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Ten things tenants should know in the new playing field

With the eviction ban lifting, what can you do when the roof over your head looks shaky?

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The coming months could see more tenant evictions and an increase in the number of landlords quitting the rental market as Covid restrictions ease and the toll of the pandemic becomes clearer.

Housing charity Threshold has warned that the end of the blanket ban on evictions – which applied when the 5km travel restriction was in place – could see an increase in the number of tenants being evicted. That ban was in place for the first three-and-a-half months of this year.

Meanwhile the huge financial pressure which many landlords have found themselves under since the pandemic hit could prompt some to pull out of the rental market, according to the Irish Property Owners Association (IPOA), which represents landlords. 

“Where a rental property was vacated [during the pandemic], some landlords will take the opportunity to move out of the market,” said Margaret McCormick, information officer with the IPOA.

“Landlords lost out on a lot of rent over the last year. There was a wholesale leaving of [rented] properties. People moved out of shared accommodation, properties were abandoned, keys were left in the letterbox, landlords were sent a text to say the tenant was moving out and so on. There were some issues with tenants being caught out of the country [when lockdown hit] and not being able to pay the rent.”

There were also cases where tenants returned to the family home during a lockdown and left all of their belongings in the rented property – meaning the landlord couldn't re-let the property, added McCormick. “You had cases with house-share arrangements where three out of four people may have moved out of the property but one stayed – and so the rental income coming in from the property was very low,” said McCormick.

Any increase in the number of landlords taking their rental properties off the market would add to the woes of tenants – who are already dealing with a huge scarcity of affordable accommodation.

“Supply was a concern pre-Covid and it's a deeper concern now due to the impact of restrictions,” said Threshold CEO John-Mark McCafferty.

“Lack of supply further reduces the potential for any affordability in rental accommodation. Before Covid-19, there was a housing crisis, a dysfunctional housing market and affordability issues [for tenants] – Covid has exacerbated that.”

As the country hopefully continues to emerge from the tough restrictions endured so far this year, landlords and tenants will have to deal with the pandemic hangover that has been left behind. Here are ten things which tenants should know as they do so.

1. You could be evicted more easily 

Apart from some very limited exceptions, tenants were automatically protected by the blanket ban on evictions when the 5km travel restriction was in place. As that 5km restriction was lifted on April 12, this automatic protection is now gone. So it will be easier for your landlord to evict you now than it was prior to April 12 – though your landlord must still follow certain rules when doing so.

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2. You could still block eviction until mid-July 

Some tenants are still protected from eviction – and rent increases – until July 13 if their income has been hit by the pandemic and they can't afford their rent as a result.

However, unlike the time that the 5km limit was in place, this protection is not automatic – so there are a number of things that you must do to block an eviction.

You must make a self-declaration to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB – the State body that helps to resolve disputes between tenants and landlords) confirming that you are unable to pay your rent as a result of the pandemic. At the same time, you must also request help from the RTB to get advice from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs) which offers advice to people in debt. Furthermore, within five days of making your self-declaration to the RTB, you must notify your landlord that you wish to talk about putting an arrangement in place to pay the rent owed.

As well as being unable to afford your rent, to be eligible for the protection of the eviction ban up to July 13, you must also be either getting – or have been entitled to get – illness benefit for a Covid-19 absence, the Temporary Wage Subsidy (TWS) or another social welfare payment or State support for pandemic-related loss of earnings (including rent supplement or a supplementary welfare allowance). 

3. There are some exemptions to the eviction ban

The ban on evictions until mid-July only applies to evictions being conducted on foot of Covid-related rent arrears. You can still however be evicted before July 13 if you were five or more months in rent arrears on January 10, 2021 – or if an eviction ban until July 13 would “cause undue financial hardship” to your landlord.

Some reasons a landlord would be deemed to be in undue financial hardship include if the rent from the rented property is the landlord's sole or main income – or if the landlord has a mortgage on the rented property which he is unable to repay if the rent isn't paid.

The ban on evictions to mid-July doesn't apply to tenants being evicted for reasons not related to Covid-triggered rent arrears. So a landlord can still evict you before mid-July on the grounds of rent arrears that did not build up due to the pandemic. Furthermore, a landlord can evict you if he needs the property for his own, or a family member's, private use – or if he wishes to sell, change the use of, or do a major refurbishment of the rented property. 

4. Your landlord doesn't have to be registered for you to be covered

You can still get the protection of the eviction ban up to July 13 – even if your landlord is not registered with the RTB. “Any tenant can apply for dispute resolution with the RTB regardless of whether or not a landlord has registered their tenancy,” said a spokeswoman for the RTB.

