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Renting and COVID-19


Introduction

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on jobs and incomes across Ireland.

Since March 2020, there have been a number of different protections put in place to support tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic, see below.

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In October 2020, an eviction ban was introduced for any period when people’s movement is restricted to 5 kilometres from their home as part of COVID-19 restrictions. See Evictions when COVID-19 restrictions limit movement to 5km below for more information.

There are specific rental laws to protect tenants economically affected by COVID-19, who have fallen into rent arrears and are at risk of losing their tenancy. These include a rent freeze and a 90-day notice period when ending a tenancy. They became available on 2 August 2020 and now run until 12 July 2021, following changes and extensions brought in under subsequent legislation. Landlords and tenants must follow certain steps to access these protections, see Rent arrears due to the financial impact of COVID-19 below. Since 2 August 2020, rent increases can happen as normal for tenants who have not been financially impacted by COVID-19

In March 2020, a range of protections were put in place for people affected by the pandemic under the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020. These protections, which included a ban on eviction notices and rent increases, expired on 1 August 2020. However, they still have an effect on notice periods and the calculation of Part 4 tenancies, see below.

Termination of tenancy

Normally, if your landlord wants you to leave your accommodation, they must serve you with a notice of termination. This can be for a number of reasons.

However, since October 2020, if COVID-19 restrictions lead to an eviction ban, your landlord can issue you with a notice of termination while the ban is in place, but you cannot be evicted except in certain circumstances.

Part 4 tenancies

When a tenancy has lasted more than 6 months, the tenancy becomes a Part 4 tenancy. This means the tenancy can only be ended for specific reasons until the end of a 4 or 6 year period (depending on when the tenancy started).

During COVID-19 emergency periods, Part 4 tenancies and further part 4 tenancies cannot start. And these emergency periods do not count towards the time spent as a tenant for Part 4 or further Part 4 tenancies, if the person is subject to a notice of termination or awaiting eviction.

The emergency periods cover:

  • 27 March 2020 to 1 August 2020
  • 22 October 2020 to 1 December 2020
  • 31 December 2020 to 12 April 2021

You can read more about part 4 tenancies.

If you want to leave

The emergency legislation does not affect your right to end your tenancy. You should read your lease agreement or tenancy agreement for information on how to end your tenancy. If you are in a fixed term lease, you may lose your deposit if you leave your accommodation before the end of the fixed period.

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Evictions when COVID-19 restrictions limit movement to 5km

An eviction ban will automatically kick-in any time people’s movement is restricted to 5 kilometres from their home, as part of COVID-19 restrictions. For example, 5km restrictions applied from 31 December 2020 to 12 April 2021, so there was an eviction ban during this time and for a ten-day grace period after this.

If your landlord has given you a valid notice to quit (also called an eviction notice), the notice is paused while these restrictions are in place, and also for a further 10 days after the restrictions are lifted, unless the notice to quit is for the following reasons:

  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Acting in a way that would invalidate a house insurance policy
  • Acting in a way that would cause substantial damage to the accommodation
  • Using the accommodation for commercial or other non-residential purposes
  • Rent arrears

This means that the time you have left before you are due to be evicted is extended by 10 days plus the amount of time 5km restrictions are in place.

If the notice of termination is for one of the five reasons above, the eviction can proceed once the appropriate notice period expires. However, in the case of rent arrears, other rental protections for tenants who have fallen into rent arrears due to COVID-19 may apply. These other protections include a rent freeze and a 90-day notice period when ending a tenancy. You must meet the criteria and follow the specific procedures for these other protections to apply, see Rent arrears due to the financial impact of COVID-19 below .

The rules about the eviction ban are set out in the Residential Tenancies Act 2020 and the Residential Tenancies Act 2021. The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has a guidance document and FAQ’s about this legislation, where you can get general information about the eviction ban, as well as examples of how it applies.

If you are threatened with eviction, you should call Threshold for advice. See ‘Further information and contacts’ below for other organisations that might be able to help you.

Rent freezes

Since 2 August 2020, rent increases can take effect for tenants who have not been financially impacted by COVID-19. They must follow the usual rent setting and review rules inside and outside a Rent Pressure Zone (RPZ). If your rent is increased, no backdating is allowed.

If you have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and meet the requirements of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies Act 2020, your rent cannot be increased before 13 July 2021.

Rent decreases continue to be allowed.

This applies to all types of tenancies.

Difficulty paying rent

If you cannot afford to pay rent, you should discuss this with your landlord. Your landlord may agree to allow you to pay a reduced amount until your situation improves. You should not stop paying rent completely, and if you cannot pay the full amount of rent due, you should talk to your landlord or agent before you start paying a reduced amount.

You can read our document on social welfare and COVID-19 for information on the social welfare payments available. You can also find out more about the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rent Supplement.

If you are applying for Rent Supplement because you have been affected by COVID-19, you may qualify for the payment under more flexible Rent Supplement rules. See COVID-19 and Rent Supplement for more information.

If you are a HAP tenant and you have lost some or all of your self-employment, you should contact your local authority. Make sure that you have applied for any social welfare payment you might be entitled to before contacting your local authority. If your income has decreased, the local authority will re-assess your contribution to your rent.

Rent arrears due to the financial impact of COVID-19

During periods when COVID-19 restrictions limit people’s movement to 5 kilometres from their home, you cannot be evicted for falling into rent arrears.

In addition the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies Act 2020 sets out protections for tenants who have fallen into rent arrears due to COVID-19, and are at risk of losing their tenancy. They include a rent freeze and an increased 90-day notice period when ending a tenancy.

