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The Residential Tenancies Board’s role in an evolving rental sector

With home ownership becoming less attainable, the renting population is on the rise, and therefore so are renting-related disputes. As the regulatory body, the RTB are working to implement new policy.

 

As the Irish rental sector matures into a long-term choice rather than a stop gap solution for tenants, there is an increased focus on the role of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), the regulator of the sector.

The statistics in the RTB’s annual report, published last week, reflects this more prevalent role, with increases in the number of tenancies registered, calls and emails answered, and cases heard. At the end of 2016, there were 325,372 registered tenancies, 6,000 more than in 2015; a record 130,000 calls dealt with in the RTB’s call centre, an increase of 10 per cent from 2015. In addition, there were over 51,000 email queries, up 5.5 per cent on 2015.

The RTB is rising to the challenge of managing Ireland’s fastest growing tenure choice, reflected in a huge decrease in dispute processing times from 18 months in 2004 to 3 months in 2016. Last year, the RTB received 4,837 new applications for dispute resolution. While this was a 20 per cent increase on 2015, it was in line with the increase in overall tenancies in the sector.  The most common dispute types remained rent arrears and over holding by tenants, and  invalid notice of termination and deposit retention by landlords.

These figures reflect a growing and changing rental sector which is now comparable to many other European countries in terms of its size and  the regulatory protections it is afforded.  As many tenants forgo home ownership either for financial reasons, or in favour of the flexibility of renting, the RTB sees it’s role in facilitating the adjustment and transition to a rental sector that is no longer geared towards renting as a temporary solution prior to home ownership, but a rental sector that can support short and long-term renting.

The Government’s 2016 Rental Strategy outlines a policy framework which aims to provide a regulatory foundation for a more stable, longer tem rental sector.  With substantial policy and legislative changes introduced in 2016, most notably Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs) – areas in which rents cannot go up more than 4 per cent annually – the RTB is actively encouraging existing and new tenants faced with increases over 4 per cent in RPZ areas to refer disputes to the RTB. The RTB website has information on RPZs and a user-friendly Rent Calculator to help landlords and tenants make sure the rent charged is appropriate. 

While the sector acclimatises to a new policy and legislative environment, the RTB sees the powers it has in law to regulate the rental sector and resolve disputes, as well as providing high quality information and assistance to the public, tenants and landlords on their rights and responsibilities, as more critical than ever.

For example, if a landlord has been found to have charged an illegitimate rent, it has significant consequences and damages up to €20,000 can be awarded as well as repayment of the additional rent. The RTB is also urging parties to consider taking action on disputes that are not current, as cases can be referred to the RTB up to six years after the tenancy was in place.

“For the legislation to work properly we need tenants to take disputes where illegitimate rent hikes have been imposed.  Every time this behaviour goes unchallenged the legislation is undermined,” says Rosalind Carroll, RTB Director.

55 per cent of tenancies are now covered by Rent Pressure Zones, and since they were introduced, the number of calls per day to the RTB has increased from 600 a day to 1,000 at its peak. While the number of dispute applications about rent reviews has increased by 160 per cent in the 8 month period.

In a sector where accusations of illegal and unfair behaviour are frequent, one of the key messages the RTB gives to landlords and tenants is that individual lease agreements are secondary to the Residential Tenancies Act. Essentially, a tenant cannot contract out their rights to individual agreements with landlords, and a tenant’s rights under the law trump whatever is in a tenancy agreement. This includes limits to rent increases, the length of the tenancy, and notice periods.

Given the substantial protections that have been put in place for landlords and tenants in 2016, it is imperative that all parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities, and that is where the RTB plays a key role. In terms of its publications (including the quarterly Rent Index), call centre, website, and programme of external events, the focus for the RTB is not simply its role as a regulator, but also its role as an information provider for an evolving sector.


For more, see www.rtb.ie/