Changes are needed to make it easier to track down the details of landlords, a common hurdle when battling illegal evictions, according to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).
The RTB wants new laws to compel estate agents to hand over a landlord’s identity and contact details and new rules for sharing information held by other public bodies, including the Revenue Commissioners.
The RTB currently has limited powers to exchange information with other state agencies, it says.
The changes would help the RTB tackle illegal evictions, according to a report that the RTB sent to the Department of Housing for Minister Darragh O’Brien, the Fianna Fáil TD.
“There are a number of barriers to the successful resolution of an unlawful termination call, the most common of these is where the tenancy is not registered and the RTB cannot identify the landlord of the property,” says the report.
It’s not just in relation to illegal evictions, though, that the RTB runs up against this hurdle. “This impacts all dispute and regulatory functions of the RTB,” says the report.
In a February letter to the RTB about the recommendations, a Department of Housing official said that it supported a greater exchange of data between the RTB and Revenue – but didn’t mention estate agents.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said last week that the RTB recommendations are being carefully examined and considered and could result in changes.
“Illegal evictions are an extremely serious matter that requires a strong and decisive response,” they said.
Pat Davitt, CEO of the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers (IPAV), says the organisation, which represents estate agents, wouldn’t necessarily oppose new rules compelling estate agents to reveal landlords’ names and addresses.
“Depending on the additional level of administration and work required for the agent,” says Davitt.
Since at least 2018, tenant representatives and housing activists have been highlighting how they can’t work out who landlords are, or how to contact them, and that means they can’t file cases with the RTB.
In August 2020, after a well-publicised illegal eviction on Berkeley Road in Phibsboro – in which Gardaí appeared to assist the landlord in carrying out the eviction and ignored pleas from tenants that they hadn’t had any legal written notice to quit – O’Brien, the Minister for Housing, wrote to the RTB.
O’Brien wrote to the RTB and said that he was deeply concerned about the treatment of the tenants and asked the RTB to prioritise any disputes brought by them.
He also directed the RTB to “fully investigate this incident and to make a report to me with relevant recommendations as soon as possible.” He would “move to implement any recommendations that will further protect tenants”, he wrote.
The subsequent report on illegal evictions mentions that the RTB couldn’t immediately identify who the Berkeley Road landlord was, when a tenant first called on 12 August 2020, to flag the eviction. It took until 17 August, the report says.
While in the case of Berkeley Road the RTB did jump that hurdle, tenants don’t always manage to.
In October 2021, Elizabeth Wilson said she had never succeeded in filing a dispute she had wanted to, because she couldn’t pin down a landlord’s details.
Wilson and her family moved out of their rented home after the estate agent said the landlord was selling up. But the home wasn’t sold and was later re-let to new tenants.
If that was going to happen, the law says, Wilson should have had first dibs on re-renting that home.
Her old landlord had passed away, but still someone was renting the house, Wilson said. “So the money must be going to someone.”
Neither she nor the RTB could find out who the owner was. The RTB had no power to compel the agent, BFR Estates, to say who was getting paid the rent for the property.
In 2022, tenant Patrick Pluijgers struggled at first to file a dispute against a landlord, who had previous convictions for fire safety and was renting out homes under a fake name.
Pluijgers discovered the landlord’s real name from other tenants and then read about the convictions in online newspaper articles. He knew the landlord’s address because he had been living next door, he said.
He was surprised that the RTB seemed reluctant to take the case, and staff told him he needed further proof of the landlord’s address, he said. “It took me a lot to convince them that it was his address.”
A tenant trying to pursue the same landlord for multiple attempts at illegal eviction, including cutting off utilities repeatedly, said – backed up by emails – that the RTB closed his case multiple times, because it didn’t have the landlord’s details.
A Wider Issue
On Monday, Wilson says she had been surprised to discover that the estate agent could withhold the ownership details from the RTB. “I was shocked.”
She can’t understand how the enforcement process is supposed to work for tenants or landlords in Ireland if state agencies cannot discover who owns properties, she says.
“Even if I’m not privy to it I can’t see why the government isn’t,” she says.
She wonders what happens in extreme cases. “I’m not a politician or a solicitor,” she says. “But as a citizen, it seems that there has to be some way to find out the address so that enforcement can take place.”
While the RTB report to the minister says that most common issue that hinders it in trying to resolve an illegal eviction is identifying the landlord’s details, it doesn’t say how often that has happened.
The RTB hasn’t yet reported more broadly on the number of cases that couldn’t proceed due to not having details of the parties, but may do so starting this year.
In December last year, a spokesperson said it doesn’t currently collect granular data on these cases. “However, the RTB will be reviewing how we report on dispute data with the objective of improving this in the next annual report.”
The RTB sees a potential solution in new laws around data sharing, according to its report to the minister.
“While the landlord is not always readily identifiable, landlord representatives or agents often are,” it says. “It would be highly beneficial to legally require agents or those operating on behalf of landlords to provide …. their contact details.”
If the RTB cannot discover the landlord’s address, it tries to access data from other state agencies, says the report.
But at the moment it has “access to limited information” from the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners, it says. The report recommends expanding what is allowed in terms of data sharing between public bodies.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: “The Minister supports every effort to enforce compliance with the Residential Tenancies Acts.”
The RTB and the Revenue Commissioners are already working on improved data sharing between themselves, they said.
A review of the private-rental sector is underway, as an action under the government’s housing strategy, Housing for All, they said. That will include public consultation, said the spokesperson.
“The Residential Tenancies Board’s (RTB) recommendations for legislative change are being carefully examined together and considered for progression through to legislative change through the Houses of the Oireachtas,” says the spokesperson for the Department of Housing.
The minister will also consult with government colleagues if changes are needed in other departments, they said.