MLRC welcomes emergency draft legislation published early today, which imposes restrictions on evictions of tenants in private rented accommodation and prevents rent increases during this emergency period. These emergency measures are required to provide stability and security for tenants at this uncertain time. MLRC here provides comments with respect of the draft legislation.
While the proposed legislation is welcome, MLRC is however very concerned about the lesser level of protection being afforded to social housing tenants and homeless individuals at this crucial time. MLRC calls on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and local authorities to issue assurances and take relevant measures so that all tenants are protected during the emergency period.
MLRC has the following comments on specific sections of the draft legislation:
• MLRC proposes that Section 5(1)(b) be removed or amended, given that it unfairly disadvantages new tenants and is a potentially unworkable provision. MLRC proposes that tenancy periods should accrue in the normal way during the emergency period, irrespective of the length of that tenancy; new tenants who have not yet accrued ‘part 4’ rights, should not be disadvantaged.
• MLRC proposes that the time period contained in Section 5(5) be amended to the length of the emergency period, noting that at the expiry of any 28 day period, a landlord would not be permitted to serve a notice of termination in any event.
• MLRC proposes that section 8(1) be amended so as to ensure that tenants who are over holding in their accommodation following Tribunal determination or Court order enjoy a protection from eviction. This proposal is made on the basis that rendering any person homeless during the emergency period is contrary to the public interest and puts any individual or family at risk, given the current public health emergency and challenges in accessing any suitable alternative accommodation during the emergency period.
• MLRC proposes that the ‘relevant period’ as specified in Section 123 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 (as amended) be expressly amended to allow for an extension of time to appeal to the High Court on a point of law beyond the current 21 days, mindful of the enormous challenges that currently apply to accessing legal advice and the Courts. Such an amendment is necessary given that the Residential Tenancies Board continues to determine disputes and issue determinations.
As a general point, MLRC notes that tenants who have been unable to pay rent in full during the emergency period, because their income has been affected due to the current public health emergency, may be served with a warning notice and subsequent notice of termination immediately after the emergency period. MLRC is of the view that tenants should be granted additional time to pay for rent arrears that have accrued during the emergency period (e.g., a requirement for warning notices issued in these circumstances to allow tenants at least 3 months to remedy the breach) .
The vast majority of MLRC clients are in emergency homeless accommodation, Traveller specific accommodation (authorised sites and unauthorised sites) or are social housing tenants. MLRC has serious concerns in relation to the absence of protective measures being enacted for those vulnerable groups.
MLRC notes the absence of any proposed legislation to place a moratorium on evictions of social housing tenants. MLRC also has concerns with respect of how social housing tenants are to engage with procedures in relation to tenancy warnings, particularly appeal procedures, to which tight timeframes apply. MLRC calls on the Minister and local authorities to, at a minimum, issue a clear assurance that evictions of tenants from social housing tenancies will not initiate or be progressed during the emergency period and that tenants will be afforded additional time to respond to tenancy warnings if issued.
With respect of payment of charges for emergency homeless accommodation, MLRC is concerned that individuals in emergency accommodation may face difficulties meeting any charges levied by the local authority with respect of their emergency accommodation pursuant to Section 10(5) of the Housing Act 1988. Homeless individuals have also been impacted by a sudden loss of employment and drop in income and are not well-placed to quickly access new financial supports that are being put in place. MLRC seeks assurances from local authorities that they will make special provision and suspend charges on emergency accommodation provision to homeless individuals who cannot meet their payments at this time. MLRC seeks an assurance that any failure to pay such charges will not result in cessation of emergency accommodation provision as is provided for under Section 10 of the Housing Act 1988.
MLRC welcomed the proactive approach taken by the Minister with respect of supporting members of the Traveller community with their urgent accommodation needs in this health crisis, and enabling local authorities to, for example, immediately alleviate overcrowding and improve sanitation. MLRC believes that such measures should be matched with a commitment not to pursue any evictions proceedings of members of the Traveller community currently residing in authorised or unauthorised sites and we seek an assurance in that regard.
In summary, MLRC welcomes the extraordinary measures contained in the draft legislation but remains concerned that the measures do not afford sufficient protection across all vulnerable groups.