Lack of legislation means some breaching rules with impunity, writes Amy Molloy
More than 30 private landlords have had 10 or more cases taken against them by different tenants for issues such as withholding deposits, unlawful evictions and poor living conditions, Independent.ie can reveal.
An analysis of disputes lodged with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) over the past six years shows how a cohort of landlords continue to rent despite consistently breaching tenancy laws, with some not paying money owed to renters after the RTB found against them.
A Co Monaghan landlord has been ordered by the RTB to pay more than €44,000 to a number of tenants for unlawfully ending tenancies and keeping security deposits.
He has had more than 10 cases taken against him, with the RTB ruling in the tenants' favour in 90pc of the cases.
In March, he was ordered to pay tenants renting one of his properties €9,000 in damages for unlawful termination of tenancy and loss of belongings. In 2018, he was ordered to pay different tenants €10,604 for damages over unlawful evictions, retention of security deposits and overpayment of rent.
A tenant who rented a property from him told Independent.ie about the "extremely stressful" experience she had.
In 2018, she took a case and he was ordered by the RTB to pay her €3,705 for unlawfully terminating her tenancy and keeping her security deposit.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims she has yet to receive a penny and is considering legal action.
She lived in the property for one year with her husband and two children, who were aged two and six at the time.
She said she felt he believed they wouldn't fight the case as they weren't local and may not have been aware of their tenancy rights. "He didn't even bother showing up to the RTB case," she said.
"He tried to increase our rent after a year and when we fought it, he told us he was putting the house up for sale and tried to kick us out.
"On the day we were due to leave, he didn't show up to collect the keys and refused to inspect the property while we were present. He then inspected it and said we caused €2,000 worth of damage and said he would forego this if we didn't get our deposit of €750 back.
"My children had done some painting on the wall but I repaired this by painting it before we moved out."
The RTB deducted €44 for wear and tear from the family's award.
The successful businesswoman said she found it frustrating how they were awarded damages but have yet to receive any payment, while he continues to rent properties.
The Irish Independent contacted him for comment but he did not respond.
Another private landlord who has had a high number of cases taken against him is Dublin landlord Paul Howard.
Howard has had 11 cases taken against him, with the RTB ruling in the tenants' favour 11 times.
He was ordered to pay a total of €28,807 in all cases after the RTB found he had illegally evicted tenants, breached his landlord duties and unjustifiably retained deposits.
When asked to confirm if he had paid tenants the damages owed, he responded: "My solicitor is in negotiation with them."
More than 155 landlords have had five or more cases taken against them, an analysis of data from disputes lodged with the RTB shows.
Housing charities have raised concerns about how some landlords who repeatedly breach tenancy laws are allowed to continue letting properties.
However, some landlords have successfully defended many of the cases brought against them, with the RTB largely ruling in their favour.
Ireland's largest private landlord Ires Reit, which offers apartments to rent in the Greater Dublin Area, has been involved in 150 cases between 2015 and 2019.
There are only reports available for 138 of these cases, for which Ires Reit has a win rate of 76pc.
In two cases taken by Ires Reit, tenants were ordered to pay rent arrears of between €10,000 and €25,000.
Some of the cases taken against the State's biggest institutional landlord were for invalid rent increases and invalid notices of termination.
In 2018, 19 cases were taken against Ires Reit, which won seven of the cases, lost two and 10 were withdrawn.
In 2016, 81 cases were brought against the company. Ires Ret won 20, lost 30 and 31 were withdrawn.
In a statement, the company said there was a significant reduction in cases in 2018 and 2019 "which reflects the experience the company has built up in providing professional managed services to tenants".
By the end of last year Ires Reit owned 3,666 residential units, across 42 properties in Dublin and Cork. A spokesperson for the company said the number of RTB cases taken was "low" in respect of this.
A large number of cases have also been taken against receivers who took over properties which were the subject of court judgements.
Some of the cases were appeals by tenants who had cases taken against them over rent arrears and breaches of tenant obligations.
In 14 cases taken against receiver Luke Charleton, of Ernst & Young, the RTB found in tenants' favour five times and the receiver's favour nine times.
In 10 cases taken against Ken Fennell, who is a partner in Deloitte and has acted as receiver over significant portfolios, only three were partially successful.
The RTB found that the notices of termination were invalid but ordered tenants to pay outstanding rent arrears.
Housing charity Threshold said one of the main issues its clients have is that despite orders being made in their favour, it is extremely difficult to recover the money awarded.
Under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, the RTB is entitled to pursue court action in cases where landlords or tenants do not abide by enforcement orders.
However, due to the timely and costly nature of these proceedings, it is often a last resort which is rarely used.
A spokesperson for the RTB said it does not have the power to prevent landlords who repeatedly flout tenancy laws from renting properties in the future.
"While the RTB takes reported non-compliance with the terms of its determination orders very seriously, cases are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
"The RTB does not have powers to prevent any party from renting a property again due to non-compliance with our orders."
However, it said RTB adjudicators and tribunal members can award damages against a case party for breaches of their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act.
"These damages, which are awarded to the other case party, can be up to €20,000, depending on the severity of the offence.
"In addition, the work of the investigation and sanctions unit commenced on July 1, 2019.
"As of this date the RTB can now investigate landlords for certain suspected breaches of tenancy legislation.
"Following an investigation, a decision maker can sanction a landlord found guilty of improper conduct.
"A sanction may be a caution or may be financial in nature, anything up to €15,000. A financial sanction is paid to the Exchequer."
Despite the RTB being given increased powers, housing legislation in Ireland has not been significantly updated since 1966.
The Government passed emergency legislation in March to prevent rent increases and evictions up until the end of June.
There are now fears tenants may be facing eviction after the coronavirus crisis due to rent arrears once this period ends.
Housing charity Threshold has called for an extension of the moratorium on rent increases and evictions.
It said that if rent supplements were not provided quickly and efficiently, there was a real risk of rent arrears accruing and "the risk of homelessness becomes real once the emergency period ends".