One of the organisations assisting people under threat of eviction has expressed concern that it does not have the resources to deal with the numbers who could get in contact following a recommendation in the Dáil by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Eilis Barry, the chief executive of FLAC, the free legal advice service, told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that it was not the State body dealing with legal aid.
[ Eviction ban Q&A: What can you do if you get a termination notice? ]
“We’re a small NGO which operates a telephone information line and phone advice clinics, and we take a small number of cases,” she said.
Ms Barry pointed out that the Taoiseach had said tenants could contact FLAC to get advice on the best options available to them. She was worried that as a result of Mr Varadkar’s comments people would have false hope that if they go to the District Court it would be able to slow down their eviction for humanitarian reasons.
“First of all, the court has to apply the legislation, and the legislation is very clear. There are no good options. If a tenant receives a valid notice of termination from the landlord, there aren’t very many options or good options available to them,” she said. Ms Barry said that the majority of tenants who come to FLAC have valid eviction notices that are not open to being challenged.
“The Residential Tenancies Board hasn’t any discretion. Neither it nor the Court can look behind a valid termination notice and decide not to evict or not to make the determination or order based on humanitarian reasons such as illness or disability or age of the children or age of the person, or the fact that the people will become homeless.
“The legislation provides that the District Court must enforce a Residential Tenancies Board’s determination, except in a very narrow set of circumstances.”
Just 29 rental properties were available within the limits of the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) scheme in March, according to research released on Thursday.
The Simon Communities of Ireland said it now means the private rental market is no longer an option for those being supported out of homelessness.
A spokesman for the charity said it was “beyond disappointing” that the eviction moratorium was being lifted before promising measures have been given a chance to take effect.
Judges may be reluctant to evict but they do not have discretion under the Residential Tenancies Act, Ms Barry of FLAC said. “If they did, bodies like FLAC, bodies like Threshold would be out telling tenants what they should be doing and what cases they should be making.”
While FLAC had not noticed a significant increase in calls in the past month, their telephone information service had been “completely overwhelmed” with queries since the pandemic, mainly in relation to family law and employment law. “Only one in three callers actually get through to talk to a member of staff, which is why alarm bells rang when the Taoiseach was advising people to contact FLAC
“I think it’s concerning that one of the mitigation measures that the Government haven’t introduced is to resource bodies like Threshold and FLAC and Mercy Law Centre to be able to provide legal assistance to tenants.”
Ms Barry also said that FLAC would be reluctant to advise tenants to ‘over-hold’ their rent. “If they over-hold and the landlord goes into the District Court and gets an order of costs against them that’s going to impact on the tenant in the short term. And in the long term, it’ll affect their credit rating, it’ll affect their capacity to get a new tenancy. So it’s not in the tenant’s interest to have an order of costs made against them.”
FLAC was a small NGO, she said. The budget of the Legal Aid Board, which is a State body, was 40 times the size of the FLAC budget. “We desperately need resources, particularly for our telephone information.”