Tenants must be given power to defend their rights in the private rental sector
1 July 2020
Research report shows imbalance in landlord-tenant relationship
Threshold recommends Residential Tenancies Act be revised; ‘no-fault’ evictions be banned
The national housing charity Threshold is today calling for urgent legal reform as it launches a research report showing a significant power imbalance in the landlord-tenant relationship in Ireland.
The report, Security and Agency in the Irish private rental sector, examines the challenges of affordability and security of tenure in Ireland’s private rental sector. The research was conducted by Dr Michael Byrne, lecturer at UCD’s School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice and Director of its Equality Studies MSc, and Dr Rachel McArdle of Maynooth University’s Department of Geography.
Threshold’s Chairperson, Dr Aideen Hayden and its Policy Officer, Ann-Marie O’Reilly will be joined at the launch by Dr Byrne and international housing expert Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita, a Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow and the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence. The speakers will discuss the difficulties facing private tenants who want to advocate for themselves and will gauge the efficacy of policy, the robustness of regulation and the extent to which a culture of compliance could be created in Ireland’s private rental sector.
Speaking ahead of the launch Dr Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold said: “The research presented today underlines Threshold’s long-held stance that the Residential Tenancies Act needs to be revised – in its current form it is just too complex and is inaccessible to both tenants and landlords. The Act should be restructured to reflect the power imbalance in the landlord-tenant relationship, which emerges clearly from the research. A major step towards achieving this would be to ban ‘no-fault’ evictions, which would increase security of tenure.
“The private rental sector in Ireland is now home to over one in five households. Renting has become the only option for many: ‘generation rent’ has become a byword for a whole swathe of society who see themselves as trapped in a place they don’t want to be.
“Numerous studies, including those by Threshold, tell us that our clients don’t want to be in the private rental sector but that they do not see themselves as having a choice in the matter. When asked, they voice a preference for homeownership or social housing because they want security and permanence. Many of those who leave homelessness and are housed in the private rental sector find themselves experiencing the same uncertainties and threats that led them into homelessness in the first place because, as we know, the loss of a home in the private rental sector is the leading cause of homelessness.
“Conditions in the sector have improved significantly in terms of legal protections such as security of tenure, rent regulation and minimum standards. However, too many properties are still in poor condition, tenancies can be terminated for many reasons through no fault of the tenant and rents are well in excess of what a mortgage would cost in most parts of the country. Laws are only as good as the capacity of the regulatory system to enforce them. This is an important issue and one which this report addresses in a very timely manner.”
Dr Michael Byrne of UCD’s School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice who was one of those who jointly conducted the research said: “In recent years we have seen a plethora of new legislation for the rental sector, including some enhancements of security of tenure and RPZ rent regulations. However, the effectiveness of these policies have been limited. This research shows that the lack of security faced by tenants helps to explain this. Under the current regulations, it is up to tenants to identify and address breaches of their rights and of legislation, for example via the RTB.
“Our report shows, however, that tenants may fear challenging their landlord and losing their tenancy. The legislative and market context of the private rental sector make tenants vulnerable, and that undermines the effectiveness of policy.
“No tenant should be afraid to challenge an invalid rent increase or violation of minimum standards. No tenant should have to choose between advocating for themselves and remaining in their home. Yet our research shows that such experiences are part of life in the rental sector for some tenants.
“Our research suggests that if we strengthen security of tenure we will not only enhance tenants’ experience of housing, we will also empower tenants which will in turn make policy more effective and foster a culture of compliance in the sector”.
Ann-Marie O’Reilly, Policy Officer at Threshold commented: “The capacity of the individual tenant, their agency, to protect themselves is something that has not been addressed in any meaningful way in Ireland. Threshold works on the front line of advocacy on the issue of tenants’ rights and we are only too well aware of situations in which a tenant will leave their home, even where a notice of termination is not legal, because they can no longer bear the stress and uncertainty of their position.
“What the law does not address is the need to level the playing field in the landlord and tenant relationship. Our legal and regulatory protections in Ireland do not address the concept of ‘home’ and the basic need for security which, as this report rightly points out, is majorly lacking in Ireland’s private rental sector. As a society, we do not regard the ‘homes’ of renters as equal to other ‘homes’. The restrictions introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have only served to highlight the limitations of existing legislation to support security of tenure and that power imbalance that defines the landlord-tenant relationship.
“This report exposes very clearly the fear of retaliation that is felt by tenants were they to seek to enforce their rights: the right to a home with proper standards, to security, to quiet enjoyment, the right not to be exploited, among many others. The report concludes that we need greater protections for tenants over and above those that currently exist: protections which recognise the unequal power relationship between landlord and tenant, in a similar fashion to the legislation protecting employees. This report is an important first step to moving this very important issue forward.”
Dr Hayden continued: “As well as supporting Threshold’s call for the Residential Tenancies Act to be revised and for ‘no-fault’ evictions to be banned, the research highlights the urgent need for an investigation into the penalisation of tenants by landlords: to establish how widespread this practise is, its impact on tenants and how it is dealt with by the RTB’s dispute resolution process.
“On behalf of Threshold, I would like to thank the authors Dr Michael Byrne and Dr Rachel McArdle as well as the Irish Research Council for the funding received to support this project,” Dr Hayden concluded.
Threshold’s helpline is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm at 1800 454 454, and via its website at threshold.ie/advice/help for any renter in need of advice or support.
View a recording of the video here
Notes to Editors
About the research
Security and Agency in the Irish Private Rental Sector (June 2020) is a research report funded by the Irish Research Council’s New Foundations programme. The report is co-authored by Dr Michael Byrne, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin and Dr Rachel McArdle, Department of Geography, Maynooth University.
Threshold was founded in 1978 and is a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to secure a right to housing, particularly for households experiencing the problems of poverty and exclusion. Its main concentration of work is within the rented sector. The organisation operates a national office, based in Dublin, and three regional offices. Further information is available at www.threshold.ie.
Threshold wishes to acknowledge the funding support of statutory agencies including Pobal, the Dublin Regional Housing Executive (DRHE) and the Government of Ireland.
Threshold provides free, independent and confidential advice and support to tenants in the private rented sector. Its Freephone helpline number, 1800 454 454 operates Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm.