On March 27th 2020, the Government approved a series of emergency measures to protect tenants who have been impacted by Covid -19. Moratoriums on evictions and rent increases were introduced for the duration of the Covid 19 emergency, to ensure people can stay in their homes during this period. The legislation amends the Residential Tenancies Act 2004-2019 to give effect to these changes.
The new measures include:
A Landlord cannot serve a notice terminating a tenancy of a residential property during the defined emergency period. This is initially three months from the effective date of the Act but the Government is empowered to extend this period, if necessary, in the public interest. A tenant who would not have acquired Part 4 rights but for the operation of this restriction, will not acquire these rights as a result of this restriction.
Where a Landlord served a termination notice before the emergency period for non-compliance with tenancy obligations, which specifies a termination date falling within or after the emergency period, that termination date will no longer apply. The new termination date will be the unexpired period of notice as of the commencement of the emergency period plus the emergency period. For example, if a tenant has been served with a 28-day termination notice period, and is 14 days into that period, the new termination date will be 14 days plus 3 months. Effectively the termination notice period is put on hold for the duration of the emergency period. If, however, there is a challenge to this particular type of termination notice, which is referred to the Residential Tenancies Board, these provisions will not apply to that termination notice after a period of 10 days from the determination of the Board, provided this determination has not been appealed. If an appeal is brought before the Tenancy Tribunal, these provisions will not apply from the date of the determination of the Tribunal.
The termination dates will also change for tenants who were served with termination notices before the emergency period for a reason other than non-compliance with tenancy obligations or who had a tenancy of less than 6 months. The clock will also stop running during the emergency period and the new termination date will be the unexpired period of notice as of the commencement of the emergency period plus the emergency period. For example, if a tenant has been served with a 56-day termination notice period, and is 28 days into that period, the new termination date will be 28 days plus 3 months. Where a tenancy is less than 6 months, no tenant will acquire any Part 4 rights as a consequence of the operation of this provision.
In the case of terminations for non-payment of rent, the 2004 Act (as amended) requires a landlord to first issue a 14 day warning letter to a tenant, following which the termination notice period is 28 days, regardless of the duration of the tenancy. During the emergency period, the warning letter notice period has been increased from 14 days to 28 days. The termination notice itself cannot be served until after the emergency period.
Landlords cannot implement rent increases that would ordinarily have taken effect during the emergency period. Rent increases, whether notified to the tenant before or during the emergency period, will not be effective or be payable during the emergency period.
Tenants who remain in occupation of a property (with or without the landlord’s consent) despite having been served with a termination notice that expired before the commencement of the emergency period, can remain in occupation until the emergency period ends. Their occupancy will be on the same terms and conditions that applied to the tenancy before the termination notice was served. This will not apply to tenants required to vacate on foot of an RTB adjudicator’s determination pursuant to section 97(4) of the 2004 Act or on foot of a determination of the Tribunal where an appeal was brought. No person will acquire any Part 4 rights by virtue of the operation of this new section.
For the purposes of this legislation, tenancies will also include licences. Proceedings before the Tribunal will not be conducted in public during the emergency period.
These restrictions should provide comfort to tenants who are struggling to pay rent following the economic fallout of the COV-19 crisis until the end of June 2020, or such extended period sanctioned by the Government. Landlords should carefully monitor the relevant time periods and should actively engage with tenants to discuss their ability to pay rent during this time. While the legislation prevents evictions and rent increases, it does not remove the liability to pay the rent which will continue to accrue during the emergency period. Tenants who have lost their jobs will be obtaining state income support. These measures also sit with those recently announced by the main banks such as 3 month mortgage payment breaks, which are available to landlords with buy to let-mortgages whose tenants have been affected by the COV-19 crisis.
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