Landlord ordered to pay more than €42,000 to three tenants

Commission finds three applicants in discrimination case were ‘model’ tenants

The Workplace Relations Commission’s adjudication officer said it was difficult to understand the landlord’s attitude towards “model” tenants. Photograph: Alan Betson

The Workplace Relations Commission’s adjudication officer said it was difficult to understand the landlord’s attitude towards “model” tenants. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A landlord has been ordered to pay more than €42,000 to three tenants after the Workplace Relations Commission found he had discriminated against them.

The landlord had refused to facilitate the tenants’ access to the housing assistance payment (Hap) scheme, a form of rent assistance administered by local authorities and available to people on local housing waiting lists.

In her decision to be published on Monday, the commission’s adjudication officer said it was difficult to understand the landlord’s attitude towards “model” tenants who had always paid rent and honoured the terms of their tenancy agreements.

She outlined the various benefits of the payment from the perspective of not only the tenants but also the landlord, and she stressed the applicable law must be followed by all parties.

She found the discrimination was on the more serious end of the scale and caused considerable financial hardship to each of the tenants. One tenant was awarded €14,977, a second got €14,405, and a third was awarded €13,365. She also ordered the landlord to take steps to enable each of the tenants to participate in the Hap scheme and accept Hap payments from the relevant local authority.

Protection expanded

Since January last year, protection under the Equal Status Acts was expanded to prohibit discrimination in the provision of accommodation based on a person’s eligibility for housing assistance. This includes rent allowance or the Hap or any payment under the social welfare acts.

The commission ruling clarifies that protection applies to sitting tenants as well as to prospective ones.

The three tenants, represented by Flac, the Free Legal Advice Centres charity, took their cases against the same landlord and were heard together in March this year.

The landlord argued he was not obliged to accept the Hap payment as the new law did not apply to existing tenants.

Flac argued, on behalf of the tenants, that the protection under equality legislation extended from the pre-tenancy phase through to the ultimate termination of the tenancy, and that the legislation would be ineffective if it did not protect sitting tenants.

Flac chief executive Eilis Barry said the commission’s decision was “very significant” and clarified “not only that landlords cannot reject prospective tenants eligible for Hap solely on that basis, but also that the new housing assistance equality ground also applies to existing tenancies”.

The charity’s managing solicitor, Sinéad Lucey, said the tenants in the case were all under severe financial pressure and one client was borrowing from relatives to meet rent obligations.

“They were advised by the local authority that they were eligible for Hap, which would have reduced the impossible financial pressure on each of them as low-income families,” she said.

“However, the landlord declined to accept the new arrangement, saying they were not required to do so and repeatedly refusing to complete the necessary paperwork, although there was no financial loss to the landlord in doing so, and the rent would, from that point onwards, be paid automatically by the State.”

Ms Lucey said the ruling meant tenants could feel more secure in asserting their right to avail of housing financial assistance.

“The awards made in these three cases are significant and should send a strong message to landlords that to refuse to facilitate tenants with access to social housing supports including rent allowance and Hap may have serious consequences,” she said.