Renting and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on April 07, 2020: by Annmarie O'Reilly

The calls from renters affected by COVID-19 started coming in thick and fast from the second week of March. Some businesses had already closed down, putting people at risk of rent arrears and losing their home. Next, the colleges closed, students were told to leave their accommodation and others, understandably, chose to go home to be with family.

One of the most vulnerable groups we heard from first were licensees: those renting a room in their landlords’ own home. Many were told to leave as their landlords wanted to limit their social contacts. As you can imagine there is a lot of fear and uncertainty on both sides.

This was a different world to the one we are living in now. Up to that point, we had all been told to wash our hands more, not touch our faces and not to shake hands. Most of us were still going into work every day, sitting on packed buses, meeting friends. Sounds like a different universe. How quickly this all changed. Now we can only be in close contact with members of our own households.

Since those first few calls, hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs, mostly in the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) responded quickly with a great degree of agility to get the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment up and running. But tenants still did not know how they would pay their rent.

People are worried they will lose their homes. This fear is particularly real for those living in the private rented sector: the sector from which most people become homeless, with the weakest security of tenure; the sector that has crippled people with never-ending rent increases.

People want to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Having a secure home gives us the best chance of doing this.

Threshold and other housing bodies issued an immediate call for a moratorium on evictions and rent increases and eventually these were legislated for on the 27th March and will be in place for at least 3 months. As well as retaining the full protections that applied prior to the crisis, tenants are protected from eviction and rent increases during this three-month period, and possibly longer.

We are all being asked to take a hit or make sacrifices in some way to help limit the spread Coronavirus. Frontline workers are still working, fearing they may put their health or that of their loved ones at risk. Businesses have closed up shop and their workers sent home, with no certainty for their future.

Landlords too have a part to play in ensuring the public can take these actions to keep everyone safe and flatten the curve.

Landlords, who can afford to do so, are being asked to reduce rent payments or give tenants ‘rent holidays.’ And, importantly, to be patient. There is a lot for people to get to grips with: losing a job, applying for social welfare and rent supplement, children now at home from school, isolated from family and friends, to name a few.

This is not business as usual. If rent is due and your tenant has lost their job and is waiting on a social welfare payment, have patience. The DEASP has responded with speed and efficiency in processing applications for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. Applications for rent supplement may take a little longer. The rent will be paid. Landlords know if their tenants are reliable; most are reliable. We see this in the calls we are receiving. The majority of tenants contacting us want to know how they can make sure their rent is paid. This is their number one priority.

No one wants to risk losing the roof over their head, especially during a pandemic. 

Help and support is there. Threshold’s advisors are experts: they can direct a person to the right social welfare payment to apply for, guide them on how to apply for rent supplement, give advice on how to engage with their landlord, or engage with the landlord on their behalf and importantly, give reassurance.

We all need someone we can ring, who will answer the phone and give us the help we need.

I hope that when we do come out the other side of this, we will as a society change our thinking about housing. It is an essential human need: it gives us safety, security, protection. If there was ever a time to start taking a rights-based approach to housing it is now.

Threshold’s helpline is open from 9am to 9pm, Monday to Friday and can be reached at 1800 454 454. Alternatively you can contact us by email here.