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'Private renters need three months' notice and should know what previous tenants paid'

The maximum fine that landlords face for breaking the rules on notice periods should rise from €4,000 to €15,000, writes Róisín Shortall.

I DON’T BELIEVE that there is a person left in the country who would argue that we aren’t in the middle of a terrible housing crisis. Every day, my office deals with individuals and families who are being made homeless, at risk of losing their home, or who are in emergency accommodation.

Almost all of these people are private renters whose landlords have ended their lease, often with very short notice. As it stands, nothing about this is illegal and some landlords are taking advantage of loopholes in current laws to evict tenants so they can increase the rental price of their properties.

What else can explain the 11% rental rise in rents in Cork in the past year. Or the 10% rise in Dublin, when the maximum year on year increase is supposed to be capped at 4%?

Calls to my office from people who are desperately searching for accommodation are increasing also. Often these people have a 28 day notice to leave hanging over them and are struggling to find anything that they can afford or is suitable for themselves and their family. Situations like this are the most common way that people end up homeless. That your home could be taken away at short notice and having no right of appeal is the reality for many up and down the country. This instability is cruel and can be especially damaging for children.

Some 895,600 people in Ireland live in rental accommodation. That is almost 20% of the population. In the past, rental in Ireland was seen as something temporary and short term. Most of the rental market was made up of students and people who were saving for a home of their own. The laws that protect the rights of tenants have not caught up with the fact that, for a lot of people through choice or necessity, renting is their housing reality. Often for the long term.

As it stands, when a person or family has been renting a home for less than six months, a landlord legally only has to give 28 days’ notice to end their tenancy. For tenancies of more than six months but less than a year, it is 35 days, and for more than a year but less than two years, it is 42 days.

Imagine, less than a month to arrange to move from your home and to find new accommodation. Anyone who has had any experience of the Irish rental market will know this prospect would make them panic given that the supply of accommodation around the country, and in Dublin in particular is dribbling to a halt.

Desperate people are vulnerable to being exploited by landlords. The Social Democrats don’t believe that the law as it stands is fair and we want to change it. That’s why we published a Bill to help strengthen tenants’ rights and ensure that proper notice is given to tenants if they have to leave their homes.

The Bill has three main parts that will improve the situation for tenants:

1. Increase minimum notice landlords need to give before they end a lease

Many other countries, where renting is common, have a minimum notice period of around three months. In France, it’s 3-6 months. In the Netherlands, it’s 3-6 months. In Germany and Sweden it’s three months.

The Social Democrats are proposing that all tenancies of under one year duration would need a 90 day notice period before a tenancy would end.  This is about three times the current minimum notice period of 28 days. Tenancies of between one year and five years would require 120 days’ notice under the Bill.

This change would give people enough time to make arrangements to move out and a chance to find another property to rent without being at risk of having nowhere to go. It also reflects the reality that many are now renting for the long term.

2. Curbing unfair and illegal rent hikes in designated Rent Pressure Zones

At the moment, landlords in the country’s 21 Rent Pressure Zones may not increase rents by more than 4% a year.

The problem is there is no way that a new tenant can see if the 4% cap is being applied correctly by the landlord. This is because tenants do not have a legal right to find out how much rent the previous tenants were paying.

The Social Democrats want new tenants to be able to know the details of the amount of rent the previous tenants paid. This would ensure that the landlord isn’t increasing the rent beyond the 4% that is allowed in one year.

3. Increasing fines for breaches in minimum notice periods

Finally, the Social Democrats want to raise the maximum fine that landlords would face for breaking the rules on notice periods from €4,000 to €15,000. As profits from rents increase so too should the penalties for breaking the rules.

These are simple changes that we believe could have a big positive impact on people who live in rented accommodation. Our housing market at the moment is very dysfunctional and is unfair that families and individuals can be used as pawns in this and made homeless so landlords can increase their profits.

We are asking for cross party support on this bill in the Dáil today and we hope that all TDs can see the value in protecting the tenants who vote for them.

Róisín Shortall TD is the joint leader of the Social Democrats.

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Róisín Shortall
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