Sunday 25 September 2016

Philip Ryan: How I knocked €100 per month off my rent increase

When our landlords tried to put our rent up by €200 a month, we had to take action, writes Philip Ryan

Published 05/06/2016 | 02:30

'The law states that these notifications can only be issued every two years. So essentially landlords cannot increase rent for 27 months.' Getty Images/iStockphoto
'The law states that these notifications can only be issued every two years. So essentially landlords cannot increase rent for 27 months.' Getty Images/iStockphoto

Everyone likes a whinge.

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Complaining is the nation's favourite pasttime.

On social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, moaning has become an art form.

For the most part, those who govern us ensure we have ample opportunity to do so.

The current housing and homeless crisis is a case in point.

Hundreds of families are living in hotel rooms while landlords charge extortionate rents.

It's a mess and our new Housing Minister, Simon Coveney, is already admitting he won't meet his own 'housing action plan' deadline.

So while Coveney mulls over the crisis, the public has to make it on their own.

The Dublin Tenant Association started a #rentripoff campaign on Twitter, which gained quite a bit of traction online and highlighted some of the difficulties faced in the private rental sector.

While well intentioned, there is unfortunately only so much that can be achieved by angry tweets and hashtags.

Sometimes you have to switch off Twitter and deal with your problem in the real world.

The Residential Tenancy Board (RTB) offers free mediation between tenants and landlords on a range of issues affecting both sides.

This could be tenants refusing to pay their rent or landlords kicking renters out of accommodation without justification.

However, since the start of the year just 96 people lodged disputes complaining about their rent being above the market rate.

That's a mere 5pc of all the complaints received by the agency since January.

My landlord recently tried to increase my rent.

I live in a development owned by an international investment firm.

It is one of those US firms that swooped in at the height of the recession and bought up distressed assets before renting them back to the locals.

The apartment complex is operated by the Irish arm of a global real estate giant.

In January, four months before my tenancy contract was due to expire, the real estate firm issued my girlfriend and myself with a rent increase notification telling us our rent would be going up by €200 per month, to €1,650, in April.

This was the first rent hike in two years, but we were taken aback.

The next month, I received a second rent notification telling me my rent was not to be increased. Great, I thought, the first letter must have been a mistake.

I took the second notice to the company's office and said "sign me up for another year".

However, when the lease arrived in the letter box in March, a month out from my current contract expiring, the rent had been increased by €200 per month.

This must be a mistake I hoped and queried the lease with rental agency. But, no, the mistake was sending me the second notification without an increase.

I was told by the real estate agency I had two options: accept the rent increase as offered in January or receive a third rent increase notice, which could be at an even higher price.

The third option was obviously pack your bags and get out. We didn't want to move and a €200 per month increase was excessive as far as we were concerned.

I rang housing charity Threshold and set out my predicament to Francesco - the staff member who dealt very professionally with my query.

The first thing Francesco pointed out was that agency was in breach of rent laws by issuing me a rent increase notice before my current agreement ended.

Under legislation introduced by former Environment Minister Alan Kelly, landlords must give tenants three months' notice before increasing rent, which the company did do in my case.

However, the law also states that these notifications can only be issued every two years. So essentially landlords cannot increase rent for 27 months. I went back to the company and pointed this out.

The global real estate firm operating a massive apartment complex on behalf of multinational investment company said that these laws had "just come to light within the last 24 hour" - whatever that was supposed to mean.

They said they would issue me a new notification once my contract ended.

Thanks to Threshold we were able to stay in our apartment for an extra three months on our current rent.

A new notice was issued in April and we were again facing the same €200 per month rent increase in August.

I got back onto Francesco in Threshold who said I had the option of challenging the rent increase through the Residential Tenancy Board (RTB).

Since his advice had essentially saved me €600, I decided I would take on my international landlords.

I went for the free telephone mediation service I mentioned earlier.

You can opt for a full on rent tribunal but there are costs involved and it gets very formal.

Submitting a form for mediation is a bit tricky and the website is not the most user friendly but RTB staff are on standby to guide you through the process over the phone.

For mediation on rent increases you have to submit evidence that shows the hike is not in line with current market rates in your area.

The RTB has its own quarterly rental price index, as does rent website Daft.ie.

Both indices showed average rents in my postcode were far below the €1,650 price my landlord wanted to charge.

I also combed through Daft.ie and other rent websites for properties on the market in the area that were charging less and I found a few.

It took a couple of hours of research but nothing too overwhelming.

Eventually, all the information was combined in a word document and emailed to the RTB mediators.

Two weeks later, I received a text message from Laura, who introduced herself as my RTB mediator and said she would call in a few days.

When she rang she told me she had spoken to the real estate agency who thankfully were open to mediation.

Laura asked if I was willing to accept any increase and I said I was.

My international landlord is currently advertising the same apartments for €1,750, which is €100 more than what they were hoping to charge me.

I told Laura we would be willing to halve the difference and pay an extra €100, leaving us on €1,550 per month.

Laura said she'd call the landlord and let them know.

The next day she was back on to confirm agency accepted the proposal and, pending a cooling-off period, I would be paying €1,550 per month come August.

So now I'll be paying €200 less than some of my neighbours for the same apartment.

This is clearly very unfair, but hopefully it will set a precedent for future complaints to the RTB.

Sunday Independent

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