Fine Gael and Labour negotiating over rent controls

Law to end ‘culture’ of landlords not returning deposits could be passed by September

 Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly: spokesman said “far too many tenancy and landlord disputes are over deposits”. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly: spokesman said “far too many tenancy and landlord disputes are over deposits”. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

Labour is negotiating with Fine Gael over legislation to end the “culture” of landlords not returning deposits to tenants and linking rent increases to the rate of inflation.

The proposed deposit-protection scheme would see the equivalent of a month’s rent, paid by renters at the start of a tenancy together with the first month’s rent, retained by a central body rather than landlords for the duration of the tenancy.

A spokesman for Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly confirmed the scheme would be overseen by the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB).

“Far too many tenancy and landlord disputes are over deposits. The deposit-protection scheme will streamline this operation in a way that protects both parties’ interests,” he said.

“Most European countries operate similar systems successfully.”

Rent certainty

A so-called “rent certainty” model to avoid large hikes in rent is also being discussed, with increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

An increase in the minimum notice period landlords must give to tenants if they want to sell or move a family member into a property is also proposed.

The chairwoman of the housing charity Threshold, Aideen Hayden, who is a Labour Senator, said many small-scale landlords were in serious financial difficulties and the tax system was currently “prejudiced” against landlords with domestic properties.

“This legislation would recognise how Irish society has changed. There are growing numbers of renters and there is a culture of landlords not giving back deposits,” she said.

“The legislation is ready to go and has the full support of Labour. There’s bargaining going on within Government.”

The ongoing negotiations centre on the proposals for controls on rent. Fine Gael has traditionally had difficulty with such a concept.

Fine Gael is unlikely to have a problem with the move on deposits, since the programme for government committed the Coalition to establishing a scheme to end disputes over the return of deposits.

However, some concern has been expressed that the PRTB is already under pressure as the number of families and individuals renting grows.

Residential Tenancies Bill

The proposed changes being discussed by the Government parties could be introduced in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No 2) Bill, which has passed through the Dáil and is due before the Seanad next month.

Fianna Fáil last week criticised the Coalition for failing to act on the problem of deposit disputes, which it said remained the biggest source of cases before the PRTB.

The party’s environment spokesman, Barry Cowen, said such disputes were “a serious bugbear for renters and an ongoing source of conflict for landlords”.

Fianna Fáil is advocating what it has called a “custodial deposit scheme” under the remit of the PRTB and has said it will bring in legislation to develop this model.

Some 20 per cent of Irish households live in privately rented accommodation, according to the latest census figures.