General Scheme of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018: Residential Tenancies Board

I apologise for the delay in starting the meeting. We needed to have Members of both Houses in attendance. At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members, witnesses and visitors in the Gallery are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting, their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to aeroplane, safe or flight mode, depending on the device. It is not sufficient to put one's phone on silent mode because this will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system. Apologies have been received from Deputy O'Dowd, who is attending the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly conference, and from Senator Boyhan.

The first item on the agenda is pre-legislative scrutiny of the residential tenancies (amendment) Bill 2018. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Ms Caitríona Walsh, Ms Rosalind Carroll, Ms Kathryn Ward and Ms Caren Gallagher of the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. The purpose of this meeting is to engage with representatives of the RTB on the general scheme of the residential tenancies (amendment) Bill 2018. As previously agreed by members, we will not hear an opening statement from the witnesses as a submission from the RTB has been read by members in advance of this meeting. Instead, we will go straight to questions from members.

Before we begin, I wish to draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I welcome the officials from the RTB and thank them for their submission, which I have read. It is clear from the submission that the RTB supports the vast majority of what is proposed in the residential tenancies (amendment) Bill 2018. I think we all support the proposal to give the RTB additional powers.

I agree with the proposal to simplify the regulations and the process, as alluded to in the submission. I am sure the process is quite onerous for the RTB. It is certainly onerous for tenants and landlords. I would like to hear the witnesses' views on a couple of things. As I have said, they support the vast majority of the legislation. What elements of it do they have concerns about? I recognise the fact that their job will be to work with the legislation if and when it is passed.

As I have said to the Minister and officials from the Department, I support most of the additional powers that are proposed in this legislation. It is all very well to provide for additional powers, but we need to consider how we can implement them and work with them in practice. Maybe the witnesses can advise the committee regarding its current resources. How many staff members does the RTB have? How many case officers does it have? What is the approximate case file workload at present? I am not asking for an exact figure. It is important that we get a sense of what the average workload of each of the RTB's case officers is. What is the turnaround time within which specific disputes are concluded? I know from my job as a Deputy for Dublin Fingal that some disputes are not concluded and go on for quite some time. Are the performance indicators that have been set by the RTB being met?

As we try to improve the rights of tenants, in particular, and private landlords, we need to make sure the RTB is properly resourced. What does it need? In an ideal world, what extra resources would it have to implement these powers?

Is it okay to ask the witnesses for their view on the possibility of the RTB taking responsibility for issues relating to owner-occupied management companies? As they will be aware, this committee, under the leadership of the Chair, has been doing substantial work on this matter. We believe this element of the residential sector needs to be strengthened because approximately 500,000 people are living in owner-occupied managed estates.

My focus is on the aspects of the proposed legislation that the representatives of the RTB do not like. What additional powers, if any, do they want? How are they going to implement this legislation? What staffing and other resources will be needed?

I thank the Chair for her indulgence. I have a final question. If this legislation is passed, how quickly do the witnesses envisage that they will be able to get up and running with the additional powers and regulations that are provided for in it? I will leave it at that for the moment.

Some of my questions have been covered by Deputy O'Brien, so I will not repeat them. I want to make it very clear that we have indicated to the Minister that we are very supportive of the principle of the residential tenancies (amendment) Bill 2018. I think most members of this committee have said we would like to assist the Minister in having it proceed as speedily as possible. Given the current state of things, it is unusual that we are in such agreement, but it is to be welcomed.

Like Deputy O'Brien, I would like to know whether there are any additions to this Bill that the RTB would like us to consider in the tight timeframe that is in front of us between now and the recess. We discussed the timeline with departmental officials when they appeared before this committee at an earlier stage. I suggested to them that even if we pass this legislation by the summer, the need to issue the regulations, allocate additional resources and deal with the RTB's IT issues means that in real terms, it is likely to be January or February of 2019 before the RTB is able to act on this legislation. I ask the witnesses to confirm if that is the case. Can they talk us through the rationale for that? Can they share with the committee some of the issues with which they are contending in respect of IT interfaces?

I ask the witnesses to give us a little detail on the level of resourcing the RTB will need if these new powers are to be effective. Can they tell us, without putting themselves in a difficult position, whether they have had any conversations with the Minister or with officials in the Department about resource allocation? Obviously, that would be a matter for the budget. If the Opposition needs to lobby for additional resources between now and the budget, we will be happy to do so. It would be better if we were in a position to do it on the basis of what is actually required.

Like a number of Deputies, I am looking at potential amendments to this Bill to include things that are not covered in the heads of the Bill at present. We have had a significant discussion on the need to have student licences covered by the rent pressure zones. The Dáil passed a Bill without opposition from the Government that proposes to include student licences of some form under the rent pressure zones and under the RTB more generally. The Bill in question received unanimous support on the Opposition benches. Do the witnesses have a view on it? I understand that some student cases might be in front of the RTB at present. Are the witnesses in a position to comment on any of that?

We also had a very significant debate in 2016, when the rent pressure zones were being introduced, on changes to the Residential Tenancies Act to limit the number of families receiving vacant possession notices to quit from buy-to-let landlords to try to stem the flow of families into homelessness. The Focus Ireland amendment, as it was called, was a specific restriction in order that landlords who had bought properties during the boom with buy-to-let tax break mortgages would not be able to issue a vacant possession notice to quit when selling that property. They could sell it but with the tenant in situ. Do the delegates have a view on that or other measures that could be taken, through amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act or this legislation, that could assist us in deaing with the homelessness crisis?

Are the delegates in a position to say anything about the index they have just given to us? I invite them to say a little about it, following which I might have another short supplementary question for them.

I agree with Deputy Eoin Ó Broin in his comments on student accommodation. As I understand it, there is unanimous agreement in the Dáil that it should be included in rent pressure zones. Will the delegates give us their views on that matter and how it could be managed? I also seek their views on the proposed deposit protection scheme. What is the position on implementation of such a scheme? All members of the committee are concerned about the delay in setting up such a scheme, to which Threshold referred again recently.

The Bill provides the Residential Tenancies Board with independent powers of investigation. The board will no longer have to receive a complaint before initiating an investigation. How do the delegates see that working in practice? Will it involve random sampling or will an investigation be triggered by information derived from particular sources? Will the board, for example, investigate 20% of tenancies over a specific period? Will the delegates expand a little on that provision?

