Landlords and tenants who are in dispute will now be able to access free mediation services through the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB).
Up to now, a minimum payment applied to dispute resolution processes offered by the PRTB. Applicants had to pay €25 for the service, or €15 if they applied online.
The new provisions introduced in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 provide that the PRTB cannot charge a fee where a party chooses to have their dispute resolved by mediation.
However, it can continue to charge a fee for resolving disputes by adjudication. That means if the respondent does not agree to mediation, the dispute will have to go to adjudication and the applicant must pay the charge.
The board received a total of 3,910 applications for dispute resolution last year. Currently, only around 20% of disputes are mediated but it is hoped the removal of the fee will see a substantial rise in that figure.
Welcoming the commencement of the free service, Environment Minister Alan Kelly said yesterday parties who chose mediation were more likely to abide by its terms.
“Mediation saves time and money for landlords and tenants alike,” said Mr Kelly. “It is respectful, non-adversarial, and highly successful in achieving mutually agreeable resolutions to disputes.
“The introduction of these provisions builds on the rent stability measures already introduced by me in December, by giving tenants free access to a key dispute resolution process. It will encourage parties to refer their case to mediation rather than the more adversarial option of adjudication.”
The mediation process provides parties in dispute the opportunity to avail of the assistance of a trained mediator who assists both parties in reaching an agreement without the need for the parties to attend a hearing or engage directly with each other.
“Mediation is fast, convenient, and the terms of the agreements are legally binding and enforceable,” said Mr Kelly. “The PRTB also offers a telephone mediation service as a convenient way to address disputes quickly and effectively.”
His junior minister, Paudie Coffey, added: “The telephone mediation service introduced by the PRTB in late 2013 has been a major success.
“Processing times for telephone mediation cases were typically 10 to 12 weeks during 2014 and improved further to six to nine weeks in 2015.”
Mr Kelly also defended his decision to loosen planning restrictions on social housing projects up to a maximum value of €2m or 15 homes.
“The delivery of social homes for families is a priority for this Government and this delegated responsibility will assist in the early delivery of such homes,” he said.
“We need to keep administration to a minimum and reduce any red tape that may slow the progress of housing schemes.”
Under the new process, funding approval can be given by the Department of the Environment in just one approval stage for projects up to €2m in value and up to 15 new housing units.
Ordinarily, new social housing construction projects go through a multi-stage approval process.
Mr Kelly said the new arrangement will enable local authorities to progress these projects more quickly to construction stage.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved