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Threshold welcomes Minister’s moves to extend renter protections, but warns against watering-down of blanket moratorium

24 March 2021

worried couple managing finances Dealing with arrears

Under proposed new legislation, many renters in arrears will not be protected under evictions moratorium

 

National housing charity Threshold has today expressed alarm at a proposed new Bill which would move to exclude renters in arrears from the protection of the blanket moratorium on evictions.

Threshold understands that the Bill will extend protections for renters who have lost income on foot of Covid-19 restrictions and who have declared this to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), but will remove protections for all other renters with rent arrears.

There are currently two pieces of Covid-19-specific legislation in place to protect renters:

  1. The general moratorium on evictions, in most circumstances, which is tied to the 5-kilometre travel restriction.
  2. The second relates to renters who have Covid-19-related loss of income. Such people are protected from eviction if they are less than five months in arrears and they declare themselves to be ‘relevant persons’ to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) and comply with a complex procedure – which involves engagement with the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and their landlord – and provided that their landlord does not apply to the RTB, indicating that the restriction on eviction would cause undue hardship to them.

Currently, the protection for renters who have Covid-19-specific loss of income will expire on April 12th. With this new Bill, the government intends to extend this protection by three months. Threshold welcomes the Minister’s decision to do so as these protections are needed; Threshold is concerned, however, about the proposed changes to the blanket moratorium, as the Bill will also remove the protections of the blanket moratorium from many renters who are in rent arrears.

Chairperson of Threshold, Aideen Hayden said: “The moratorium on evictions was introduced as a public health measure aimed at restricting movement during the pandemic. Removing the protection from renters with arrears runs contrary to this aim. In doing so the Government is creating a risk of these families and individuals losing their homes, possibly entering homelessness or emergency accommodation, contracting and passing on Covid-19 – at a time when we are told not to leave our homes and when we cannot even visit loved ones in hospitals – 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 not to lose faith in the restrictions we are dealing with every day? This is a very mixed message from government.

“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 of renters prioritise rent above everything else. A tenant who owes as little as €100 on a monthly rent payment could face eviction during Level 5 restrictions. Just because there is a moratorium on evictions for those in rent arrears, doesn’t mean their debt is forgiven. Surely it would be more appropriate to devise real solutions for those in rent arrears, such as interest-free loans through a partner such as the Credit Unions, for example, in order to sustain these tenancies and make sure these families don’t carry unmanageable debt forward into the future. If this was done, then the landlord would have some chance of recouping the unpaid rent and the tenant could remain in their home. Families and individuals need security and real solutions at this time.”

CEO of Threshold, John-Mark McCafferty said: “This is not a time for restricting supports. 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 – it is our view that allowing evictions to take place could be disastrous.

“In addition, Threshold has almost 1,000 termination cases carried over from 2020. In many of these cases, the tenants will face eviction once the moratorium ends; with rental housing supply remaining low and with rents at high levels and growing throughout the country, the prospects for evicted tenants of finding suitable, safe housing are poor.”

The reality of the situation being faced by many renters in Ireland today is illustrated in the following case studies (please note that these case studies have been created by Threshold based on its experience in advising clients in the private rented sector. While they are not real-life cases, they illustrate the challenges faced by renters in Ireland today and are derived from client cases seen by Threshold in recent weeks). Marion and Joe* struggle to meet the monthly rent of €2,000 on their home. They have been short on their rent payment on occasion but have always made it up once they can. It is always stressful. They have been watching out for a more affordable place to rent but, as yet, nothing has come up. They have about €250 in rent arrears at present but are paying it off. The moratorium on evictions during this pandemic has acted as a safety net for them and their three children. If this Bill is passed then Marion, Joe and their children could be evicted. How will they find another home to rent? Will they become homeless? Will they have to move into the spare room of Marion’s mother’s house, on top of each other? How will they protect themselves and the health of their children?

Frank* lost his job when the restaurant he worked at was forced to close down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He has since been struggling to pay his rent but pays what he can. He was not aware of the protections available for renters like him, who have lost their jobs. He didn’t register with the RTB in time and could potentially face eviction if this Bill passes.

Threshold’s helpline remains available Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm at 1800 454 454, and via its website at https://www.threshold.ie/advice/help for any renter in need of advice or support.

*Please note that these case studies have been created by Threshold based on its experience in advising clients in the private rented sector. While they are not real-life cases, they illustrate the challenges faced by renters in Ireland today and are derived from client cases seen by Threshold in recent weeks.