There is strong support in the House for the Bill which will strengthen enforcement in rent pressure zone, but I am concerned about areas outside them, some of which are in my constituency in Wicklow where we are seeing enormous increases in rent because landlords are afraid that they will be included in rent pressure zones in the future. To be fair to most landlords, the rents they are charging are way below market values, particularly in places such as Arklow. The big towns of Wicklow, Greystones and Bray are in a rent pressure zone but Arklow is not. Information coming to us is that because landlords in Arklow are afraid that it will be included in the next round, they are increasing rents significantly. The delegates have referred to the fact that landlords with properties in rent pressure zones who were charging rents way below market rates do not now have the ability to move to market rates. I ask them for their views on that issue.

Ms Caitríona Walsh

I thank the committee for facilitating us by rescheduling the meeting and giving us the opportunity to discuss the legislation. I ask Ms Carroll to respond to the questions posed.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin spoke about supporting most of the provisions included in the legislation and asked if there was any element about which we were a little nervous. We have set out the issues of concern in our submission. The main piece is that while we believe the legislation tries to get us to a path towards rent transparency, there is probably a little more we would do in that respect. One of the things missing from the Bill is annual registration. In the context of Deputy Pat Casey's question about investigations, the easiest way we can investigate is by having data in the first instance. We need a smart IT system to do a lot of the work for us. If we had data coming in on annual basis, we could use software to determine what rent increases were above 4%, what properties were exempt and so on, but in the absence of such a system, we will have to undertake a lot of manual work. While I understand the Bill is a pathway towards rent transparency, there are some weaknesses within it.

On the issue of simplicity, under head No. 5, one of the suggestions is landlords should be obliged to tell us about any change to a tenancy as it occurs. Failure to do so would be a criminal offence, but in terms of enforcement, that would not be very practical. How would we know whether a landlord had told us or not? How would we go about investigating it? Furthermore, in terms of proportionality, criminal sanctions for a landlord who forgets to tell us about a rent review might be too much. While landlords have obligations and need to be aware of them, the law has become so complicated that we need to be careful about keeping a streamlined approach. These are the two areas in which we have some concerns. While we support and agree with the vast majority of the Bill's provisions, we believe these two areas need to be considered further as the legislation is drafted, particularly in terms of implementation. We must ask how we can implement these provisions while keeping things simple. These are the two points I will repeat as we go through this legislation.

In terms of resources, we have sanction for 61 staff. We have 53.8 whole-time equivalent, which means that we have eight vacancies. As quickly as the Department gives us sanction, within the current economic space it is actually quite difficult for us to retain staff. It is primarily related to broader issues, including the fact that we are public servants and staff do not have access to wider competitions and so forth. Candidates will work in the Civil Service before they will come to work for an organisation such as the Residential Tenancies Board. Furthermore, ours is a small organisation, with only one person working in human resources. We have just gone to tender for a recruitment agency in order that we will be able to respond as vacancies arise or we receive sanction. We are holding people for too long. It is quite a big, open procurement process and the tender is valued at well over €25,000. It will, therefore, take us some time to go through it.

Members have probably heard a lot of talk about a two-year change management plan. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked if it had been discussed with the Department and the Minister. We have discussed it with them and the change management group has met on a number of occasions. Our main focus is on ensuring we will not do anything on the back of an envelope. We need to make sure we will get this right. The Residential Tenancies Board has started from a place where it had a really bad reputation because it was badly resourced in the first instance. We have done a lot of work to try to improve processing times. We do not want the standard of provision of our core services to drop as we take on new functions. We are, therefore, trying hard to get the balance right. In that context, we have commissioned an external workforce plan which will take account of this new piece. In that way, a body external to us will determine what we will require to do our job properly. The contract was initiated yesterday and the plan will be completed in a two-month period. The aim is to draw up the plan properly in order that it will cover not only this piece but also what the Residential Tenancies Board will require in the next few years. I cannot say what resources will be required because the issue needs to be examined properly against the backdrop of the 340,000 tenants in the system. The introduction of the GDPR, for example, has had a massive impact on our organisation because while we hold over 1 million records, we only have 60 members of staff. It is a real challenge for us. We are looking at all of these issues, including the compliance requirements for all organisations, as well as the new functions we have taken on.

It is difficult to provide a figure for the average number of cases per staff member. I have just said we have 53.8 staff members, but a large amount of our work is done through outsourcing. Our staff numbers were reduced dramatically, from 70 to 35, in 2013. As a result, we outsourced a large amount of the work. All of the front-line work is done in a customer care centre, including the handling of all calls, as well as some of the case assessment, document management and general correspondence work. Approximately 50 people are working on the contract within the call centre. We have another 74 panel members who are independent decision-makers. In order to maintain their independence, they are not employed directly by the Residential Tenancies Board, but they have a service level agreement with us. Overall, approximately 200 people are working for the organisation.

To break that down per case would be difficult because-----

I understand that. What is the average workload for the average case worker? It is not an easy question. I am trying to get a handle on how prepared the Residential Tenancies Board is to take on the additional responsibilities. Ms Carroll has mentioned it is difficult to quantify and an external workforce plan has been commissioned. Will that point to the additional powers the board has and what extra resources are required? I assume the board has had that discussion with Government. If not, we have a big problem. When the Residential Tenancies Board has additional powers, people will expect implementation. That is why I am asking those questions.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Our case workers have a target of 15 cases per week. Some of that case work is divided out. It refers to case work once an assessment has been done. That is our in-house work. I do not see those case workers taking on this work. Another section will have to be set up to do that. They will be investigation officers. It is a different skills base.

We have had the conversation with the Minister and his officials in the Department. We told them we need to do it properly and therefore we are doing an external workforce plan to make sure of the resources we require. I cannot tell the Deputy what it will be because I do not know what it will be.

Will that external plan tell the board that?

Ms Rosalind Carroll


When is it due back?

Ms Rosalind Carroll

In two months' time. Within eight weeks we will have a comprehensive plan which will show exactly how many people we need to take on this function and everything that is listed in the heads of the Bill.

If that happens within eight weeks and the board has its discussions with the Department, is it something that could come to the committee at the appropriate time? If it transpires that the board needs 20 or 30 extra staff or a particular amount of additional funding to be able to outsource certain elements, when the decision is made will it go back to the Minister? What is the process then? If we are being asked to pass the legislation, which we support, we do not want to pass it, give the Residential Tenancies Board extra powers and say the job is done. If it will not make any difference to the tenant or the landlord, what is the point?

