People residing in privately rented dwellings experienced soiled mattresses; landlords installing CCTV cameras that monitored their actions; rats in kitchens and gardens; and “fake police” telling them to leave the property, according to an analysis of tenancy tribunal reports from the past two years.
The Irish Times analysed the 375 tribunal reports and corresponding determination orders that were published on the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) website in 2022. The tribunals, one of the final steps in the dispute resolution process between tenants and landlords, took place during 2021-2022.
Rent arrears and overholding were the most common reason for landlords taking a dispute to the tenancy tribunal, with some tenants owing up to €60,000 in unpaid rent, the analysis showed.
[ Many tenants overholding on properties as they can find nowhere else to go ]
For tenants, deposit retention, validity of notice of termination and breaching landlord obligations were the issues that most commonly arose.
According to the analysis of published reports, 168 tribunals occurred due to a landlord appealing a case, 204 were as a result of appeals by tenants, with the remaining three being initiated by third parties, which are those who are directly and adversely affected by neighbouring tenants.
The analysis found 75 instances of landlords having to pay damages for breaching obligations, issuing an invalid notice of termination or unjustifiably retaining a deposit. The damages ranged from as little as €50 to the maximum amount allowed, €20,000.
In another case raw sewage was found in a garden because the manhole was not covered correctly, with the same tenant seeing a rat in the garden due to the incorrect disposal of bins by a previous tenant
Some of the issues arising in the disputes include a landlord installing CCTV cameras that could monitor the tenants’ actions, an illegal eviction that occurred after a landlord changed the locks on the tenant, as well as a landlord removing door hinges and disconnecting electricity.
In one case, a tenant complained about cat droppings in the dwelling and cat urine on the bed, as well as a radiator being off the wall, while in another the tenants said one of the windows was broken, which had caused mould, fungi and damp to develop.
Another case heard how masked men woke up tenants, smashed some of their property, and put them out on to the streets in an eviction attempt, while a separate case detailed how “fake police” knocked on the door of a tenant to “intimidate her” and convince her to leave the dwelling.
In the case involving the masked men, the tribunal ruled in favour of the three tenants, who took cases individually, and determined they were entitled to receive almost €27,000 in damages in total, once the rent arrears they owed were deducted. The tenants were entitled to a total of €41,000 in damages, but they stopped paying rent due to the dispute, resulting in arrears accumulating and being deducted from the final award.
[ Generation Rent turning to social media rather than rental websites to find accommodation ]
In another case raw sewage was found in a garden because the manhole was not covered correctly, with the same tenant seeing a rat in the garden due to the incorrect disposal of bins by a previous tenant.
Some 69 of the tribunal reports involved landlords that were limited companies, pension funds, REITs or other institutional investors. However, many of these cases reached an agreement outside of the tribunal, meaning details of the dispute remain confidential.
Under the Residential Tenancies Act, disputes between tenants and landlords can be brought to the RTB for either mediation or an adjudication hearing, and a decision is then issued.
Where a decision is appealed, that appeal is heard by a tribunal. The tribunal’s decision is binding, unless appealed to the High Court on a point of law.
According to the RTB, applications for its dispute resolution service were likely to increase in 2022 by the time total figures were tallied, with 3,403 applications received in the first half of the year alone. A total of 5,657 applications were received during the whole of 2021.
Ann-Marie O’Reilly, national advocacy manager at Threshold, a charity advocating for rental rights, said a failure to meet landlord obligations was a common issue, with some property owners declining to carry out necessary repairs.
“The issue of standards and repairs [has been] consistently one of the top five issues that come into Threshold for years,” she said.
“The same level of maintenance mightn’t be done on them [rental properties] over the years, so when problems do arise, they might get out of hand a little bit quicker. Problems with heating is one we see quite a bit.”
Mary Conway, chairwoman of the Irish Property Owners’ Association, said most landlords are “living from rent to rent”.
“Every case is on its own merit. In some cases, the landlord just simply doesn’t have the money to do the repairs. Margins are so tight,” she said.
“Inflation is running at nine or 10 per cent. Rent can only go up 2 per cent. Mortgage interest rates have gone through the roof. Margins are getting tighter and tighter.”