The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on household budgets across Ireland, with renters being hit particularly hard. Despite restrictions being lifted and thousands returning to work, the impact continues as renters now grapple with a cost-of-living crisis.
Dozens of disputes recently released by the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) provide a glimpse into a private rental market where arrears are a significant problem, eviction claims are on the rise and show how Covid-19 has led to some people accidentally becoming landlords .
In one case, a landlord was ordered to pay €5,000 in damages after changing the locks on an apartment while the tenant was in hospital and removing his belongings from the property. RTB determined that the tenant was traumatized and stressed and as a result had to rely on homeless services.
Atlantic Hotel Management Limited of Co Clare began letting one of the holiday rentals associated with the Atlantic Hotel in Lahinch to a man in December 2020.
He was charged €800 a month in rent, paid no deposit, received no lease and was not given a length of stay.
The man previously lived in a house that required a lot of work and was not suitable for his needs during the winter months.
“It was like a construction site with no electricity and running water,” he said.
Alan Logue, director of Atlantic Hotel Management, stated that a member of his administrative staff signed a form for Clare County Council to allow him to make Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) to him on behalf of the tenant, but he agreed To facilitate the HAP application, he never intended to enter into a landlord-tenant relationship. Covid-19 restrictions were in place and no one was staying as a guest in the hotel’s apartments. He knew the tenant’s family and when he was asked to rent the apartment, he understood that he was obliged to the man for a few months as a gesture of goodwill.
In April 2021, emails were exchanged about the tenant vacating the apartment ahead of restrictions being lifted in June. The landlord had to release the apartment to offer it as a holiday rental, which would bring in around €1,000 to €1,200 a week in high season.
The landlord claimed the tenant agreed to move out on June 1, but didn’t. He said he could not reach him by phone in the weeks that followed. One day when the tenant left the apartment for a hospital visit, the landlord had the locks replaced and contacted the tenant’s sister where he could pick up his belongings.
The tenant said he felt that receiving HAP would give him long-term security. He also claimed he couldn’t rent anywhere else.
In its decision, the RTB concluded that the use of a building may constitute a tenancy, although the parties did not intend to expressly create a license or tenancy.
“It is RTB’s position that there is a public interest in ensuring that those in a vulnerable position or those with little or no bargaining power are entitled to the protections of the Housing Tenancy Act,” the policymaker said.
RTB also said the tenant should have known that the landlord would try to return the flats to use as vacation rentals if restrictions were lifted.
“The fact that the apartments, like the hotel, were empty due to Covid-19 did not mean that the complaining landlord would not try to return them to their previous use,” RTB said. “The tribunal notes that the defendant tenant may not have been aware of these factors, but may have chosen to ignore them.”
RTB found that he was a tenant, notice of termination was not served and the changing of locks was consequently an illegal termination of the tenancy. He was initially awarded 10,000 euros, but this was reduced to 5,000 euros in the appeals process.
Rent arrears have been the biggest bone of contention between landlords and tenants during Covid.
In a case published last week, a company called Spiritus Limited was ordered to pay Trailfinders Ireland Limited, a travel agent on Dawson Street in Dublin city centre, €60,000 in arrears.
The monthly rent for the penthouse was €2,800 and the landlord said no payment had been made since March 2020.
Spiritus is listed as a food activity company and is said to have been seriously affected by the pandemic.
A warning and notice of termination was served on the tenant, which RTB found to be effective and the tenant was ordered to pay the arrears.
In another special case, a tenant was ordered to pay €21,000 in arrears.
A spokesman for RTB said landlords have been “encouraged to show leniency during this time” and may consider entering into informal agreements to reduce rents or entering into payment plans to deal with rent arrears.
“RTB has encouraged landlords and tenants to communicate as early as possible any issues that may arise in order to maintain the tenancy.
“The law has not prevented landlords and tenants from entering into informal rent reduction agreements or rent arrears payment plans.”
Attempts to contact Atlantic Hotel Management and Spiritus Limited have been unsuccessful.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/landlord-who-had-locks-changed-while-tenant-in-hospital-told-to-pay-5000-41914378.html Landlord who had locks changed while renter was asked to pay €5,000 at hospital