Dublin City Council owed €38m in unpaid rent

Just over 64% of council’s 25,000 tenants in arrears and 41 owe more than €27,000

The council secured 12 repossession orders in the courts last year,  while three ‘lump sum settlements’ of €30,500 in total were made.

The council secured 12 repossession orders in the courts last year, while three ‘lump sum settlements’ of €30,500 in total were made.

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Rent arrears owed by Dublin City Council’s social housing tenants have hit almost €38 million, their highest ever level and a €4 million increase since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

In December 2021, just over 64 per cent of the council’s 25,000 tenants were in arrears on their rent. While about half were behind in their payments by less than €500, 41 had racked up debts of more than €27,000 each through years of arrears.

At the end of 2019, the council was owed €33,729,994 in unpaid rents. At the end of last year that had increased to €37,895,467.

Council rents are based on ability to pay with tenants charged 15 per cent of the principal earner’s income, plus a maximum of €21 a week per “subsidiary earner”, usually adult children living with their parents. The council’s average weekly rent charge is €71.09 or €309 per month.

Tenants are required to tell the council if their financial circumstances change, ie if they get a job or a pay rise, but Tara Robertson of the council’s housing department said a significant number don’t. “If income decreases people tell us, but when it increases that’s not as likely.”

In 2009, €19.5 million was owed to the council but Ms Robertson said an assessment “post Celtic Tiger” showed “ people hadn’t been declaring quite significant incomes”.

The council undertakes to assess its tenants circumstances every two years, and where incomes have been underdeclared it applies “retrospective debits” to recoup money owed.

The council had been “at the mercy of the tenants in employment to advise us when their income changed”, she said. However, since 2020 it has had access to tenants’ income details through the Local Authority Verification Application system, developed in conjunction with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. This meant rent charges could be accurately applied which was “very beneficial to us and the tenant”, she said.

The council had an early intervention policy in relation to arrears which was “quite effective” she said. “The more money people owe the harder it is to make inroads into the arrears.”

Where the tenant showed a “wilful disregard of the obligation to pay” the council would seek the “ultimate sanction of repossession”.

Deeply unfair

The council secured 12 repossession orders in the courts last year, nine of which were still “live” she said, while three “lump sum settlements” of €30,500 in total were made. However, there were no evictions.

Independent Cllr Noeleen Reilly said it was her experience that tenants “don’t feel there is an urgency” to pay their rent arrears “unlike other bills they might be in arrears with”.

Labour Cllr Dermot Lacey said it was “deeply unfair to the people who do pay their rent” when others appeared to get away with not paying.

Mr Lacey said he grew up in a council house and “the notion that my parents wouldn’t have paid the rent would never have arisen. No matter what, there was that sense of responsibility and it is that lessening of responsibility and attachment that is at the root of this problem.”

Fine Gael’s Paddy McCartan noted the council’s rents were significantly lower than tenants paid in the private sector.