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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 16 October, 2018
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Renter told she'd be sharing a room with another female, after she paid deposit the 'landlord' said she'd be sharing with him

Licensee renters have very few of the same rights given to other tenants.

Image: Shutterstock/Solnechnaja

A WOMAN WHO viewed a rental property and was told she would be sharing a room with another female was told after she paid half of the deposit that she would be sharing with the male landlord.

When the woman found out that this was the case, she tried to back out of the agreement and get the money she had paid back.

Firstly, the man who called himself the landlord – who may have actually only been a tenant – didn’t show up to meet her, then he was aggressive to her, and eventually he returned less than half of the deposit when they did meet.

This woman was part of a cohort of renters and people looking to rent in properties that are not protected by usual private tenancy laws and regulations.

Tenants who move into either owner-occupied (where the landlord lives in the home with them) or sub-let (where they rent a room out from another tenant) accommodation enter into a licensee agreement.

Under a licensee agreement, tenants are not given a range of the legal protections that are given to renters in normal tenancy situations.

In many cases licensee renters are students staying in “digs” – a type of accommodation that has become far more popular in recent years as private rental stock has cleared up.

Under the law, a person renting in this situation is only in the property by the landlord’s consent or invitation. This is the same if a person is living with a spouse, child or parent of a landlord and does not have a written lease.

If you are a licensee renter, your landlord does not have you give a rent book or statement of rent paid and there is no legal requirement for the accommodation to meet minimum physical standards.

The Citizen’s Information website lists other stipulations of this agreement:

  • Any notice of a termination of your tenancy is at the discretion of your landlord
  • Your landlord does not have to register the tenancy with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB)
  • You cannot use the RTB dispute resolution service if a disagreement arises between you and your landlord
  • You are not protected by anti-discrimination laws

The only recourse a tenant may have is to take a case to the Small Claims Court if the landlord is withholding their deposit.

Case studies 

The above case of the woman is just one laid out in a recent small-scale study carried out by researchers from University College Cork in conjunction with the housing charity Threshold.

The study interviewed nine people who had applied to live in or were living in licensee situations in Dublin and Cork.

The interviewees expressed a number of issues with the rental situation – some mild and common, but others more severe.

In general, there was a high level of informality in these agreements, which are usually oral and vague. In several cases the landlords asked for the rent in cash.

In one case, a tenant had to comply with several pages of rental rules despite their being no formal rental agreement.

In another, the tenant was informed after living in the home for a considerable period that the landlord did not want them there during the day – effectively making them stay out during the daytime.

At the more severe end of the scale, one person described living in extreme and in their view seriously unsafe levels of uncleanliness in a house.

Stray, unvaccinated animals roamed through the house and defecated outside of the person’s room. In another case, a tenant was told by text message to clean what they considered to be a relatively clean shower not once but twice, which they did with a toothbrush.

Threshold 

Housing charity Threshold – which advocates on behalf of private rental tenants -  called for greater government protection for licensees following on from the study.

“We call on the Government to urgently introduce protections for these renters and indeed legislation to protect vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse,” said chairperson Aideen Hayden.

According to Threshold, the number of people in licensee situations is on the rise as it becomes harder to find a place to rent.

Recently, the government has been pushing more people to rent out rooms in their homes by offering increased tax incentives to do so.

A joint push by the Trinity College Dublin and UCD’s student unions this summer also aimed to get people to rent out rooms in their homes as “digs” in order to help students source accommodation for the term.

A homeowner with a spare bedroom is able to earn up to €14,000 in non-taxable income by letting out empty rooms in their house.

Threshold legal officer Gavin Elliott told TheJournal.ie that with this increased focus on rent a room schemes and the push by government, proper laws and protections for licensees needed to be introduced.

“We would call for increased regulation to bring licensees under the remit of the RTB and then give them the same rights as tenants would have,” said Elliott.

[The government] has an obligation if they are expecting more and more people to enter that situation to increase the protections available to them.


In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson from the Housing Department said that in cases where a landlord also resides in  a rented property are not covered by protections in the Residential Tenanceis Act

“A licence, in this context, is a private contractual matter between the parties concerned. In circumstances where it is unclear as to whether a particular rental agreement is a tenancy or a licence, the RTB can adjudicate on the question and has done so in the past.

There are no plans to amend the Act in this regard but the Department will keep the matter under review.

Read: ‘I don’t see why not’: Jail time could be the penalty for substandard accommodation

Read: 16 people in a single bedroom, 64 people renting a house: Documentary shows state of Ireland’s rental ‘nightmares’

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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