Monday 5 December 2016

Increasing rents a growing concern for tenants

Anne Marie Caulfield

Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30

Increasing rents and security of tenure are serious concerns for tenants, and particularly for those renting in Dublin
Increasing rents and security of tenure are serious concerns for tenants, and particularly for those renting in Dublin

The period since the establishment of the PRTB in 2004 has seen the private rented sector grow, and change, considerably.

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The Board was established to operate a national tenancy registration system and to deal with disputes between landlords and tenants.

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The latter role is a quasi-judicial one, and has seen the PRTB replace the courts in the vast majority of disputes in the sector. It also provides policy advice to the Government on the private rental market. A growing number of households now live in the private rented sector and it is an extremely important part of the national housing profile.

The private rented sector also plays a vital role in the lives of socially supported tenants. Over 100,000 tenants are supported by the State through the Rent Supplement Scheme, the Rental Accommodation Schemes (RAS) and, more recently, the Housing Assistance Programme (HAP). The Social Housing Strategy envisages that this role will continue and will grow further.

Many private rental tenants are also quite young - the 2011 Census found that 23pc of people living in the sector are children.

A RED C national survey commissioned by the PRTB last year found that young adults, aged between 18-34, made up 63pc of tenants in their sample, and they also found that 29pc of tenants are non-Irish nationals.

The same survey found that 66pc of the respondent tenants had been renting for four years or more, with 32pc renting because they could not get a mortgage. Increasing rents and security of tenure are serious concerns for tenants, and particularly for those renting in Dublin.

The term "landlord" has painful historical echoes in the Irish mind, and it can still invoke memories of a wealthy, landed class with little regard for the rights of their tenants. However, today's landlords are often in a very different position; almost 84pc of the landlords registered with the PRTB own one or two properties, and we also know from Central Bank data that nearly 40,000 buy-to-let properties are in serious mortgage arrears. Non-payment of rent is the area of most concern to landlords, particularly those with a mortgage.

The PRTB has replaced the courts for the vast majority of landlord and tenant disputes. For €25 (or €15 for an online application) any registered landlord, or any tenant (whether the tenancy is registered or not), can access our Dispute Resolution Services. We offer mediation (including telephone mediation) or adjudication services in the first instance.

The act provides that either party can appeal the outcome to a three-member tribunal, where evidence is examined afresh. The PRTB received 3,374 applications for mediation/adjudication in 2014, involving 6,071 different complaints, including counter cases. In 447 of those, the outcome was appealed to tribunal.

The PRTB is sometimes criticised for processing times of disputes. The facts are that telephone mediations take 8-10 weeks, with adjudication/mediation involving a hearing taking 5-6 months and tribunals 2-3 months. This has reduced from 18 months for an adjudication in 2008, despite the major increase in the size of the sector, and the fact that the number of dispute cases has doubled in this time. However, timelines can vary.

We recognise the need to reduce these timelines further, and it does compare favourably with how long it takes to have matters dealt with by the civil courts.

Rent arrears is the single biggest category of dispute, involving 33pc of applications, with notices of termination of the tenancy at 24pc of cases and deposit protection at 23pc.

In addition to its quasi-judicial functions, PRTB maintains a register of tenancies, enforces registration requirements, enforces against parties who do not comply with determination orders and operates an outsourced call centre (96,001 calls, 42,355 emails and 4,707 letters in 2014). We also carry out research, as set out below - so it's a very busy organisation.

In mid-2013, the PRTB also launched a rent index, which is now produced quarterly, in collaboration with the ESRI.

This is the most accurate and authoritative rent report of its kind on the private accommodation sector in Ireland because the data represents the actual rents being paid, according to the PRTB's registration records.

The index is also able to provide details of the average rent for five property types in 446 locations across Ireland, and is freely available online.

PRTB also commissioned two major pieces of research in 2014 into the Future of the Private Rented Sector and Rent Stability. It includes a detailed international comparative analysis and 34 options to develop and improve the sector.

A new challenge for the PRTB in the near future will be the establishment of the Deposit Protection Scheme that would be the repository of tenants' deposit payment at the commencement of a lease, rather than paying it to the landlord as at present.

The Social and Voluntary Housing Sector will also come within our remit in the coming months.

Anne Marie Caulfield is director of the Private Residential Tenancies Board.

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