Renting: Know your rights - and what can go wrong
The market has never been more clogged, nor priced higher. Rental accommodation has become a crisis. Whether you're a student returning to college, someone on the housing list or a family or professional who simply needs somewhere to live, finding that elusive flat or house for a price you can afford is nigh on impossible.
Rents are up between 6-13pc this year with the highest increases in Dublin and commuter counties according to latest data (see table, right). With 70pc of landlords the 'amateur' variety, and up to 20pc of buy-to-lets in mortgage arrears, the life of a landlord isn't any happier than that of the beleaguered tenants.
There has been some indication that Government intends to introduce 'rent certainty' which means linking rent increases to the consumer price index, but this may simply end up driving more landlords, and properties, off the market.
For the prospective tenant it does mean there's a temptation to lower your standards, or move outside your ideal location, but that can be a mistake. Here are some tips for the first-time renter - or mover - before they make the leap:
This is your most important element. What will it cost, not just for rent, but all the other bills (e.g. Utilities, Food, TV/Internet/Phone etc). Can you afford a place of your own, or should you share? If you move further away, do you have to factor in additional transport costs?
2. The Search
Rental websites allow filtering by location, number of bedrooms, and rent. Leases are generally for one year, and you will be expected to have one month's rent as a deposit (on top of the rent) although there's no legal requirement on this.
Landlords may arrange open viewings where prospective renters turn up. Come prepared with references (work, previous landlord), bank confirmation and your questions at hand. It will give you an advantage as the landlord won't have to wait on these before deciding on the tenant.
4. The Lease
Although there can be a scramble for property, never, ever sign a lease without visiting and checking it out. Photos can mislead; the location may not be accurate or it may have undesirables around. Scams abound. Never hand over a bank draft without a contract, keys and the street contact details of the landlord. Meeting on site proves s/he has access.
Living with someone who isn't family can be a challenging experience. The most common things that can cause problems, says John Leahy, author of Renting in Ireland, are: "Firstly bills; who pays what, how are they split, that sort of thing. You'll get someone saying 'Well, I only take two minutes in the shower, you take twenty' or 'I don't cook at home, so I shouldn't pay for electricity', or 'I didn't ask for Sky Sports so I shouldn't have to pay for it' - it can get incredibly petty. The best thing to do is agree, in advance, how bills will be met. Clearly, splitting them evenly is the obvious thing to do, but if not it has to be agreed among everyone.
"The second issue is what happens if one tenant decides to move out. Under law you are jointly and severally liable for the rent and most landlords insist all tenants are listed on the lease; this also protects tenants as you won't get one whose job it is to pay the rent and collect off the others. But you might have to decide whose job it is to find a replacement tenant, or pay rent if there's a gap. This is all separate from the relationship with the landlord and can easily create tension.
"Thirdly, the rules around socialising or having 'guests' staying over can be problematic. For instance, if one tenant decides to have a party, or their boy/girlfriend becomes an unofficial extra tenant, they're there so often. You need to talk about all this stuff before house sharing starts."
Tenants acquire the right to rent a property for four years after the initial six-month period, under Part IV of the Tenancy Act. It does not have to be at the same rent however, but landlords may only increase rent to 'market rates'.
This can be established from other similar properties or using the PRTB reckoner, and if found to be too high, a dispute can be raised with the Private Rental Tenancies Board (PRTB) who will mediate. The service costs €15 online or €25 via post.
You are entitled to 28 days' notice for an increase in rent. Once the lease is in place, it cannot be broken on either side, but if the landlord wishes to terminate, s/he must give, in writing, a Notice of Termination - an email or phone call is not sufficient.
Once Part IV has been invoked, a landlord can only terminate the lease under certain circumstances. One of these is his/her intention to sell it but others include tenant obligations not being met.