purpose and doesn’t meet the needs of landlords.”

The Irish Property Owners Association (IPOA) and the Institute of Property Auctioneers and Valuers (IPAV) also both criticised the RTB process, with IPAV chief executive Pat Davitt saying the portal for registering rentals has not been functioning properly.

“I’d safely say that even someone with a technology degree could not master it,” he said.

“The delays are incredible in trying to get people to talk to landlords about determination orders and the length of time it takes to come back to disputers, a lot of the time it is not inside the timeframe which the RTB set which is a huge problem for everybody.”

The committee was told about recent trends in the private rental market, with housing charity Threshold saying it receives a call every 20 minutes from a tenant who is being evicted from their home.

Threshold’s policy officer Ann-Marie O’Reilly warned that an increasing number of people will be forced into homelessness in the coming months.

She also highlighted how some local authorities are unable to offer emergency accommodation and are turning people away.

“We expect the homeless figures to increase in coming months. People are sleeping on couches, in cars or rough sleeping and they are not counted in the official homeless figures.”

Ms O’Reilly warned how the increasing cost of living is having a detrimental impact on tenants, and raised concerns about rent hikes forcing people into homelessness.

She said tenants living outside Rent Pressure Zones (RPZ) are seeing rent increases of up to 60pc, and in some cases people are having their rent doubled.

She said tenants are putting up with invalid rent increases as they fear losing their homes if they speak up.

Meanwhile, the IPOA said if rent freezes are introduced, more landlords will quit the market.

Margaret McCormick, information officer with the IPOA, described the situation as an “emergency” and called on the Government to do more to stem the exodus of landlords.

Property owner groups are pushing for a new tax rate of 25pc for landlords to discourage them from selling up and leaving the market.

Currently, landlords can pay over 50pc tax on their rental income and the Government is looking to reduce this in the upcoming Budget.

The IPOA and IPAV were both critical of RPZs, with Mr Davitt reading out a LinkedIn post by an IPAV member who recently served an eviction notice on a family.

It stated: “The landlord’s mortgage repayments are up €300 per month, rent can only be increased by €25 as the property is in a RPZ. The rent for this home is at 60pc of open market rent and the tenant would gladly pay more. Both landlord and tenant are losing out due to rental regulations that are not working.”

The IPOA claimed RPZs are making the market “more dysfunctional”.

Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan questioned whether more areas should be designated as RPZs to help curb rent increases.

Threshold indicated that property owners failing to register tenancies may be preventing more areas being declared as RPZs as the true number of rental properties is not known.

The charity is calling for a €20m rent arrears fund to assist those who are falling into arrears, and to also assist landlords to receive unpaid rent.

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