Home Truths: 'Resolution' path breaks landlords
The Murphys' world fell apart when both lost their jobs right after buying their first home.
With mortgage payments due on their Dublin semi and no work to be found, the couple had to move abroad to find jobs and rent out their newly acquired house.
But shortly after their tenant moved in, the rent payments ceased. What's more, the tenant refused to move out. Now based abroad, the Murphys applied to the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) to have the tenant removed for non payment. They had been told that a court judge would frown on them if they didn't pursue the proscribed PRTB resolution process before going to court.
After a process that drew out over almost a year, the Board ruled in favour of the Murphys. However, when it came to enforcement of its decision, the PRTB recommended the couple take their tenant to court anyway. One year later.
The court process could take another six months and the tenant will also be entitled to appeal a resulting decision. In all, it could add up to 17 months or more without rent.
The Murphys have reason to believe the occupant of their house has been sub-letting other rooms while Mr Murphy's elderly mother has been paying their mortgage because they simply haven't got the money.
In the opinion of the Murphys' solicitor, the present PRTB resolution process is a "charter for rogue tenants" and "a removal of the landlord's constitutional right to seek immediate redress in the courts".
The likely cost to the Murphys is €10,000-plus in lost rent and court costs have still to be accounted for. In contrast, their 'tenant' could emerge rewarded with thousands of euros in illicit sub-letting earnings along with 18 months of free accommodation for himself.
In any other country he would have been forcibly evicted or even jailed for fraud.
Mr Brown and his wife also had to leave their Dublin semi to move abroad. Their tenants were kept on a series of short leases because the Browns knew they would be returning to Ireland and this was made clear to the tenants from the start.
When the Browns did return in 2013, they gave their tenants the proper due notice. "They were due to leave the month before we returned but refused to move so we engaged with the PRTB," says Mr Brown.
Meantime, unexpectedly homeless themselves, the couple had to rent out a house at €1,500 per month while the dispute dragged out. Finally the PRTB directed that the tenants vacate the property. "When they still wouldn't move, the PRTB recommended that we initiate our own court action from this point on. They said they could undertake this action but it would take much longer. We were gobsmacked. We asked 'why did you make us go through a year-long process only to tell us to go to court ourselves anyway?'. They told us that going through the PRTB process first is the proper procedure."
For the year of the dispute, the tenants (in receipt of rent subsidy), had stopped paying altogether. "Eventually the local authority sent us its part of the rent directly which accounted for the bigger portion. But we never got the tenant's own €450 per month contribution to the payments for that year."
When the tenants finally vacated, the Browns discovered that the contents (including a new bedroom suite that cost €2,500) were gone. "We believe they sold our furniture - beds, tables and chairs. We also had to remove three large skips of rubbish from the property."
The total costs to the Browns, including unpaid rent, the rent they themselves had to pay, the value of the missing furniture, the cost of storage for their other furniture and the cost of cleaning out the vacated house, put them out of pocket for €28,000.
To protect their identities and to avoid prejudicing the court process, I have changed the real names. I spoke to the Browns directly and to the Murphys' solicitor. Both are ordinary couples forced to rent their own homes due to unforeseen circumstances. Both were defrauded on a large scale. In contrast, both sets of offending tenants escaped without penalty and have since been rehoused in someone else's properties.
Last week the National Economic and Social Council published a detailed report outlining changes for the Irish rental market which include longer European-style leases for tenants. It also outlined the need to increase the powers of the PRTB.
For the above reasons, it seems the PRTB is toothless, useless and a core component of the Irish rental market's problems.
A realistic time frame of process, real powers of enforcement, imposable penalties and a means of refunded compensation for monies lost are absolutely key to the success of legislative change in the rental sector. Without these, the NESC plan, however enlightened and radical, is just like the PRTB process… essentially pointless.