Rent freeze and ban on evictions extended until August 1st
Attorney General says the measures - set to lapse today - could be open to legal challenge
Attorney General Paul Gallagher has advised that the legal underpinning for the rent freeze and the eviction ban – in place since the pandemic hit – is uncertain and could be open to challenge in the courts.
The Government has said it will extend the rent freeze and the ban on evictions until the end of the month, by which time ministers hope to have new legislation in place which will enable the measures to be put on a firmer footing.
In a statement on Monday night, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien said the moratorium would be extended until August 1st following discussions with the Attorney General.
“I have been advised that the need to restrict the movement of persons is increasingly at variance with the relaxations provided for in the roadmap for reopening society and business,” he said.
“I have obviously taken this advice on board and recommended a short extension under the existing emergency legislation to afford me the time to bring forward robust legislation that will provide real protection to tenants and property owners alike.”
Government sources insist that rent controls will remain in place through rent pressure zones, which limit annual rent increases to four per cent across many parts of the country.
Officials say that rather than freeze rents at their current level, they want to see them come down, as the collapse of Airbnb bookings frees up capacity, especially in Dublin.
The Cabinet held a meeting via teleconference on Monday evening.
Mr O’Brien said it was “well-known that the rent freeze could not be extended indefinitely.
“So it is important we have strong legislation, which combines targeting those who are most vulnerable with longer term measures to address rent arrears, in place prior to the Dáil recess,” he said.
But Sinn Féin has sharply criticised the Government for the uncertainty, and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said that people were already being threatened with eviction yesterday.
Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin O Broin criticised the last minute nature of the announcement, just hours before the existing freeze and ban elapsed.
“I have to say, if this was a deadline affecting banks, insurance companies, large developers, there is no way in hell it would be left to the 11th or 12th hour. This would have been resolved weeks ago. So I think it’s a shambles. It doesn’t augur well for the new minister. What we need to see is the extension until October at the least . . . and if additional legislation needs to be brought in, we’re open to discussing that with the minister,” he said.
Mr Boyd Barrett said that he had been contacted by constituents whose landlords where threatening to evict them as soon as the ban on evictions lapsed.
Attorney General Paul Gallagher has advised ministers that the legal underpinning for the rent freeze and the eviction ban – which have been in place since the pandemic hit, but are due to lapse today – is uncertain and could be open to challenge in the courts.
Officials are understood to be preparing new legislation to put before the Dáil and Seanad before the end of the month which will clarify the powers of the Government to impose the measures, which will then be extended until the autumn.
Sources briefed on the subject said that the Attorney was “exceptionally worried” about the possibility of a legal challenge to the rent freeze by commercial landlords, though it is understood that there are currently no such legal actions anticipated or before the courts.
Mr O Broin was highly critical, however of the advice from Mr Gallagher. “One of the problems is the Attorney General they’ve appointed,” he said.
He said that “most of the country’s leading scholars on constitutional law” took a less restrictive view of property rights in the constitution than Mr Gallagher apparently does.
He said that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail had appointed Attorneys General who take a much more “conservative with a small c approach to property rights”.
He said that within three weeks of taking office, “Fianna Fail’s housing minister is having a blazing row with Fianna Fail’s Attorney General over whether or not they can protect renters. That worries me about where this government is going to go particularly with this Attorney General’s advice”.