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Many problems that Threshold deals with daily stem from landlords being unaware of the law, says Aideen Hayden.
“There’s definitely a benefit in landlord’s knowing the law an awful lot better than they do,” says Hayden, chair of the housing charity, which provides advice to people in housing difficulties..
That’s the aim of the Betterlet accreditation scheme being rolled out at the moment by the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), which handles disputes between tenants and landlords.
Landlords who go through the course get an overview of the “complex legislation” in the rental market, which can “create a better rental market for all through the provision of education and training for landlords”, said a spokesperson for the RTB.
The programme is voluntary at the moment, though, which has left some questioning how wide its reach and impact will be, and how its impact will be measured.
Knowing the Rules
The course lasts a day and gives landlords an overview of rights and responsibilities under the law, says an RTB spokesperson.
If they pass the course, they get an accreditation that lasts for two years. That means they can use the logo when they advertise themselves.
They learn about best practices for managing tenancies, about how to prevent and resolve disputes, and about how to make sure a property complies with minimum standards, said the RTB spokesperson.
The laws around renting are “complex” and have been added to over the years, says Hayden of Threshold. “It’s a bit like the layers of an onion.”
That said, so many properties still fail inspections that “you have to conclude that there are obviously some landlords that do not know what the law is on the one hand and others that obviously don’t care”, she says.
In the first nine months of 2017, 880 dwellings were inspected according to this DCC report, with 761 not meeting regulatory requirements.
The training is welcome, says Fergus Scully, a volunteer with the Dublin Tenants Association. But he is wary that the logo from the RTB could be misinterpreted by tenants. “That they would think that apartment has been inspected by the RTB,” he says.
“I don’t think any prospective tenant would think that accreditation would mean that person has gone to a training course that is very short and has filled out a multiple-choice test,” says Scully.
Twenty landlords got accreditation after the first session in September, says the RTB spokesperson. A second event in Dublin is scheduled for the end of November.
There are 177,884 registered landlords in the country, according to RTB figures, and 343,946 registered tenancies.
“There needs to be more clarity on how you measure success” with the Betterlet scheme, says Lorcan Sirr, a housing lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).
Will the RTB look at whether disputes are down? Or somehow track changes in landlord behaviour? “It can’t just be based on the number of landlords that turn up,” says Sirr.
The scheme should be more robust and comprehensive, and also mandatory, says Cathy Flanagan, the communications executive with Threshold. “Rogue landlords who are breaking the law in relation to tenancies are unlikely to take part in this scheme.”
Landlords should also “produce a certification that their property is in good order” before being given the certificate, she says. Tenants won’t see the benefits otherwise, she says.
Fintan McNamara of the Residential Landlords Association says he would be reluctant to back making the scheme compulsory.
Irish landlords are “already highly regulated by the state”, McNamara says. There are similar schemes in the United Kingdom, he says, but it’s “the landlord organisations that do it themselves”.
An RTB spokesperson said they have no plans to make the scheme compulsory, but they are “exploring e-learning opportunities”.
Scully of Dublin Tenants Association says the RTB should look at offering training not only to landlords, but to tenants, on “what their rights are and how they can enforce their rights.”