It's safe to say that Covid-19 has done what no Government, legislation or public pressure has been able to do: bring in secure tenancies for renters and free up accommodation, especially in cities.
Many landlords are reporting rent rolls are down as the market loosens up and prospective renters are finding available properties again. It may be temporary but it's here for now.
Depending which side you're on, this is a good, or a bad thing. As the emergency Covid-19 measures come to an end and new legislation in the form of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act comes into force, I'm looking at what's changed and the rights, and responsibilities, of tenants and property owners.
As one of the Covid-19 emergency measures, rents were frozen, as were evictions (terminations). Landlords could not instigate proceedings during the pandemic. This allowed tenants who had lost their job to remain at home, particularly during the lockdown period when self-isolating became necessary.
Short-term lettings - like Airbnb - were effectively wiped from the landscape and some (but not all) owners placed their houses on the long-term rental market. This caused a contraction in rent prices, as supply caught up with demand.
Average rents in Dublin were €1,735, and in Cork city €1,199 for Q1 2020, according to the RTB. By March the increase in rents was just over 3pc a year, but had turned negative by June.
The Irish Property Owners Association claims 4,000 landlords left the sector last year and it expects this trend to continue.
With many Leaving Cert graduates choosing colleges nearer home and universities going online for the coming academic year, the student housing market has altered considerably. Co-living student hubs and house-sharing is frowned upon, and many families won't want to offer digs to strangers, either. All of this contracts rents and fundamentally shifts the market.
On August 1 the emergency legislation, which had already been extended by the Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien, despite warnings of unconstitutionality from the Attorney General, ended. It has been replaced by the new Act, which effectively sets out an ongoing range of provisions from now until at least January 2021:
Arrears: Where a tenant has fallen into rent arrears, landlords can now recommence instructions to repay. Preferably, this should be mutually agreed, but a warning notice can be issued giving tenants 28 days to comply. It must be in writing (not email or text) with a copy sent to the RTB. Failure to pay monies owing will result in a Notice of Termination being served.
The RTB will offer assistance to the tenant (via MABS) and provide them with the link to the self declaration form if required.
New protections: A range of new protections are in place until January 10, 2021 for tenants who are currently (or were unable from March 9, 2020 to January 10, 2021) unable to pay their rent due to Covid-19. They will not be evicted if they meet the following criteria - they're in receipt of Illness Benefit, the Temporary Wage Subsidy, Pandemic Payment or other social welfare payment as a result of loss of earnings due to Covid-19, and risk losing their tenancy.
They must complete the Self-Declaration form, send it to the RTB (see rtb.ie) via their PO Box in Cork with a copy to their landlord (registered post is recommended for this).
Landlords who receive this form cannot terminate their tenant until January 11, 2021, and only then with a 90-day period of notice.
Notice of Termination: Landlords who have not received a Self-Declaration form can issue a Notice of Termination for rent arrears once the 28-day warning period has expired. Other than arrears, the requirement of one of the seven permitted reasons to end a tenancy (e.g. selling, family member use etc), has not changed. Covid-19 is not one.
The RTB operates a dispute resolution office (online and by phone for free, €15 otherwise) and says it has a high degree of success on mediation.
Short lets of second homes are restricted to 90 days a year in Rent Pressure Zones. Council registration and planning permission are required for longer lets, which you're unlikely to get.
Rent a room
Renting out a room on a long-term basis (to a student for an academic year, for example) is still permitted, and rental income is tax free up to €14,000 p.a.
For older people in need of light care and companionship, various options exist which place a person seeking accommodation with an older person requiring a lodger. These people are not qualified care-givers or nurses. They provide a presence or peace of mind, and some light duties, for older people in return for bed and board. Agencies like thehomeshare.ie charge around €45 a week for the service.
Shortcuts to finding college accommodation
With college offers this week, students are making choices about where and how to study and might find some relief in the fact that finding somewhere to live away from home has been made that little bit easier because of Covid-19.
Here is some information about specific student accommodations (SSAs), which are handled differently to regular rentals.
Campus (on or off) provided accommodation comes under the auspices of the Residential Tenancies Board as does private accommodation. This means students enjoy some protections associated with renting.
However, students do not share full rights: they do not have right of continuance (known as Part 4 rights, which say you can stay for five-and-a-half years once you are in situ for six months). Landlords terminating leases must give 28 days, but they do not have to abide by the seven specific reasons mandated for private tenants.
They can evict with seven days’ notice in cases of serious anti-social behaviour. Rents can be increased, but only by 4pc a year in Rent Pressure Zones and only reviewed every 24 months outside of them.
Digs, or shared accommodation in a principal private dwelling is outside the RTB remit. You must agree a contract with the owner directly and individually.