Landlords sent 732 notices to quit to tenants in County Dublin last year, according to figures from the Residential Tenancies Board.
Roughly half of these notices to quit were based on the landlord saying they intended to sell, and needed it to be vacant.
For much of last year, though, most tenants who got the notices were still allowed to stay in their homes, under emergency rules banning evictions during stretches of the pandemic.
On 22 April, though, that ban is set to lift.
That’s raising concerns that, as these historic notices to quit work though the system, the backlog could result in a rush of people into homelessness.
Ending protections while the virus is still prevalent “is just inhumane”, says Peter Dooley, who runs the Dublin Renters’ Union. “It is shameful.”
He says he is supporting several tenants who have been served notices to quit in last year, who are now facing eviction.
Some have underlying health conditions and are afraid to go to viewings to find a new home, he says. “They are distraught, they don’t know where to go.”
Margaret McCormick, a spokesperson for the Irish Property Owners’ Association, says that property market needs to be allowed to run.
Some landlords had rented out their own homes and need to get back into them, she says, and others hit by the financial fallout of the pandemic need to sell up.
To make sure they get what a property is worth, they need it to be vacant, she says. “There has to be fairness and equity.”
In addition to the 49 percent of notices to quit issued in 2020 on the basis that the landlord was selling up, in a further 27 percent of cases, the landlord said they wanted the property back for themselves or their family.
Another 14 percent of the notices issued cited a breach of tenant obligations as the reason.
The figures also show that at least 10 percent (72) of the notices to quit issued by landlords in Dublin were sent to tenants in April, May and June last year.
“We are very worried,” says Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus Ireland. “There is definitely a pent-up problem here. They haven’t solved the underlying issues.”
Some of the 732 people or households issued with notices last year will have found another home already, says Allen.
But if even half of that number were evicted over the next few months, that is way too many people looking for limited accommodation in the city all at once, he says.
Everything driving family homelessness before the pandemic has continued, says Allen. “We are likely to face the best part of a year’s attrition in a very short space of time.”
The best-case scenario is that homeless presentations rise to what they were before the eviction ban was introduced, he says.
“It will be very problematic for homeless services and appalling for the families obviously,” says Allen.
McCormick of the Irish Property Owners’ Association has a more positive outlook. She doesn’t expect an increase in homelessness, she says, as a lot of those tenants will have moved on already.
Many tenants have left Dublin during the pandemic so there are more rental properties available at the moment, which means it’s not a bad time to move, she says.
A spokesperson for Dublin Region Homeless Executive said: “There is a reasonable period of time between the serving of a notice to quit and the need to vacate the dwelling.”
“This gives a tenant an opportunity to source an alternative letting,” they said.
The number of homeless families is at its lowest since 2015 so the council is in a stronger position to respond if there is an increase in homelessness, said the spokesperson.
There are more homes available to rent in the Dublin area too, so people can access homes through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme, said the spokesperson for the DRHE, referring to the subsidy for low-income renters.
Sinn Féin TD and housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin says the evictions ban helped to lower rates of family homelessness.
Now that it’s been lifted, piles of notices to quit are going to start working their way through the system, he said.
Some of those families, because of the diminishing private rental stock, won’t find a new place and will end up in shared hostel accommodation, he said.
“At a time when we are trying so hard to prevent the spread of the virus, the government should not allow a situation where families are at risk of contracting Covid-19,” he says.
The eviction ban should remain in place for the rest of the year, says Ó Broin, with the exception of tenants involved in anti-social behaviour or serious breaches of their tenancies.
Allen of Focus Ireland says the ban on evictions has been in place whenever there was a 5km travel limit, but this makes little sense.
“As long as you are saying households shouldn’t mix, you should be saying that households shouldn’t be evicted,” he says.
The reasons for eviction in the RTB figures for notices to quit for 2020 tally closely with Focus Ireland’s research into why families become homeless, says Allen.
They found that around 75 percent of homeless families said they were evicted from rental homes and most had to leave because the landlord said they were going to sell the property or to use it for themself or their family.
Ó Broin, the Sinn Féin TD, proposed legislation in 2018, based on research by Focus Ireland, which would have meant that tenants of buy-to-let properties would remain living in the home while it was sold.
The bill was defeated. But Ó Broin says renters in Ireland need long-term, secure tenancies like those available to renters in many other European countries.
“We need the introduction of real tenancies of indefinite duration, including the removal of vacant possession and using the property for family members,” he says.
McCormick, the spokesperson for the Irish Property Owners’ Association said: “Vacant possession is the most favourable because you get more interest in it.”
A person buying a new home to live in doesn’t want to become a landlord and go through the process of evicting someone, she says.
So a property that is occupied by renters is only of interest to investors, that reduces interest in the property so it devalues it, she says.
Rules on rent increases mean some properties are rented at prices that are now substantially below market rent, so many investors won’t be interested in those, she says.
And investors are mostly interested in buying newly built blocks because they can set the rents, says McCormick.
Dooley of Dublin Renters’ Union says the main problem is that in Ireland “property rights are sacrosanct”, but there is no right to a home.
“If a landlord genuinely has to sell that is fair enough but the security of the tenancy should still be upheld,” he says.
Dooley encourages tenants to resist eviction, he says, but most tenants are afraid to do that or even to take cases to the RTB because they need a good reference from their landlord to find a place in the future.
– With additional reporting by Lois Kapila