Ms Rosalind Carroll

We are happy to share it. There are no issues with us sharing the results of it. Normally with these things, the process is that we have a high level discussion with the Department and share it with it first. We have to give the Department a workforce plan every year anyway. That is part of our overall governance structure. We will give it to the Department and from there we will have a high level discussion about budgets and how the Department can support us in terms of what we believe we need in terms of moving forward.

The problem has not been sanctioning staff but getting staff.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Exactly. The Department has been supportive in giving us sanction but we have had difficulties in recruiting the staff. I am trying to look at us as an organisation to give us the structure to be able to keep up with the pace of change. We had legislation in 2015 and 2016. The pace of change has been rather significant for the RTB. I am now stepping back and asking, apart from just those case officers and investigation officers, what do we need as an organisation to support that level of change.

Ms Caitríona Walsh

The other issue is that we really want to protect our core function as well and the work we have done in terms of our dispute processing times and the information we are able to provide to landlords and tenants. We want to make sure we maintain our service, as well as taking on the additional staff. That is why our workforce plan is so important because it will tell us about our existing service, which is increasing year on year anyway, irrespective of whether there are additional responsibilities placed on us or not. Does Ms Carroll agree that is fair?

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Absolutely. One of the other questions Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked was about the processing times. On average, for a determination order, it takes 14 weeks from the day the application is made to somebody getting the order. How does that compare with the previous year? We were at 12 weeks before this, which was our best ever number. The drop is down to the fact we are taking on more functions without the staff complement coming back in to replace us. That goes to what Ms Walsh was saying. We need to protect it and ensure it does not drop any further. We need to ensure that cases that come to us are dealt with swiftly. That is one of our priorities. Our strategic plan is within that. It is important to point out that while it is at 14 weeks, 48% of the cases we take on are dealt with within one to two months so while the average is sitting at 14 weeks, we deal with a lot of cases through early intervention and they are dealt with early on in the process. I hope that gives the committee a sense of where we are at with the figures.

In terms of the question about owner-occupied properties, management companies and so on, the Deputy's question was whether we think it is an RTB function. My initial gut reaction is-----

It may not have been a fair question. It is a policy issue.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

I have not thought about it in any great detail. I expect it is a PSRA function.

Yes, it would be.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

We have talked about how quickly we will be up and running. Deputy Ó Broin asked questions about this as well. There is quite a lot in the heads of the Bill and there are certain elements that could come in quickly and which we would like to come in quickly. One is the register of the exemptions from RPZs. I will go through the rent index details with the Deputy but for us, looking at those numbers is a bit like a grey fog in some ways. Until I know what impact those exemptions are having on the overall rent index, it is very difficult for us to say what is happening within the market. That is something we could implement very quickly. It would not need a significant change to our IT system and it means we would have the data there and would be easily able to segregate the data to see what is actually happening in the market. It would also give us a sense of how well it is being used as a provision within the existing legislation. It is something that could be done on the enactment of the legislation.

On the security of tenure changes, we would like a couple of weeks more to look at the education and awareness piece. We have a history of commencing legislation very quickly yet nobody can catch up with the changes. It is more to ensure that landlords know about them and that we give people a little bit of time so they know what is coming at them and for us to amend all of the literature and so on. We think that could come in fairly quickly. The big thing that needs more work for us is the sanctions piece. That is the one we need the lead-in time on. Hopefully, when I have the workforce plan completed we can give the committee a fairly good indication on it. I am hoping that covers that question.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

To answer Deputy Ó Broin's question, in terms of the timeline I have pretty much covered it already. I will go back to the idea of simplicity. We need to think about how difficult we make it in legislation to implement or for people to understand. In terms of the notices of termination that come before us, in 2015 69% of those were found to be invalid. They were found to be invalid for technical reasons. We have managed to reduce that down to just around 40% through our education programme. Now we are seeing there is more regulation on the rent review side. About 77% of the rent reviews coming before us are found to be invalid. I meet landlords and tenants on a daily basis who do not understand what they are meant to be doing. Tenants do not understand what they can come to us for and the landlords do not understand what they should be doing. If we tried to keep things more simple it would be much easier for people to do that and also easier for us to implement in terms of supporting the sector. I talk a lot about enabling regulation. The regulation should not be about red tape, it should be about our objective. The objective is to create a well-functioning rental sector that supports tenants and landlords when things are going wrong. They are the things I would like to see as it goes through.

I have talked about the resource allocation and our discussions with the Minister.

Student licences was the next issue that was brought up. We believe that a lot of the student accommodation that is purpose built but within the private sector comes within our remit. I want to be explicit about that because some of the press think it is not. It is really important that tenants understand that they should take cases to us. There are a lot of cases where people might claim that something is a licence. It does not matter what it is called; it is about what its substance is.

If a tenant has peaceful and exclusive occupation of that dwelling, and is not being moved from room to room on a weekly or regular basis, these are two core principles that one would look at in terms of looking at student accommodation. That is the first thing.

That does not mean that providing clarity in the legislation would not provide everybody with a bit more assurance on that. I just wanted to say that because in the interim, before whatever legislative change might be necessary, it is important that if people are concerned and feel that a landlord may not be complying with the legislation, they should, in the first instance, talk to us to see if we can look at the case to see if it is a licence or a tenancy. If it is a tenancy, it comes within our remit.

Ms Caitríona Walsh

Sorry to interrupt Ms Carroll but when a dispute comes into us, that is one of the first things we would consider, that is, whether we have jurisdiction to deal with it or not. That is an ideal opportunity for someone who may believe that he or she is under a licence to test the waters and to see whether for all intents and purposes it is a licence or it is a tenancy being called a licence. That opportunity is there if someone wishes to test that and we certainly look at all of those cases in terms of our disputes.

Ms Rosalind Carroll


In dealing with what change might be warranted and so on, we would welcome any clarity that would be provided in the legislation around this. We would urge, however, one point of caution, which is to ensure that there is some kind of definition of student accommodation and what a student is underneath that in order that if we are going to give these landlords, which is right, an exemption from Part 4 rights, that is, the security of tenure one gets after six months for five and a half years, then we need to make sure that it is not abused. To do that, we need to make sure that consideration is given fully to defining what a student accommodation is. Otherwise we could have cases of people trying to say something is student accommodation in order to ensure somebody does not get security of tenure. It is essential that thought and time are put into that element of it. Those are the sorts of discussions we would have had with the Department to date on that particular issue.

On buy-to-let mortgages, we would have some questions on the legal basis of us trying to identify what is a buy-to-let mortgage. I might bring in Ms Ward on this because we have a history, even in terms of the receivership side, of having difficulties around the conveyancing laws and of us being able to understand what is within our remit and what is not. Perhaps Ms Ward might respond.

