A CORK City councillor has urged the council to track the increasing rents in the private market in the city and to pursue landlords who increase costs beyond that which are legally allowed.
At a full meeting of Cork City Council this week, Solidarity councillor Fiona Ryan tabled a motion in which she called on the council to “create a task force to track the increasing rents in the private market in Cork City and pursue landlords who circumvent the rent pressure zone annual increase threshold”.
In a report issued to councillors from Niall Ó Donnabháin, the director of services in the council’s housing directorate, he states that the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) “play an important and central role in the area of rent pressure zones” and, as such, “are best placed to track increasing rents in the private market given their regulatory status and enforcement powers”.
A rent pressure zone (RPZ) is a designated area where rents cannot exceed general inflation, as recorded by Harmonised Index of the Consumer Price (HICP), or 2% per year pro-rata, where HICP inflation is higher. This applies to new and existing tenancies unless an exemption is being applied.
RPZs are located in parts of the country where rents are highest and rising, and where households have the greatest difficulty finding affordable accommodation.
They are intended to moderate the rise in rents in these areas, and create a stable and sustainable rental market that allows landlords and tenants to plan financially for their future.
Speaking at the council meeting, Ms Ryan said she very much disagreed with the response from the director.
“The reality is the RTB aren’t regulating rent pressure zones as it currently stands.
“Not one single year since rent pressure zones have been put into place have rents actually been curtailed within the threshold.
“The problem is that it is not generally tenants in situ who are seeing their rents go up beyond rent pressure zones. It’s when they leave landlords are hiking the rents far beyond what they’re legally allowed to and there is no one, except the previous tenant, who is capable of both policing that and capable of bringing forward a case with the RTB.
“The RTB is massively under-resourced and that is why you’ve seen very few cases actually being taken to account.
“So the council itself has an obligation to try and keep people out of acute housing distress. Not just an obligation, but it’s in its best interests and no one else is capable of actually tracking it as it currently stands,” she said.
Mr Ó Donnabháin said that he took the point, but creating such a task force would be beyond the council’s remit.
“It is a significant issue on a national basis and if it’s something that is being directed by central government to the local authorities sector, it’s something we’ll obviously have to look at, but until then it does rest with the RTB.
“Maybe it is a question of resourcing at the RTB level, to be looking at that on a more intrinsic and forensic basis,” he said.
In a statement to The Echo, the RTB said it takes all matters of non-compliance, including the matter of an RPZ breach, “very seriously”.
“As the regulator for the rental sector, one of the RTB’s main roles is to increase compliance across all of its regulatory functions to provide significant protections to those living and operating in the rental sector. RPZ breaches can be dealt with by the RTB’s investigations and sanctions, dispute resolution service and order enforcement business units,” an RTB spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the investigations and sanctions unit “can start an investigation either as a result of information received from members of the public or as a result of information gathered from records that the RTB has access to under the Residential Tenancies Act, for example, the register of tenancies, information received under data-sharing agreements with other Government bodies, as well as open-source data such as rental websites”.
“Since establishing its new powers, the RTB’s investigations and sanctions unit has prioritised allegations of breach of RPZ restrictions. This is evidenced by the fact that 28 out of the 29 sanctions published last month related to breaches of RPZ regulations and that 90% of the investigations commenced to date have been for the same breach,” the spokesperson said.
They also said the Government’s Housing for All strategy “outlines the expansion of regulatory powers to help increase enforcement through data-sharing arrangements with Revenue and increased resources to the RTB”, and that the RTB “is constantly reviewing its processes and procedures to ensure their effectiveness and is committed to its role to encourage compliance and pursue non-compliance with rental law”.