You should alert the RTB if your landlord isn't registered with it.

“If a tenant has peaceful and exclusive occupation of a dwelling, if the tenant is paying rent to the owner of the property – or the owner's agent, the tenant effectively has a lease and they can pursue that with the RTB,” said McCafferty.

5. You must still pay your rent unless landlord has agreed otherwise 

Tenants still had an obligation to pay their rent if they continued to live in a rented property while the 5km travel restrictions – and the consequent blanket ban on evictions – were in place, unless they had come to an alternative arrangement with their landlord.

Similarly, under the current restrictions, even if your income has taken a hit due to the pandemic, you still have to pay your rent or any rent owed – unless your landlord has agreed otherwise.

6. A State dig-out could help you afford the rent

You may be entitled to rent supplement and other State dig-outs (such as the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and enhanced illness benefit) if your income took a hit during Covid. You should contact the Department of Social Protection if you have not claimed any such payments but believe you could be entitled to them as these could help you afford your rent – or to even pay a portion of it until your income is restored. 

7. It’s important to talk to your landlord

Talk to your landlord as soon as possible if you are running into difficulties with your rent. “People may be afraid to contact their landlord – we can get into contact with their landlord on their behalf,” said McCafferty.

8. Landlords are doing rent deals 

You may be able to come to an arrangement with your landlord around rent owed and rent due in the future. That arrangement could include a payment plan, a reduction in rent – or a deferral of rent until you are back on your feet financially.

“There's a significant cohort of landlords that have been very understanding [throughout the pandemic] – and that have offered deferred payments, reduced rent and so on,” said McCafferty. “When coming to a deal on rent arrears, both parties should know what's expected of them. We've a concern that informal agreements [around rent] may lead to disputes as the situation returns to normal.”

9. You may have a right to reject an eviction notice

Tenants staring down the barrel of eviction should check that their landlord has followed the rules around eviction – and that any eviction notice served is lawful and correct. “A high proportion of eviction notices are not technically correct and can be rejected,” said McCafferty.

10. You can contact the RTB if you can't do a deal

Where a tenant has run into trouble paying their rent and cannot come to an agreement with the landlord on how that rent will be paid, all tenants and registered landlords can apply to the RTB to have the case resolved there.

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From standoffs to blocked sales: challenges pandemic has put in landlords’ paths

Pre-Covid rent arrears

As pandemic restrictions ease, it will be the rent arrears which existed prior to the crisis which will prove most problematic for landlords, according to Margeret McCormick of the IPOA.

“We have situations where there were arrears at the beginning of Covid and although the tenant’s income has not dropped during the pandemic, rent is still being missed,” said McCormick. “Some of these tenants have not paid any rent throughout the crisis and these are the situations that will be problematic for landlords – as they will have tried to work with the tenants and had difficulties when doing so.”

Mortgage struggles

Landlords who are still struggling to repay the mortgage on a rented property as a result of a drop in rental income should talk to their lender and try to come to an deal on the repayment of that loan – if such a deal has not yet been struck.

“A number of of landlords would have taken the mortgage holiday (where there’s a break on mortgage repayments for a few months) if they had a mortgage on the property – though interest still accrued,” said McCormick. “Long term, such landlords will either have a loan for longer or they will have to try to make up the interest payments.”

The longer it takes to repay a mortgage, the more expensive the mortgage will be so landlords should, if possible, keep up the mortgage repayments on their rental property – but otherwise, try to reach a flexible arrangement with your lender.

Blocked sale and access

The blanket ban on evictions while 5km travel restrictions were in place proved tricky for landlords who wanted to sell their rental property or who needed the property for their own private use.

“There were landlords who had been letting their Irish property while working abroad, who came back to Ireland during the pandemic and wanted to move back into their property – but who found it difficult to get their property back due to the pause on evictions,” said McCormick. “There were landlords who had to sell for financial reasons and who couldn’t sell as a result of the pause on evictions.”

Landlords should note that the blanket ban on evictions is no longer in place – and that there are seven reasons why they can now evict a tenant, including if the landlord wishes to sell his property or if the landlord requires the property for personal or family use.

Lengthy standoffs

The time that it takes to resolve an issue with a tenant who is not paying rent can cause huge difficulties for landlords.

Landlords can seek recourse through the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) when they run into a problem with a tenant – as long as the landlord is registered with the RTB. However a resolution will still take time.

“When Covid protections come to an end, a landlord or tenant still has to take a case to the RTB [to resolve a dispute] – so that has to play out,” said McCormick. “All the while, there is no income coming in for the landlord and that is fundamentally unfair.”


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