Ms Kathryn Ward

Part of the difficulty with a buy-to-let is that our legislation, as it stands, tells us that we cannot look at title. Therefore, when somebody wants to take a case to us, we cannot ask somebody to have a look at the title deeds so we do not know. Somebody may say that it is a buy-to-let but we would not necessarily know if it was a principal private residence that somebody had let. As we know, that, in itself, can pose problems. Pre-2009, if someone wanted to let his or her principal private residence, he or she had to have written permission from the bank in order to do so. That can cause difficulties for tenants as well. It is an issue of clarity around that. We would have to be careful how we word that. We do not necessarily want to be looking at title.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

The next question was around the rent index and the provision of a quick summary of the results. The rent index has not come out but I wanted members with the details. At a high level, what do the results look like? Once again, rents continue to grow. At a national level, rents grew at 7.1%. That would compare to 6.4% in the last quarter. We went from a rent of €1,054, as the average national rent, to €1,060. That is 7% above the peak, which is 7% higher than they have ever been. Within the Dublin market, rent went up 7.8% on an annual basis from 5.1%. This has taken rents in the Dublin area from €1,417 to €1,527. That is 16% higher than they have ever been.

What do the figures tell us? Affordability is still a significant issue within the market. A growing economy, wage inflation and so on are all issues that are still contributing to the market. I would like, however, to highlight that the quarterly figures are showing some moderation within the levels. When we look nationally at what the rent inflation looks like on a quarterly basis, we went from 1.1% inflation in the last quarter to 0.4% inflation for this quarter. Within the Dublin market, we went from 1.1% to 1%. The growth rate on a quarterly basis, for two quarters now, has shown reductions.

The annual rate I just talked about is comparing what we looked like this year, and comparing it to last year. The quarterly rate is what we need to look at in terms of where we might be going. What I really need is a third quarter to enable us to say whether that moderation will continue and see its impact is on the overall annual rate. Obviously, we would like to see moderation in a third quarter. That would have been the best results we would have seen in years within the rental sector.

As said earlier, until we get those exemptions registered with us, there is a little bit of the dark arts with what is going on.

The other thing I would like to point out to the committee is the volatility that is still within that market. Due to the restricted supply, what happens is that the rental sector might get a new development within a particular area and because there is such limited supply, the impact of this on the overall averages is massive. If one looks at the Galway figures over the last number of quarters, they are going up 10% or down 10%. Certain markets are very seasonal. This goes to the underlying issue with the overall market.

This is just to give members a very quick summary. I have concentrated more on Dublin, because it gives them an indication of the rent pressure zones and their impact, and on the national figure. I am not sure how much more detail the committee may want. The committee has these figures and I will be happy to speak on anything else the committee may wish to raise.

On Deputy Casey's question, I have answered the issue of student accommodation, so I will discuss the deposit protection scheme. The deposit protection scheme is already provided for within legislation. The Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, is on record as saying we have concerns about it. We have concerns about it going back to that kind of bureaucracy and about how easy it might be to implement. One of the things within that legislation is that there has to be a cooling-off period before one gives back a deposit. This would result in us giving back deposits at a slower level than the market currently does. This could actually have a worse impact on tenants. The legislation provides that if both parties do not agree to give back the deposit, then the whole issue has to go through our dispute resolution process in a different formal manner. There are changes that could be made to that legislation to make it more effective. We have provided a submission to the Department on that basis. These proposals are probably necessary in order to make the scheme more effective.

The scale of what one is talking about here is huge for the RTB. When I discussed this previously with the Minister, we talked about a two year change management plan. That would come in at the end of it because it would give us the time to plan for resourcing. That resourcing would be beyond just us resourcing and would probably have an outsourcing element to it as well with IT infrastructure, everything else that is needed, communication with landlords and so on. One of the other changes we suggested is that it does not have retrospective impact. If the legislation came in, everybody would come in on the same day and for us to manage that would be hugely difficult. If it was brought in and applied to new tenancies in the first instance, we would be still be dealing with over €100 million a year in transactions. It is a huge scheme. If one compares that to our budget, this year, for instance, we are taking in €14 million. That gives members a sense of the scale of the difference in terms of what one would be transacting. There is a lot to this.

Ms Carroll said the board would be making a submission to the Minister in relation to this issue. Could we have a copy of that submission?

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Yes, I do not see any problem with that. The submission was made to the officials which I am sure was passed on to the Minister. We would be happy to send it on. It is quite a technical document, but it goes through the legislative changes we think are required.

It would give the committee a practical understanding of the difficulties the RTB is finding in addressing this whole issue.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

We have no problem doing that. I thought it would be worthwhile giving the committee an idea of the statistics on deposits that come to us at present. It is our third most common dispute type. Some 21% of the cases that come before us are in respect of deposits. I should emphasise that people should come to us in the interim. Of the cases that came before us last year, 92% of the cases found in favour of the tenant, in terms of either a full refund or a partial refund. This tells us that if tenants come to us - and they really should - most of them are winning their cases by a high majority. That is up from 86% in the previous year. Most tenants who take cases are winning them. We are asking tenants to use what is there and come before us. Our mediation service is free. There is never a cost to a tenant coming to us if they wish to-----

Ms Caitríona Walsh

One must also remember in respect of the disputes that come in to us that the percentage in deposit protection is only 1% to 2% of the overall market. Consequently, we are a percentage of a small percentage the overall market. Although it may not be the case, in the larger scheme of things it would appear that the market itself is dealing with this issue in terms of deposits. That is a small percentage. But that could be for lots of different reasons on which we do not have transparency.

I wish to ask a couple of quick questions on that.

We will let the witnesses finish first, please.

I will come back to it; it is not a problem.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

I might move back to the powers to investigate and how they would work. I mentioned the idea of smart regulation earlier because the organisation will grow but the question is by how much. We are making significant investment in IT this year within the RTB. Our IT infrastructure is an area for which we rightly have been criticised. That is being designed on the basis of data analytics and being able to use data in a much more effective way. We expect to be able to use our registration data in a much more effective way, that is, not just looking at the 20% but in terms of putting programmes in and using smart intelligence where the computer is telling one that one needs to look at a particular issue, for instance. At the same time we will be able to have some people who will be able to monitor advertisements on platforms etc. to see where rents may be advertised above the rate at which we think they should be, based on other data we have within the information held by us. We would be able to look at the exemptions data to specifically be able to have a quick look and to ask whether that sounds like it is in compliance with the legislation.