These protections were introduced, extended and amended by a number of pieces of legislation, as set out below:

  • The Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 introduced these protections and set out that they would run from 2 August 2020 to 10 January 2021.
  • The Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies Act 2020 replaced the protections in the previous Act, amending the process and continuing the protections from 11 January 2021 to 12 April 2021.
  • The Residential Tenancies Act 2021 extended the protections from 13 April 2021 until 12 July 2021.

The rental protections may apply to you if you are at risk of losing your tenancy and are also getting one of the following:

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  • Illness Benefit for a COVID-19 absence, or
  • The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme or any social welfare payment or State support to help with loss of earnings caused by COVID-19 (including Rent Supplement or Supplementary Welfare Allowance)

Rules and requirements for landlords and tenants facing rent arrears due to COVID-19

There are rules and requirements for both landlords and tenants facing rent arrears due to COVID-19. The process is broken down into steps starting from the point where a tenant has fallen into rent arrears. If the tenant completes the required steps, the landlord cannot increase the rent or terminate the tenancy before 13 July 2021. Failure to complete each step may mean that the protections will not apply to the tenant, or could lead to the notice of termination being deemed invalid. Go to the RTB website for full details of each step.

There are also some protections for landlords under the legislation, as well as certain circumstances where the rental protections don’t apply, see below for more information.

Process for landlords and tenants

To access these rental protections, you must follow the steps below. If any step is not completed correctly the protections will not apply.

  1. Landlord issues a written rent arrears warning notice to the tenant to pay the rent arrears. Tenants must be given at least 28 days to pay the arrears. The RTB has a sample warning notice for rent arrears on its website.
  2. Landlord provides a copy of the written rent arrears warning notice to the RTB. The 28-day period will begin from the date when both the tenant and RTB have received the written warning notice.
  3. RTB writes to the landlord confirming it has received a copy of the rent arrears warning notice, and gives the landlord information about their protections under the rules, see below. The RTB also writes to the tenant confirming it has received a copy of the rent arrears warning notice, and gives the tenant information on income supports, how to get advice from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), a link to the Self-Declaration form (pdf) and the requirements they must meet to benefit from these protections.
  4. Tenant signs and submits a Self-Declaration form (pdf) to the RTB and their landlord. This form includes a request to the RTB asking for their help to get advice from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS). This section of the form must be completed. Tenant also writes to their landlord asking them for a consultation, so they can make an arrangement to pay their rent. This must be done within 5 days of making the Self-Declaration.
  5. RTB helps the tenant to get advice from MABS.
  6. If the landlord does not get a Self-Declaration form from the tenant, the landlord can serve a notice of termination for rent arrears giving 28 days’ notice. This can only be done once the 28-day warning notice for rent arrears has expired. If a landlord does receive a copy of the Self-Declaration form from the tenant confirming that they cannot pay their rent due to the financial impact of COVID-19, the landlord can still serve a valid notice of termination (after the 28-day warning notice for rent arrears has expired). However, the tenant does not have to vacate their accommodation before 13 July 2021 and the tenant must be given at least 90 days’ notice. Also, the landlord cannot increase the rent until 13 July 2021.
  7. Landlord sends the RTB a copy of the Notice of Termination that they have sent to the tenant for rent arrears on the same day.
  8. RTB contacts the tenant with information on the dispute resolution options available to them. The RTB will notify the tenant of their right to refer a tenancy termination dispute to the RTB within 28 days of receiving the notice of termination.

Tenants and landlords should keep copies of all correspondence they send and receive, as well as all documentation proving when documents were issued and sent. They can do this for example, by keeping postal record slips or emails.

Exceptions

You will not be able to benefit from these rental protections if:

  • You have outstanding rental payments of 5 months or more
  • You do not contact the RTB asking them to help you get MABS advice
  • Your landlord invokes their rights under the legislation, see landlords’ protections below.

Landlords’ protections under the new rules

A landlord can submit a Self-Declaration form to the RTB to stop the tenant’s protections under this legislation.

This is only possible if at least one of the following apply:

  • The tenant has outstanding rental payments of 5 months or more.
  • The tenant did not give the RTB or MABS the information it needed to provide timely MABS advice.
  • The tenant did not met the terms of the rent payment arrangement they made with the landlord.
  • The protections under the Act would cause undue financial hardship to the landlord. A landlord can only claim undue financial hardship if one of the following applies:
    • They are getting a qualifying COVID-19 payment.
    • The rent is their only income.
    • They will be unable to pay their mortgage on the rented property if they don’t get the rent from the tenants.

The landlord must include supporting documentation with the Self-Declaration form and send a copy of it and the form to the tenant as well as the RTB.

For more detail, information and support regarding these steps, see the RTB’s guidance document and FAQs or contact the RTB.

Disputes

There are 2 stages to the RTB’s dispute resolution process:

  • Stage 1 is confidential mediation or adjudication. If the landlord or tenant do not want to accept the mediator’s or adjudicator’s decision, the dispute can be appealed to Stage 2.
  • Stage 2 is a hearing by a 3-person Tenancy Tribunal.

During COVID-19, dispute resolution applications are handled in a number of ways to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. Telephone mediation is still available and has not been affected by the restrictions. Most adjudication cases are heard virtually. The RTB can also cater for a limited number of face-to-face adjudication hearings. Tribunal hearings are also available virtually. The RTB has published information about virtual hearings and how the dispute resolution process works during COVID-19.

If you are having difficulties with your tenancy, contact the RTB for details of the dispute resolution process.

Threshold’s Tenancy Protection Service provides advice and support to tenants where there is a tenancy problem or where a tenancy is at risk. Threshold advisors can mediate with landlords and also help with applications for rent supplement. Call 0927002002, 9am-9pm, Monday to Friday for more information.

Further information and contacts

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