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Covid-19 Property Queries

Every part of the Irish economy is attempting to adjust to the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and the Property sector is no different. Our Customer Service teams deal with hundreds of these every week and their expertise has been recognised on a national level. The following are some queries readers submitted to the Irish Times which our MD, Enda Mc Guane answered this week:

Q

My tenant who can’t pay rent during Covid-19 seems to think that when all back to normal he just resumes paying and then does not have to catch up. So he’s getting three to six months free and then I just get my mortgage extended by three to six months? Tell me that is not the real situation.

If a tenant says that they are availing of a 3-month rent freeze and not paying any rent for 3 months how should I respond?

Please explain the meaning of rent freeze. Do some tenants think it means they don’t have to pay rent for the next three months?

These three queries are similar and all relate to the term “rent freeze” so I am treating them as one question. The term was first reported as forming part of the Governments response to Covid-19 about three weeks ago.

The Government then passed Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 which was signed into law on the 27th of March. This, among other things put in place a number of temporary emergency measures aimed at mitigating the impact of the Covid-19) pandemic on residential tenants. It sets out various measures which will apply for what is called the “emergency period”, this is three months starting on the 27th March.

The Act ensures that any increase in rent (whether notified to the Tenant before or during the Emergency Period) shall not take effect during the Emergency Period and that rent increases which were due to fall due during the Emergency Period shall not be payable. This is the “rent freeze” referred to in your queries.

In simple terms, the monthly rent which was payable immediately prior to the Emergency Period remains the rent payable for the duration of this period and any proposed increase in rent will not be payable until after the Emergency Period lapses. Tenants are still obliged to pay the existing rent as per their lease. However many landlords have responded to the Governments calls for forbearance and have agreed temporary reductions with individual tenants. It is important that any agreements reached are clearly outlined in writing (email) so that there is no confusion post-crisis.  

 

Q

I rent out two rooms in my house Monday to Friday only. This is not my tenant’s main home, both are consultants and have decided to work from their home. Both are highly paid. One is saying he won’t be paying his rent to me, can he do that even though it is his choice not to work from my house?

Thank you for your query, the rent a room sector has been the subject of a lot of discussion since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. To date, the focus has been on preventing people losing their room as a result of fears around community transmission and there have been calls from various bodies for the introduction of specific legislation for the sector. Currently, the position is that you have an agreement with both people which is in effect a licence to reside and not a formal tenancy. In many instances, the terms of this licence may have only been agreed orally or via an email, it is uncommon to have a formal document in place.

In basic terms, a licence to reside is not covered by the Residential Tenancies Board and as a result, neither party have the protections afforded by a formal tenancy. The trade-off has always been that this is a flexible arrangement which allowed rooms to be rented for 5 days out of 7 rather than on a full-time basis, which has tended to suit both parties. The Government has also encouraged the use of the rent a room scheme by putting in place good tax breaks for home-owners. Unfortunately, as a result, unless you have something formally in writing regarding the duration of the agreement there is very little you can do at this time if the people chose to move out.

 

Q

My son has two months left to pay on his private rented accommodation in Galway. As the university is closed does he still have to pay when not there?

My niece is a student in Athlone renting privately. She moved home to Dublin when the college closed due to Covid-19. Her final exams have been cancelled. Her lease is until the end of May, she paid her April rent. The landlord is also looking for utilities to be paid even though she has been in Dublin since the start of March. Does she have to pay rent for May? Is she entitled to have her deposit refunded? Does she have to pay utilities for March and April when she has not been in the house?

Again because both of your queries relate to a similar topic I will try and answer both of them together. Like everyone students and their parents have been impacted by the crisis. Some students returned home while many others remained in their accommodation either by choice or in the case of some foreign students because they cannot travel home.

The first issue here is that the accommodation has not been closed and is available to the tenants. Some on-campus accommodation has been closed by the owning Insitiute and in some instances, students were given very limited time frames to remove their belongings. However, as per Government policy, all private rental accommodation remains open and in fact, as I highlighted last week the Government have even gone so far as to legally ban evictions for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

In both instances I assume that you have a tenancy agreement in place, this is regulated by the Residential Tenancies Board. In recent days they have issued guidelines to all tenants and landlords including students.

Most of the applicable legislation was put in place over the last few years to protect tenants and give them the security of tenure. Simply put your lease agreement specifies a duration and a rental amount, amongst other matters. In normal circumstances, early termination of a lease by a tenant would be a matter for the RTB to adjudicate on as it involves a loss of rent. Subject to the circumstances of the termination the landlord is generally allowed to withhold the deposit to mitigate against lost rent if they cannot rent the property immediately.

In both these queries, it appears that you are seeking to terminate the tenancy early and you are entitled to do this. While the recent legislation bans evictions it is silent on early termination, however, it is likely that you may forfeit your deposit as a result. I would suggest that you speak to your landlord directly on the matter. It is our experience that where landlords are unencumbered they are in a position to be flexible in their approach.

 

 

 

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