What we think is good about the sanctions model - and there is a lot of talk about criminality here - is that the sanctions model is a civil law-based approach. That is really beneficial to the RTB because our non-registration of tenancies has always been a criminal matter up to now. That means that if we go out to prosecute someone, we are not allowed to ask them anything that might incriminate them. Our powers to get information are greatly limited by it being a criminal process. There is somewhat of an irony there.

Within the sanctions regime there are two things that are really important. We have the power to ask people specifically to give us details of their bank statements and to bring them in and question them about things which we could not do in a criminal case. To revert to a lack of understanding, there are some landlords, a small minority, who are blatantly contravening the legislation. There is another group who are getting it half right but do not always do so. We can get to those people, they can admit their contravention and we can work with them on that basis. There is an element of proportionality that we can bring into this and we need to have that proportionality.

When one looks at who comprises our landlord sector, 86% own between one and two properties. I was asked a question at a different event yesterday about all of the institutional investment companies coming in and I went back to check the extent to which that stock type is growing. We believe that this stock type is still only making up less than 3% of the overall size of the sector. While it is growing, it is not significant in terms of the overall size of the sector. We have to remember that we are operating with amateur landlords and I would like to bring them with us. We want everyone to comply. That is a little information as to how I think we may work on the investigations side.

In terms of areas outside of the rent pressure zones, RPZs, there is an element with every regulation that is brought in to the effect that one unintended consequence of regulating a market is that people will chase the market. We have had this problem in areas like Limerick, initially, when it came in, because they were very near the national standard rent where we can point to the use of the information within this, where the local electoral areas, LEAs, are listed. We can go to people and show that they are not that near, if one looks at such and such or that this is where the trends are going. On a more local level we can help the committee do this if that is of any assistance.

I thank the witnesses for their attendance. My questions concern how the witnesses perceive the implementation of this legislation by the RTB, should it be progressed.

The first thing to say is that I have a couple of issues with the letter the Minister sent out to the committee. I do not agree that there should be a 4% increase in the rent at all. It is far above inflation, which is the reality and this was said at the time. We should not just blithely accept that the rate should stay at what the other rate was, which was agreed a year and a half ago. There is no justification for 4% rent increase and people are not necessarily getting wage increases of that order. There is no excuse for heating the rented sector any more.

The issue I have is that the RTB's very good figures show that in Dublin, rent is about 50% higher than the national average, which I believe should be noted. The increase that has taken place is almost double the 4% limit. Why that is the case? Presumably, a lot of those are new tenancies etc. but there is no question but that a lot of them are not. Many landlords are driving a coach and horses through this legislation as it stands. At the time of the legislation's passage, we tabled a series of amendments, one of which was similar in some ways to what is proposed, albeit not as strong, whereby a landlord would be obliged to produce a certificate of what the rent should be from the RTB. Nobody who is queueing up with 50 other people to try to get a place to rent, particularly in Dublin and these rent pressure zones, is in any way strong enough to challenge a landlord about the rent that is being charged. That is just the reality of it. How is this going to change now? It would be easier if the onus was on the landlord to produce a statement of what the rent should be. The RTB say here that it will publish a list of rents for an area. Will a prospective tenant, queueing up for a property in Rathmines or wherever, know what the rent rate is for Nos. 1 to 3 Oakview Lane or wherever it is? It is only when we get down to the person renting having that power that we can keep the rents below a certain level.

The other issue concerns the scenario when a complaint is received. I note the RTB itself also can initiate a complaint, which is obviously good. How serious must that complaint be? Can the witnesses clarify that? Would this involve a breach in rent or a breach in the other aspects of tenancy like the conditions etc.? As it seems quite onerous, how would the investigation be conducted? Will somebody from the RTB call up to the house and talk to the tenant or the landlord? How serious does this have to be? The reason I ask is that staffing would have to be dramatically increased.

I also wanted to ask if any cases had been taken already under the Dublin RPZ legislation. I know lots of people take cases to the RTB but how many cases has the RTB had for breaches of the rules so far? While statutory powers have now been given to the RTB, it has existing powers if a landlord goes above the prescribed rent in an area. Have many people have taken cases?

I have just a couple of supplementary questions. Ms Carroll said in her initial response that she would favour the idea of the annual registration and would have concerns about a criminal offence if a landlord did not notify of a change, be it a rent, tenancy change, etc. Does she think that having an annual registration with a possible civil offence, if that is not complied with, would be the ideal model for all the reasons she has just outlined? I would be interested in her view on that.

The approach outlined on the resource plan makes eminent sense. It gives us a much more realistic sense of the kind of timelines here. To pin Ms Carroll down on this, can she confirm that? It is important for us when we pass legislation and when we tell people about it that we can be honest and say that this is not something that is going to be available necessarily in September or October and that we are looking at the first quarter of next year. Is there a time scale around that?

Notwithstanding the fact that there will not be a set number of additional staff until the resource plan is produced, is the RTB getting any indication from the Government or the Department that they will support that? If there is an independent review, clearly the purpose of that is to give the best estimate of what is required. If that is what that independent advice says, then clearly there is an onus on us all to support it.

On the rent pressure zones, Ms Carroll mentioned places like Limerick and Waterford. We have asked on a number of occasions whether it is possible in those types of cases for the data to be looked at on an electoral division, ED, rather than on a local electoral area, LEA, basis, and not necessarily right across the country because I appreciate there might be a low level of rental properties at an ED level. However, particularly in Waterford and Limerick cities, there has to be enough data at an electoral division level that one could look at some kind of rent pressure zones being in operation at that level. I absolutely agree with Deputy Coppinger that the 4% over three years is 12.5%, but even if the people in Limerick and Waterford could get that basic level of protection, that would be something worth pursuing.

I also thought that what Ms Carroll said on purpose-built student accommodation was very interesting. I will try to pin her down on it. Is it Ms Carroll's view that purpose-built student accommodation, whether on or off campus, by universities or private sector interests, where a student has a nine month licence and has sole occupancy of that unit over those nine months, falls under the Residential Tenancies Act? Will she be clear about it in that case because that is important for us?

On defining buy-to-lets, and Ms Ward's comments were very interesting, the Focus Ireland amendment specifically proposed a definition and it was precisely for the reasons she said. Its reasons were that properties were purchased as buy-to-lets and not as principal private dwellings that were subsequently let out. Does she believe that it is in or around that that we might find a solution to it or has she some other ideas?

