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'Robust' supports for renters due to be announced, but access to HAP likely to be ruled out

Government has said landlords will have to show flexibility to their tenants.

Support measures for renters during the Covid-19 crisis are due to be annouced shortly.
Support measures for renters during the Covid-19 crisis are due to be annouced shortly.
Image: Leah Farrell

ROBUST MEASURES ARE due to be announced by government to support renters during the coronavirus crisis.

Supports for renters will not come in the form of access to HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) scheme, it is understood, but from another form of rent assistance through the Department of Social Protection.

The Irish Property Owners Association yesterday called for tenants who lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus crisis to be given access to the existing HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) scheme.

Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe reacted strongly to that call yesterday evening, stating:

“Let me make clear to them; the first people who should be providing flexibility to their tenants is landlords.”

There are government concerns that giving people access to HAP would automatically place thousands of people on to the housing list, possibly tripling the list overnight. 

It is understood that adding people to the housing list who only have temporary difficulties paying their rent is the last thing the government wants to do at this time.

Instead, alternative supports are being worked on which are due to be announced shortly.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has been carrying out a series of engagements with different tenant and landlord associations over the past few days. 

Questions were raised yesterday about ensuring landlords show flexibility to tenants that find themselves in difficulty.

Following a meeting with the five major banks, Donohoe announced yesterday that customers affected by the Covid-19 outbreak will get a three-month mortgage break. 

He said the package will include support for buy-to-let bank customers with tenants affected by Covid-19, to allow them to show forbearance to their tenants. 

He said he expected landlords who were availing of this flexibility to play their part. 

“They cannot and should not evict tenants during this period. And that is my clear message to them.”

However, the minister admitted that legally there is nothing the government can do to ensure that this does not happen. 

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings yesterday, Donohoe said he would be speaking to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy about enforcement measures, adding that from all of the discussions in relation to a rent freeze and rent pressure zones the government believes there are “legal constraints in place in relation to the ability of any government to intervene in the contract between landlords and tenants”.

“But what I will be doing is through our banks and the Department of Housing, I will look at any data source that is available to us, to ensure and monitor is there any evidence at all for any landlord using this flexibility and during that period of flexibility, going ahead with eviction. That is not acceptable.

“We are putting in place really significant measures through our banking system to help those who have loans and mortgages at a time of great risk. For any landlord to use that to treat their tenants in a way that is not fair to them. I believe will not be accepted by the broader society, and will raise great concerns. We don’t at the moment have the legal ability to enforce that, but I will work on that issue with Minister Murphy and see, are there any steps that we can take,” he said.

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