The Dáil and Seanad recently passed legislation, which when enacted, will dramatically alter the legal and regulatory regime under which landlords currently operate.
The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2018 (the “Bill”) substantially amends the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 (the “Act”). The Bill, inter alia, provides for powers to carry out investigations of landlords, and impose administrative sanctions, provides for offences in relation to non-compliance with rent increase restrictions in rent pressure zones (“RPZ”), extends the scope of the Act to student accommodation even if operated under a licence, seeks to regulate short term lettings in RPZ, increases the notice periods to be provided to a tenant where a landlord terminates a tenancy, imposes additional requirements on landlords on terminating tenancies, and provides for annual registration by landlords of tenancies.
2. COMPLAINTS, INVESTIGATIONS, AND SANCTIONS
For the purposes of this note, we will deal with perhaps the most significant aspect of the Bill, i.e. the insertion into the Act of a new part, dealing with complaints, investigations, and sanctions.
- Investigations may be carried out on foot of a complaint to the RTB that alleges improper conduct by a landlord has occurred or is occurring. The RTB may also of its own volition cause an investigation to be carried out. Improper conduct in relation to a landlord includes a contravention of the RPZ threshold, failure to register the tenancy on an annual basis, failure to update details of an alteration of the rent payable, or breaching the procedure for terminating Part 4 tenancies.
- Authorised officers will be given far-ranging powers, including, for the purposes of an investigation, to enter onto and search a premises where they have reasonable grounds for believing that any activity in connection with the letting or tenancy of a dwelling is carried on.
- Sanctions in relation to improper conduct can include a direction to the landlord to pay to the RTB a sum up to €15,000 for the improper conduct by the landlord; and/or a sum up to €15,000 for costs incurred by the RTB in investigating the matter; and/or a written caution to the landlord.
- An appeal will lie to the Circuit Court against a decision to impose a sanction. The imposition of a sanction shall be published by the RTB.
- A person who fails to provide information required for the purposes of an investigation is guilty of an offence and liable to be tried either summarily or on indictment. A conviction on indictment may result in a fine of up to €50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years.
3. LIKELY TIMEFRAME FOR IMPLEMENTATION
It is to be expected the Government will seek to have the Bill enacted as soon as possible, given the widely reported difficulties faced by individuals seeking private rented accommodation in Ireland. It has been reported that the Government will ask the President for early signature of the Bill.
As noted by one opposition T.D., “the Residential Tenancies Acts have become a complex web of legislation”, and therefore landlords should always take appropriate advice where required, regardless of how straightforward an issue with a tenancy may appear at first.
The reforms are significant, and will impact on the majority of landlords of residential property in the State.