On the index, I listened very carefully to what Ms Carroll said on the quarterly changes. For example, the point at which rents started to increase dramatically was in the third quarter of 2013. The annual increases start to hit 6%, then up to 8%, then up 11% and so on. In the case of Dublin, if one looks at the quarterly increases, in each of the four years, 2014 to 2017, inclusive, there have always been at least two quarters where the quarterly increase is very low. In 2014, there is -0.1%, and 1.8% in 2015 and 2016. I am not convinced that the quarterly reading is telling us anything other than there is a dip in the first quarter, a jump in the second quarter, a dip again in the third quarter and a jump in the fourth quarter. One could argue that in 2017 it moderates a bit but surely the really worrying thing is that the annual quarterly increase does not show any real sign of moderation in the sense that the last quarter was 5.1% for Dublin but it is now 7.8%. I fully accept what was said that we do not have visibility regarding the properties with exemptions. However, there would have to an awful lot of exemptions for what should be in and around 4% to hit a 7.8% annual increase. Am I wrong about that?

What is also concerning me is that it is not just about exemptions. I believe that many tenants have now forgotten that even before the rent pressure zones, there was a limited level of protection regarding the rate of increase on the current market levels. I refer to my own constituency because I know it very well. On the basis of the quarterly figures, the average rent in Clondalkin is €1,500 per month. One will not get anywhere in Clondalkin today for €1,500 per month. Rents range from €1,800 to €2,000 to €2,200. In all those cases, whether they are first-time tenancies or new tenancies, there is a breach of the pre-2016 rules as well as a breach of the 2016 rules in terms of rent requests way above the RTB's index of averages. Is there a bit of work we could all do in trying to highlight the fact that even within a rent pressure zone, or even outside one, there is a level of increase that is unacceptable under the pre-2016 legislation? There is no new supply in Clondalkin; it is all existing properties. I do not believe a substantial number of renovations are going on. What I am seeing are a lot of people breaking both sets of rules, the RPZ and the pre-RPZ rules. My fear is that when one gets that visibility on the level of exemptions, it is still not going to account for the gap between what should be the 4% and, as Deputy Coppinger rightly pointed out in Dublin, what is really a doubling of that. If the witness have any thoughts on all that, I would a really appreciate hearing them.

I will be very quick. On purpose-built student accommodation, the witness mentioned defining it. Deputy Ó Broin alluded to the fact there is absolute agreement among the Opposition that we want to see this in the Bill. We said to the Minister that if it is not in it, we will bring an amendment forward. There is a definition under section 13(d) of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016. That defines what purpose-built student accommodation is. I would see us potentially using that definition for purpose-built student accommodation.

I want to make one point on the deposit protection scheme, and I will not labour it. I am of the belief that further protections on deposits are needed. The Oireachtas has passed that legislation. While I understand the concerns of the witnesses with aspects of it, the Oireachtas has passed the legislation, so we have to see how we can work with that.

There are different models in Britain on that, where one has, for example. It is not necessarily saying that the RTB has to manage €100 million. I get the witnesses' point. I know what Ms Walsh is saying in the context of things being smaller but it is an issue out there. It is a concern, in particular when certain people ask for two or three months' deposit which is a substantial amount of money. I would like to see us moving towards that and I will be pressing the Minister on that issue.

I thank the witnesses for their contributions today which show that the work the RTB is going to do on the external workforce plan will be really important. We may have passed this legislation before the RTB has its plan, so what we, as a committee, will need is a commitment from the Department and the Minister that he will resource the RTB appropriately. If the RTB has not done that work, or if it does not have it back before we pass the Bill - the Minister wants it passed before the recess and I believe we are all in agreement to do our best to do that - I just want to make sure we do not have the cart before the horse and that the RTB is not left with the regulations and does not have the resources.

I am in agreement with the previous speakers. My issue with the Minister over the past few months is that there are only 21 local authorities in the rent pressure zone areas. That is a significant issue in that the amount neighbouring counties will be lower. In my own county of Carlow, rents have increased from €700 to €1,000-€1,100. What is actually happening is that landlords are able to increase rents. We have good landlords but on the other side, we have landlords who do not do work for their tenants and this is a major issue.

I welcome the extension of the notice to tenants in the Bill. That is crucial. On several occasions a landlord would just put it in writing but it is not a legal letter. That lack of information is part of the awareness issue raised by the witnesses. It has to be a legal letter to a tenant. Tenants do not know that so when they receive a letter from a landlord, they think it is part of their notice to quit. There are 325,000 tenancies registered with the RTB, which is a significant number. However, tenants who come to me do not have the information to which they are entitled.

That is the biggest issue for them. As other speakers have stated, staffing is a significant issue, although that is no fault of the witnesses.

A very important issue which I have dealt with in many recent cases is the role of the RTB in terms of local authorities. Local authorities operate the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. However, in my area many tenants who are on the housing list and receiving a HAP payment are in non-regular accommodation in which the heating may not be working or there may be health and safety issues with the windows. What is the role of the RTB in terms of councils and, in particular, in regard to the RAS, because those on the RAS are local authority tenants? Do local authorities work with the RTB? Is there an agreement with the RTB or with the landlord or tenant? That must be clarified. Many tenants are unaware of the situation in that regard and most are confused in terms of dealing with the local authorities. Does the RTB have a protocol or plan in that regard?

I live in an area with two excellent third level colleges. Lack of supply is the biggest issue facing everybody here today. However, student accommodation is occupied by students for the nine months of the academic year but some landlords then take on tenants for the remaining three months of the year, after which those tenants must leave. That is another problem, in particular in smaller towns such as my own where there is, as I said, two colleges. What can we do for such tenants? Can anything be done for students? Are they only entitled to a nine month tenancy? Can a person taken on a tenancy for three months? Can a landlord state he or she will only take a tenant for three months and the tenant must vacate by the end of August because the student tenants return in September? Those are issues which we need to address in the long term.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Apologies for the delay - I want to ensure I start with the right information. Deputy Coppinger's first question was in regard to the 4% increase and whether that cap is too high. On the Deputy's other comments and the fact that inflation is running at a far higher level than that, from the perspective of the RTB, getting it down to 4% would be an achievement because we are quite far from that level, as the Deputy stated. I listened to a talk today from an academic who has recently studied the German market, which has a similar rental regulation regime to that in Ireland. There are still very high increases in Germany in spite of it having a regulatory framework that largely mirrors ours. The academic's take on the situation is very similar to my own, namely, that regulation must be accompanied by enforcement. The Bill before the committee provides for such enforcement. In Germany, as in Ireland, one piece was put in place but the enforcement to underpin it was not brought in.

