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Threshold warns of surge in rent arrears and evictions

29 July 2020

“Dangerous” to rely on the assumption that rents will fall

National housing charity Threshold has today warned that a rent arrears crisis is imminent when the emergency moratoriums on evictions and rent increases expire in just three days’ time (1 August). The warning comes as the charity today hosts a virtual seminar, Saving Homes in a Covid era.

Threshold is being joined today at the event by political representatives, housing practitioners, policy-makers and other key opinion-formers, to discuss the recent proposed changes in government legislation and what these will mean for private renters once the moratoriums expire; and whether the commitments within the Programme for Government on the rental sector are realistic for the times we now live in.

Speaking ahead of the event, Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the precariousness of the private rented sector in its current form, as well as the risks involved in our over-reliance on the sector to meet long-term housing need, and the shortcomings of our housing system overall.

“We are concerned about long-term implications of the Covid-19 crisis for the entire housing system – and the rented sector in particular – which have not been adequately addressed by the new legislation. The challenges for, and the needs of, tenants will become even greater in the face of a predicted recession and rising unemployment. The potential for long-term indebtedness amongst tenants is a real risk and may result in significant levels of eviction once the emergency moratoriums cease.

“At Threshold, the number of rent arrears cases that came to our attention in the first six months of 2020 was double the number from the same period in 2019: this is a direct result of income loss due to Covid-19 restrictions. That is notwithstanding the fact that renters will generally prioritise their rent payments over utility bills or even groceries to avoid accruing arrears.

“It is incomprehensible that the government’s July Covid-19 Stimulus Package contains measures to proactively encourage ‘holidays at home,’ while failing to provide adequate supports for those faced with the prospect of losing their home. A significant cohort of renters will have a legacy of debt stemming from the crisis, which must be acknowledged and dealt with. We need a suite of measures for tenants to resolve rent arrears, including formalised repayment plans, access to additional or enhanced financial supports, long-term, low-interest, State-supported loans and debt forgiveness. The notice period for rent arrears and the grounds on which a tenant can be evicted for arrears urgently need to be updated.”

Commenting on the new housing legislation introduced this week, Gavin Elliot, Legal Officer, Threshold said: “The new legislation – which is hurriedly making its way through the Oireachtas – will remove most of the eviction protections that were introduced to deal with the crisis, and replace them with limited protections for a smaller group of people. It offers no real solution for tenants in arrears and the actions required from tenants are cumbersome, bureaucratic and will cause difficulty for tenants, especially those who have language barriers and other difficulties. While the legislation may provide breathing space for some renters, it is far short of what was promised.”

Hayden concluded: “There is no guarantee that rents will fall and it would be dangerous to rely on the assumption that they will. State intervention is now required, as part of an overall housing plan, to push rents downward and keep people in their homes. A failure to protect tenants from eviction, provide the right financial supports, strengthen the tenure of private renting and increase the availability of housing – in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and into the long-term – will lead to a housing and homelessness crisis worse than anything we have seen to date.”