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Now is not the time to restrict supports for renters

Posted on March 28, 2021: by Aideen Hayden

Aideen Hayden
Chairperson, Threshold

The moratorium on evictions was first introduced in March 2020 as an emergency public health measure to restrict movement during the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure that renters could remain in their homes. Since then, the effectiveness of restricting the grounds for terminations has been obvious, with reductions of 44% in family homelessness and 40% in child homelessness between February 2020 and February 2021.

Residential Tenancies Bill

A new Residential Tenancies Bill is moving through the Oireachtas this week which, if passed without amendment, will remove many renters with arrears from the protection of the moratorium. Additionally, as of October 2020, the moratorium is tied to the 5-kilometre travel restriction: as soon as the 5-kilometre restriction is lifted – which, according to recent reports, is due to happen imminently – the moratorium will end.

Threshold has almost 1,000 termination cases carried over from 2020. In many of these, the tenants will face eviction once the moratorium ends. We know from the Residential Tenancies Board’s Q4 2020 Rent Index, published this week, that rents continued to grow nationwide in 2020, despite the extraordinary emergency interventions that applied for most of the year. With the relentless increase in rents continuing and rental housing supply remaining low, the prospects for evicted tenants of finding suitable, safe, affordable housing are poor.

 

The Government is creating a real risk of these families and individuals losing their homes, possibly entering homelessness or emergency accommodation.

Real solutions

We know that there has been no large-scale withholding of rent by renters and, while there is a minority of renters who accrue arrears, the majority prioritise paying rent above everything else. Just because there is currently an evictions moratorium for those in rent arrears, doesn’t mean their debt is forgiven: someone who owes as little as €100 on a monthly rent payment could face eviction under this new Bill.

We also know, from our experience in advising private renters, that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on them. While many people have saved money while staying at home, a study from St Vincent de Paul this week revealed that a quarter of people have been forced to cut back on essentials such as food and heating.

It would be far more appropriate to devise real solutions for renters in arrears – interest-free loans through a partner, such as Credit Unions, is one of many examples – in order to sustain these tenancies and make sure these families and individuals don’t carry unmanageable debt forward into the future. If this was done, the landlord would have some chance of recouping the unpaid rent and the tenant could remain in their home. Some tenants will need debt forgiveness and should be granted this: after all, people who rent are just as important as other people and businesses who have been receiving help since the pandemic began. Families and individuals need security and real solutions.

Removing the protection of the moratorium from a cohort of renters with arrears contradicts its original aim. The Government is creating a real risk of these families and individuals losing their homes, possibly entering homelessness or emergency accommodation, contracting and transmitting Covid-19 – at a time when we are told not to leave our homes and we cannot even visit loved ones in hospitals. And for what purpose? The Covid-19 crisis is far from over and this measure will put many vulnerable families at even greater risk. Why remove these protections now, when we are being asked to keep faith in the restrictions we are dealing with every day?

Now is not the time to restrict supports for renters. Instead of diluting the moratorium on evictions, Threshold recommends it be extended for a minimum of six months, without being dependant on the 5-kilometre travel restriction, and that it be kept under review until we are living post-Covid-19. With the number of cases remaining high, the presence of highly transmissible variants, and the gradual reopening of some parts of society – namely schools and, potentially, construction – about to take place, allowing evictions to take place could be disastrous.