I agree that there are issues in terms of us not understanding the exemptions. My point in referring to the exemptions is that I would like to be able to show the index without it and thus get a better picture of the inflation. I do not suggest that there is no inflation. There are contraventions but I cannot ascertain the volume thereof until I get data on the exemptions. There is much non-compliance in the German market in terms of people ignoring the regulations. We need to bring in enforcement. A positive aspect of the enforcement is that we will publish any sanctions, which will empower tenants to make a complaint to us, although not necessarily through our dispute mechanism. Tenants will also be protected by being able to make an anonymous complaint.

Deputy Coppinger asked how those investigations can be undertaken. Many tenants within the current structure access our dispute resolution service, which is entirely focused on two parties bringing evidence before us. That is a difficult step for tenants to taken in a restricted supply market in which landlords clearly have the upper hand. As such, tenants are not coming forward to the extent that would be expected in view of the evidence of contraventions in the market. It is very important for tenants to be able to come to us anonymously and that must be safeguarded as the legislation is progressed.

Have people come forward since the legislation was originally enacted?

Ms Rosalind Carroll

I currently have no power to do anything with complaints. The only way a person can take a case to us is through our dispute services. People have come forward to us. It is interesting to note that the percentage of tenants coming forward has increased in terms of our overall disputes numbers. Some 59% of disputes referred to us last year were taken by tenants, rather than landlords, and that rose to 63% this year. More tenants are coming forward to us.

As regards rents and market rents, we are coming from a very low base. In 2016, 255 cases on the issue of rent reviews and whether they were legal were taken with the RTB. That may primarily concern rent pressure zones but it could be in regard to the rent certainty legislation brought in by the 2015 legislation. For example, a landlord may have conducted a rent review before being entitled to do so or may not have given the required notice. In such complaints, there are usually several breaches rather than only one. For example, a complaint would probably not be in regard to an increase of over 4% but, rather, an increase of over 4% and an invalid notice and a failure to serve 90 days' notice. It is not just one breach that is being found.

These are chancers on every level.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Yes. The number of cases taken increased by 88% last year, to 481. However, that is coming from a low base and I do not wish to overstate it because some people will not bring a case.

They should do so.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

They absolutely should do so and they are protected by the current legislation in so doing. There is protection in the Act against a person maliciously evicting a tenant for taking a dispute. More cases are being brought under section 56 of the Act and more damages are being awarded to tenants. However, the reality is that tenants still feel their home may be at risk. It is to be hoped that the new legislation will stop that but for the moment it can be difficult for some people to make that complaint and I do not wish to understate the scale of that difficulty.

On certificates of rent, I have read some of the committee debates on this issue and am unsure exactly how it is proposed to work. In order that members understand our current registration data work, a landlord is currently required to register every new tenancy or every further part 4 with us. That is why I believe there may be a slight weakness in what is proposed. If a tenant has been in a tenancy for over six years, it must be re-registered or else it is a new tenancy. It is only at that point that I get data. If I were to tomorrow publish all the rental information I have on existing tenancies, it would probably be misleading because it would not be dated. Even if I put a date on it, that might be 2014 or 2015 and the rent may have been reviewed twice since then. There is a difficulty in that regard. I do not currently have the data to identify the current certified rent for a property. We need to bring in annual registration such that I can identify the rents that have been registered every year since that point and identify the date of the last rent review. We do not currently have those data and I could not, therefore, give the committee any intelligence on what is going on in the existing rental market.

That being the case, how can this legislation be implemented?

Ms Rosalind Carroll

It is a journey towards transparency but that transparency will need to be strengthened. The Minister has told us and also openly stated that he is committed to introducing annual registration and he is continuing to work on that. It is an important piece of the puzzle. I do not wish to get technical with the committee but the Bill contains an amendment to section 139 of the current legislation, which would place an onus on landlords to come forward and tell us about every rent review, as I stated. That will be difficult to enforce because of the difficulty in determining who to go after. How will I know if a landlord has done a rent review? That could involve me writing to every landlord every year to ask them to confirm it, which would cost €174,000.

Given the scale and diversity of our sector, trying to regulate that will not be as effective as it could be. I would caution about that. I believe a more programmed smarter form of regulation will allow for more effective regulation.

The strength of what is before us is the fact that we publish every sanction that comes out. While resources represent an element of this, I hope after a year of the Residential Tenancies Board carrying out investigations and publishing all these sanctions, it will start to change behaviour within the market. Seeing that the sanctions are working - on the tenant and landlord sides - will start an empowerment and will also ensure more caution on the part of those not in compliance with the legislation currently.

The Deputy asked how serious a complaint needs to be in order for us to take it. On the basis of the heads of the Bill, my understanding is that anything can be said to us and we can investigate it. The only exception is malicious complaints and I do not expect to get too many of those. The idea is that somebody can make a complaint either anonymously or by giving their name. At the moment, while I cannot do anything with them, I get former tenants writing to me because they have seen their past property advertised at a rate beforehand. I expect to be able to use that much more effectively in future. All I need is something to prompt an investigation. Then I can ask the landlord directly and look for the supporting evidence of the rent they are receiving by way of bank statements and so on. It should be quite an effective means and will not be a system based on tenants coming forward with evidence. Somebody will be able to come forward and say, "I think there's a problem here in relation this and this is why." We can have a quick look at it and start an investigation if we feel there is non-compliance.

The Deputy also asked what can be contravened. The heads before the committee propose two contraventions in the schedule. One of them relates to rent pressure zones. That could be the exemptions or the 4% increase. The second piece, which is important for us, relates to non-registration of tenancies. As I mentioned earlier, if a tenancy has not been registered we have to pursue the criminal route, which is very difficult for us and it means our investigations are quite limited. Hopefully we will be able to use the civil-sanctions model provided that the legislation is passed. Those are the two contraventions specified in the heads at the moment.

I think that dealt with most of Deputy Coppinger's questions.

