Board woes leave tenants out of pocket

Disputes between tenants and landlords are going unresolved because of funding problems in the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB).

The PRTB was established in 2004 to set up a national register of landlords and to provide a dispute resolution service for tenants and landlords. However, resource constraints have delayed hearings and a failure to pursue landlords through the courts has left tenants out of pocket.

Bob Jordan, director of the housing charity Threshold, said the PRTB was set up as a “cheap and speedy” alternative to the courts for landlords and tenants.

“We work with people day in, day out on really low incomes and most of them would be in receipt of rent supplement or social welfare. They’re relying on the PRTB completely when it comes to resolving their dispute.

“However, it can now take up to a year for someone to have a dispute over the return of a deposit heard.”

When the PRTB finds in favour of a tenant, it issues a determination order against the landlord. If the landlord refuses to comply, the PRTB must pursue that landlord through the courts.

However, Mr Jordan said increasingly the PRTB is not pursuing its own decisions

“They’re not pursuing landlords who don’t comply with their own orders through the courts. This has the possibility of completely undermining the PRTB in our eyes.”

A number of cases were highlighted by RTE’s Prime Time programme last week. In one case, two tenants were awarded unprecedented damages of €16,400 following their violent illegal eviction from their rented accommodation. However, the PRTB has not pursued the landlord for the money, and so far the tenants have received nothing.

In a letter sent to the tenants, the PRTB said: “Due to the very serious economic situation, the PRTB can only process a limited number of enforcement requests in any given year… under the legislation, enforcement is discretionary.”

The PRTB maintains it has lost €5.2m in exchequer funding, and is now entirely self-financing. Landlords are required by law to register their tenancies with the board, at a cost of €90 per registration. As of last August, there were 251,130 registered tenancies in the State.

Appearing before a joint Oireachtas committee on the environment last October, director of the PRTB Anne Marie Caulfield said the board had struggled to operate and improve its registrations and disputes services with 70 staff.

“Under the Employment Control Framework,” she said, “we are obliged to reduce that number to 33 by end 2013. At the same time, we will be expected to broaden our remit, to regulate the social and voluntary housing sector.”

Mr Jordan denies the problems relate solely to resourcing. The Threshold director says if the €1m spent by the PRTB annually on outsourcing legal services was brought in-house, savings could be achieved.


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