The Residential Tenancy Board (RTB) was established in 2004 on foot of the Residential Tenancies Act. The RTB is an agent of Government with statutory powers. The central role of the RTB is to support the rental housing sector and to resolve cheaply and speedily disputes between Landlord and Tenant, affording protections to both parties without having to resort to the courts. Since its inception, there has been much media attention on its role and function, but the question here is it delivering on its stated aims?
As a Landlord of an Irish residential property (with some exceptions short terms lets etc.) you are legally required under the Residential Tenancies Acts, to register a private residential tenancy with the RTB.
The RTB has 3 main functions and they are as follows;
- The maintenance of a register of private rental tenancies.
- The provision of dispute resolution service in the event of a Landlord/Tenant dispute.
- Research into the private rental sector.
The dispute resolution service provided by the RTB is a qusai judicial process and has replaced the requirement for court proceedings in the majority of Landlord/Tenant disputes. The service offers a choice of resolution types to the parties – mediation or adjudication with the option to appeal the outcome to a three-member Tenancies Tribunal. This service is available at a nominal cost which was certainly not the case when matters had to be litigated through the courts prior to the existence of the RTB.
Certainly, this has given Landlord’s and Tenant’s a more predictable outcome as to the process in resolving a dispute, both in terms of cost and timescale. Before the 2004 Act was established, Tenant’s had limited rights and rarely engaged in litigation to enforce those rights because of the costs involved in court proceedings. The flipside of this now as Tenant’s become more aware of their entitlements and knowledge as to the process, we are seeing an increase in the number of dispute cases our Residential Asset Management Division are dealing with. This fact is borne out that the total number of dispute resolution applications has grown from 899 in 2004/2005 to 6,185 in 2019 representing an almost six-fold increase in applications for dispute resolution over this period. Since the 4th June 2019 the RTB must publish all determination orders. In 2019 approximately 57% of complaints were invoked by tenants, landlord complaints were 41%, and third-party complaints were 2%.
An important improvement in the 2014 Residential Tenancy Act provides for fast track dispute resolution procedure where there is already a dispute before the RTB and where a Tenant fails to continue paying rent. The failure to pay rent can be subject to separate adjudication. The Act also allows the RTB to dismiss dispute applications if it’s considered frivolous. We have yet to see this section of the Act being enforced as in our experience the RTB regardless of the nature of the dispute will entertain a full hearing of any dispute.
As with the majority of legal actions there is an opportunity to appeal albeit one of the main purposes of the RTB is to divert Tenancy disputes away from the courts. The adjudication decisions taken by the RTB can be appealed to the Circuit Court. In addition appeals can be made on a point of law from a Tenancy Tribunal determination. We have found due to the prohibitive cost the litigation ceases with the issue of the determination order from the RTB with the Tenant vacating the property if they fail in the claim.
The sanction and damages are significant enough in terms of penalties to be a deterrent from breaching the Act. Offenses under the 2004 Act may be prosecuted by the RTB in the District Court. A person found guilty of an offense is liable on summary conviction to a class B fine of between €2,500 – €4,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or both.
Damages/Re-Dress that may be granted by the RTB can involve the payment of;
- Up to €20,000 of damages to a party to the dispute
- Up to 20,000 or double the annual rent concerned (whichever is the higher) where a payment is directed in respect of arrears of rent.
When a determination order issues a party may request to the RTB to apply to the Circuit Court for an order directing the respondent to comply with the terms of a Determination Order. This however in our experience is rarely exercised by the RTB particularly if the Landlord entity is considered to be of means.
In 2017 there were nearly 6,000 applications for Dispute Resolution Services which was a 20% increase on the numbers form 2016. This however should not be alarmist as it only represents 1- 2% of the tenancy registered in the State for that particular year. These numbers are remaining constant in the most recent years that statistics are available. In 2019 out of the 364,099 tenancies the highest number in the RTB’s 15 year history , only 2% of all registered tenancies ended in dispute showing the vast majority of tenancies in this country are working well.
In 2019 legislation further expanded the remit of the RTB including a range of changes for the residential sector. The RTB received new powers to directly investigate and sanction certain breaches of rental law. These powers allow the RTB to become a more pro-active regulator of the residential housing market. The rent index continued to be an important tool in the designation of rent pressure zones (RPZ’s), this function of the RTB has brought certainty and predictability for the Landlord and Tenant at the time of the introduction of these zones which was seen as a barrier for Capital Investment in the sector.
In relation to the RTB’s third function in conducting research for the first time the RTB held a research seminar and published two independent reports, published in 2019, which has made a significant contribution to the debate and understanding of the impact of rent pressure zones in Ireland (RPZ’s).
RTB play an important role in compliance whether this is in ensuring that Landlord’s register their Tenancies or where determination orders have issued following a dispute resolution. Enforcement should be a key focus of the RTB’s role and should be enhanced for the benefit of both the Landlord and Tenant alike.
Interestingly in 2019 the RTB received 6,185 applications for dispute resolution - 60% of these cases were closed within a 12 week timeframe and this statistic would compare very favourably with long arduous timetable of the court process pre 2004. Unfortunately with the advent of Covid 19 in 2020, this timetable for Dispute Resolution Services has been significantly delayed and the only method of plenary hearing is by way of paper based adjudication.
Another effective and timely method of dispute resolution offered by the RTB is Telephone Mediation Service. In both 2018 & 2019, 76% of telephone mediation cases ended with an agreement and only 5% of telephone mediation cases applied for enforcement in 2019. 77% of telephone mediation cases were resolved within two months making it the timeliest dispute resolution mechanism and the good news is it is free. We would expect telephone mediation to increase during COVID restrictions and as it presents a more convenient mechanism for resolution.
As pressure in the housing and rental sector continues to grow, demand for the services of the RTB will increase. In 2019 customer calls, emails and web chats in total increased by 7.4% compared to 2018. The RTB have tried to embrace the digital revolution and all its processes are now undertaken on a web-based platform (https://www.rtb.ie/). As with any organisation the RTB must continue to adapt and implement the Government Regulatory Framework in a way that supports all the Stakeholders in this ever-changing sector.
So is the RTB working as it should be? And the answer in the main is YES and on balance it is a friend rather than a foe.