Far away fields are no greener

Posted on June 30, 2019: by Karina Timothy

Karina Timothy
Karina Timothy, Western Regional Services Manager

You’d be forgiven sometimes for thinking the housing crisis exists only within the confines of the M50. Yet the issue is alive and kicking here in the West. I’ve been working in Threshold for 12 years. In that time, we have moved from a dark, pokey office to a bright, modern, clean office just off Eyre Square. The office is a pleasant place for our clients and staff alike. Every bus in Galway stops just outside our door which helps our footfall. Our client base has expanded, and the issues that our clients present with have changed, meaning that the nature of our work has changed.

A huge portion of our time involves keeping tenants in their homes. The reality is that there are very few houses or apartments to rent in the Western Region - and even fewer affordable ones. At the time of writing, there were eight long term 3-bed houses available to rent in Galway City; the cheapest of these being €1,500 per month. In the first five months of 2019, Threshold’s Western Region dealt with 376 Notices of Termination. That’s 376 households who face possible homelessness.

We’ve represented these clients at RTB hearings and they were awarded damages. But they still lost their home

Galway City is a Rent Pressure Zone (RPZ) so tenants in the city should have some rent certainty. But not all landlords are adhering to the legislation. There are certain unintended consequences of the RPZ restrictions on rent increases. We’ve had numerous cases where a client is served with what purports to be a valid notice. They move out, only later to see their former home advertised on for a higher rent. We recently had a case where the landlord served notice as he wanted the house for family use. The tenants left, only to see their home advertised on AirBnB. We’ve represented these clients at RTB hearings and they were awarded damages. But they still lost their home. And damages don’t guarantee access to an affordable, quality home. Simultaneously, the state foots a very hefty bill for emergency accommodation where people fail to secure housing prior to the termination of their tenancy.

But the law doesn’t go far enough.

We see the devastating effects that the threat of losing your home can have on someone. As a result, we try our very best to prevent that. We welcome the recent amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act which improve the security of tenure for tenants. We’re hoping the amendments will prevent unscrupulous landlords from serving Notices of Termination for bogus reasons. But the law doesn’t go far enough. As it stands, a landlord can terminate a tenancy after a period of four or six years (depending on when the tenancy started) without having to give a reason. We had a case in the Western Region where a woman and her daughter had come from homeless services. After months of searching for accommodation, she found a place and was in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) which meant that her accommodation was more affordable. Her daughter went to school around the corner. After four years, the landlord decided to serve her a notice of termination; a move which was within the law. The mother was very stressed at the prospect of entering homeless services again.  Fortunately, we managed to negotiate a longer notice period for her and her daughter which enabled her to find another place.  This is the difference we can make to people’s and families’ lives, whether inside the M50, Galway City or on a bohereen somewhere off the N17.