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Degree to which landlords can be sanctioned last sticking point to new renter protection law

The law plans to make it an offence for landlords with properties in RPZs to raise the rent above the legally allowed 4%.

Image: Shutterstock/abd

THE DEGREE TO which landlords can be reprimanded under proposed new rules is still being discussed at government level.

In April, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy announced proposed new measures that would form part of the new Residential Tenancies Bill. 

Among these is a planned law making it an offence for landlords with properties in RPZs to raise the rent above the legally allowed 4%.

At the time, the minister said a new sanctions regime would make it a criminal offence to breach the rules. He suggested that a number of measures would be rolled out and implemented by the RTB (Residential Tenancies Board), including fines.

Murphy said that the fine being considered would be in the region of €15,000.

However, according to a source close to the housing minister the detail to be agreed before the new Bill is brought to Cabinet either this week or next is around the level of powers the RTB will have in terms of sanctioning landlords. 

This is said to be a key component in the legislation in terms of the RTB telling landlords, ‘no, you can’t do that’, said the senior source. 

Once this detail is ironed out among officials, the legislation will be approved by Cabinet shortly. 

Rise in rents 

A new report published this week outlined that rents in every county in Ireland rose by 11.3% in the year to September. The latest Daft.ie quarterly report found that the average monthly rent nationwide is €1,334, which is €304 higher per month than at the Celtic Tiger peak. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie yesterday, the minister said rent pressure zones are working “but not as well as we would have hoped,” he admitted.

He said the new Residential Tenancy Bill is going to bring in stronger protections for renters. The RTB has seen an increase in its resources by 67%, he said, stating that this means the organisation can “staff up so they can inspect properties” and make sure landlords are compliant with the rent caps.

Investigations by RTB

Other measures in the bill include strengthening the power of the RTB to go out and proactively investigate private rental dwellings and landlords when they feel there may be an issue.

Currently a complaint needs to be made by an existing tenant before it can investigate.

The Bill will also allow for a public register of rents in a certain area, so that tenants will know what they should be paying.

It will also contain measures to increase the notice periods for tenants facing eviction, to give them a longer time in the property before they have to leave.

When asked about concerns raised about the recatagorisation of some homeless statistics, the minister hit out at members of the opposition. 

Trinity College Professor Eoin O’Sullivan recently told the committee that the recategorisation of homeless figures has “undermined confidence in the data” as it is unclear what the criteria is for removing certain households from the department’s monthly reports. 

Professor Eoin O’Sullivan said some confusion has arisen on measuring the number of people experiencing homelessness, because different State bodies use different definitions and units of analysis. 

Murphy explained that every month his department produces a report about the numbers of people staying in emergency accommodation. For some administrative reasons, he said people in the past had been designated as living in emergency accommodation, when they were not.

The minister said these people were in homes.

“We are not going to count people as being in emergency accommodation just because a line of funding helped them into a home because for administrative reasons they got a preventative measure which meant they never even left their own home,” he said, adding that the numbers in emergency accommodation is still “unacceptably high”.

“I have concerns that the people who understand what is happening, time after time question these numbers when they know exactly what is happening,” said the minister, adding that in his view there is a difference between a mother and her family trying to find a place to stay that night, who might end up in a hotel to someone who is in their own home, with their own front door and their own keys.

It is wrong of opposition spokespeople to argue that those people are in the same situation, when they are not, said Murphy. Sinn Féin’s Eoin O’Broin has been highly critical of the data, stating that many people are not in long-term tenancies.

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