Landlords are to face €15k fine for refusing rent allowance tenants
Landlords face fines of up to €15,000 for turning away tenants who claim rent allowance under new laws coming into effect in a matter of weeks, the Irish Independent has learned.
Homeowners who discriminate against tenants - solely on the basis that they receive state benefits - are not currently breaking any law.
However, new legislation could be introduced as early as next month to get the system up and running before the forthcoming General Election.
Figures show that a record 83 families became homeless last month and the problem is escalating in urban areas.
The Department of Justice confirmed that the Employment Equality Amendment No. 2 Bill has passed all stages in the Seanad and is expected to be through the Dáil "by the end of the year".
It will be 'policed' in the same way as any allegation of discrimination under equality legislation.
The Equality Tribunal, which becomes part of the new Workplace Relations Commission on October 1, will adjudicate on complaints of discrimination. It makes binding judgments - unless appealed to the courts - and can award compensation to victims of discrimination.
Given that the tribunal is independent, the Department of Justice said it could not "speculate" as to the level of financial penalties that may be handed down.
However, a spokesman said existing legislation allows for compensation that is intended to be "dissuasive", by linking the maximum amount that can be awarded to the jurisdiction limits of the District Court, as they are set from time to time.
Anyone who wins a case on the grounds of unlawful discrimination can be awarded the maximum amount of €15,000.
The proposed legal move has angered landlords, who accuse the Government of engaging in a "cosmetic exercise" in order to be "seen to be doing something".
There have also been complaints that the Coalition is ignoring more pressing issues, such as rising rents and the lack of available housing.
Vincent McNamara, of the Residential Landlords Association, strongly refuted claims that property owners shun those on state benefits.
He said: "Currently, there are some 150,000 tenants on rent supplement, in private rented accommodation.
"Landlords don't refuse people because they're on rent supplement but they want people who have a track record of paying on time and being compliant.
"While most tenants on rent supplement do observe the rules, the majority of non-compliant tenants happen to be on rent supplement. That's where the problem arises.
"The Government wants to be seen to be doing something but this is really unnecessary."
Meanwhile, Mike Allen, Focus Ireland's Director of Advocacy, has said a more radical approach is required if landlord discrimination is to be stamped out for good.
"This legislation won't make any difference. What's really needed more than anything is an increase in rent allowance, in order to secure tenancies," he said. "The levels of rent supplements are between 20pc and 30pc below what landlords are looking for.
"What the Government give people is completely out of sync with what's available out there in the market."
In Dublin, an average of 70 families have become homeless every month so far this year.
The Simon Community said the number of properties available to rent has plummeted by 80pc since 2009, while rental prices have increased by more than 20pc since June 2013.
However, rent allowance limits have not gone up during this time frame.
There are currently 3,285 adults and 1,383 children using emergency accommodation. In total, 657 families are sheltered in temporary accommodation.