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Students in sleepout protest over rogue landlords

The USI is highlighting calls for a deposit protection scheme – Housing junior minister Willie Penrose says he is awaiting feedback from the PRTB on the issue.

Willie Penrose is the junior minister in charge of housing - in April he said the issue of a deposit protection scheme was being discussed
Willie Penrose is the junior minister in charge of housing - in April he said the issue of a deposit protection scheme was being discussed
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Updated 11.27am

THIRD-LEVEL STUDENTS are planning to camp out in front of Department of the Environment offices in Dublin today to highlight their calls for a Deposit Protection Scheme.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) issued a warning about “rogue” landlords earlier this month as students began the seasonal search for accommodation near third-level education institutes. The USI claimed that its research found that 40 per cent of students had complained of having their deposit unfairly withheld and that over 60 per cent had €200 or more “unfairly” taken off their deposit.

It said that 75 per cent of complaints made to the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) were in relation to landlords not returning deposits.

Now the USI says its supporters will hold a sleepout protest outside the Department of Environment at the Customs House from 5pm today. Gary Redmond, USI president, said that a scheme to protect renters’ deposits would involve an agency such as the PRTB holding onto deposits and returning them when appropriate. He said:

Across the country many landlords and students have excellent relationships where students rent from the same landlord year after year. Unfortunately, some landlords see young students as an easy target for exploitation.

Willie Penrose, super junior minister in charge of housing at the Department of the Environment, told the Dail in April that “the incorrect retention of deposits by landlords” was an issue that “merited specific attention” in a report carried out by the last government on whether the Residential Tenancies Act of 2004 allowed the PRTB to carry out its functions efficiently.

He said at the time:

I am at present evaluating the review process recommendations and associated legislative proposals and I intend to come to an early decision as to how best to proceed in this regard.

Current Justice Minister Alan Shatter had also called on the previous government, in June of last year, to introduce a deposit protection scheme “for tenants in private rented dwellings”, at the time that the housing agency Threshold was making such a suggestion.

So far, no decision has yet been made by the Department of the Environment on the introduction of such a scheme. A spokesperson from the department told TheJournal.ie this morning that Willie Penrose had asked the PRTB to make a report on how legislation may need to be tweaked in the whole area of private rental accommodation.

The spokesperson said that the issue of a deposit protection scheme was one of the issues under the spotlight but he couldn’t give a timeframe for when the PRTB report would be ready. He said that one of the ideas being mooted for dealing with the specific issue of deposit retention was that there would be “stronger fines for landlords who hold onto deposits”. He said:

The level of fines would be multiples of the deposit held so this would be a heavy penalty in some cases.

Gary Redmond, head of the USI, said that the government was putting the issue “on the long finger”, as had the previous government. He said that heavier fines for offending landlords would not work because it would still take a long time for students to recover their deposits. He told TheJournal.ie:

Stronger fines are not really a solution. If a landlord goes to ground and disappears, you can have all the fines in the world and the student still won’t get their money back. There is a 12-month waiting list at the PRTB and even if a landlord is instructed to hand back the money, they are give a certain amount of time to do so. If they don’t, then there is further time in bringing the case to court. If the money was held by the PRTB in the first place, this wouldn’t be an issue.

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