Both Deputies Coppinger and Ó Broin commented on the quarterly changes. I agree that the market is not stable. Things increase and reduce followed by further increases and reductions. If I could see a third quarter of moderation that would be the first time we would have seen three quarters of moderation. The next quarter's figures will give us a sense of whether the trend is continuing. That is important for us to look at. We are seeing dips - things go up and things go down. It is the dark arts at the moment. It is important for us even to get a scale. If I could get those exemptions out of there, I would be able to point to clear non-compliance. I would expect to see a good annual rate on a consistent basis at about 5% under the rent pressure zone legislation. I say 5% because not everybody will complete a review every two years. There will be a pro rata catch up for some people. That means it may always be a little bit ahead of the 4%. However, we should see it at around that level. We would obviously like to see it stabilise and have a dampening effect. We need to remember that the overall impact of this was not just on the individual rents; it was to have a dampening effect on the overall market so that by some rents being reduced, even the new rents overall would get reduced. We need to see it start working more effectively. I agree with the Deputy on that.

At the moment purpose-built student accommodation publicly funded by the Higher Education Authority is specifically excluded from our legislation. Anything that a public body has, whether it is the HSE or us, does not come within the remit of the RTB. When I talk about what might be within our remit at the moment, I am talking about privately built student accommodation.

Are universities covered by that exemption?

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Exactly, educational facilities.

Just to come to the deposit protection scheme-----

Ms Carroll's point is that the private purpose-built student accommodation is covered under the RTA and RPZs. She is calling on students with licences in those premises to take a case if they feel their rights have been infringed.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

Obviously, we do not have the details of every case, which is why it is case specific. Even from my knowledge of student accommodation, in many cases students are given a property and have exclusive use of it. We would welcome some cases coming before us and at least we could make a determination on that. At the moment we are in a vacuum. The last time I checked - I am open to correction - we did not have cases before us on it. We could not comment specifically on an individual case if we did. I think that deals with Deputy Ó Broin's questions.

On deposit protection and the idea of mydeposits and other UK-based models being used, within the current legislative framework we could not use those because it has to be the RTB that does that. Therefore there is not a basis for providing that flexibility within the current legislation. In addition we have no ability to have treasury management within the current legislation. That means that all the money that comes in has to sit in a bank account and only be used for that purpose. It cannot be used to help fund the scheme. That is why I say there are small things that could be done to help use it. That could even be used for the benefit of housing in a broader sense, for example, managed by the Housing Finance Agency and so on. We could do certain things to improve the legislation.

Deputy Ó Broin and others asked when we could implement this. There is no way we could implement the sanctions before the first quarter. That is to ensure we have the right framework around it and also have the right resourcing and trained staff who are skilled in what they are doing. It is important for both tenants and landlords, and we want to ensure it is done correctly. I do not think it could be done before quarter 1. That does not mean the legislation could not proceed to be passed. I need certainty in what I will be providing. Until legislation is in place, it is very difficult for me to know what will be in the final legislation. In the interim we are doing things such as commissioning the workforce plan on the basis that hopefully the legislation will be there. We are not doing nothing in between. We will continue to work on these things until they come.

Ms Caitríona Walsh

May I interrupt? Deputy Ó Broin asked about support from the Department and the Minister. The Department has approved of the workforce plan and the fact that we are getting it. It has indicated at this early stage that it would offer support for whatever comes from that workforce plan. We only recently had confirmation of that support.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

I ask Ms Ward to deal with the Focus Ireland piece in terms of amending legislation.

Ms Kathryn Ward

I do not have the interpretation of that in front of me.

With regard to student accommodation, when I came to the RTB first in 2004-05, we always took it that private student accommodation was within our remit. We had many registrations for student accommodation. Students brought cases to us. Over the years as a different model of student accommodation was being built and provided, things started to change.

Perhaps landlords entered into different agreements with the individuals but the view could be that it is an apartment. It may be that it is a three or four-bedroom apartment, but it is one tenancy with three or four people in it. If people take cases to us through our disputes resolution procedure, we would look for that agreement, not the title deeds, and look at the substance of that agreement and how it works in practice. While somebody may say that he or she is going to move an individual on the first of every month, the question is whether he or she does that in practice. If not, then it is a bad term within that tenancy agreement. This is why we would encourage cases to come before us.

Wearing the registration enforcement hat, again we are looking at providers of student accommodation and seeking to find out why they are not registering. When they say they do not have to register because it is a licence agreement, we do the same with these as we would do with every other landlord who says it is not a tenancy but rather it is a licence. We ask them for a copy of the licence. In that way we can then look through that and if we are of a belief that it is not a licence, we engage with them on the grounds that it should be registered.

I would not come from a background of thinking that they are just licences, but with all of the confusion around it and the new models of student accommodation that are being provided, it is a question of having the correct definition in legislation. We would have to look at the definition that Deputy O'Brien was talking about and see whether it suits the purpose.

As regards student accommodation, Senator Murnane O'Connor spoke about somebody only getting a nine-month lease, but it depends on what people sign up to. If they sign up to a nine-month lease, it is a nine-month lease. The one thing to remember with student accommodation is that it generally suits students to get the nine-month lease because then they are off for the summer. What happens then is that the individual comes back the next year and the only provision that does not apply to students is security of tenure. This means that after a student has done three or four years in college and has got a job with Ericsson or whoever, he or she cannot stay on in that accommodation because we would end up again with very little student accommodation being available. The only difference between student accommodation and regular tenancies is that a person does not have that Part IV right to stay on.

Ms Caitríona Walsh

Senator Murnane O'Connor is correct where she talks about information and awareness. This is key. We cannot expect landlords or tenants to come to our service if they do not know about us or what we do. We are trying to think both within and outside of the box in respect how we can get our message across to both landlords and tenants in terms of their rights and responsibilities, the information that we can provide and the assistance that we can give. We have a pilot programme running at the moment, I believe it is with Citizens Information-----

Ms Rosalind Carroll

We have entered into a partnership with the Citizens Information. We are doing individual clinics throughout the country. It is not just Dublin-based. It means that we are engaged at the same time in training the Citizens Information staff on the intricacies of the legislation. That is a good partnership.

We also have a new communications and research unit, which we set up last year, in recognition of exactly what the Senator was talking about. It is a new area for us.

Tenants tend to be a different demographic and can be harder to reach. We are trying to recognise this and we have entered into social media. We have a Twitter account that we launched only in the past month. While one might smile at this, it is often the only way to make contact, particularly with younger people.

On a more positive note, in terms of engaging with landlords, we are introducing a voluntary landlord accreditation scheme next month. This is about trying to work with landlords as they come into the sector and familiarising them with the legislative framework from the beginning. It is about dispute prevention rather than just coming at it again with the stick. These are a couple of things we are doing.

The housing assistance payment, HAP, and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, come specifically within our remit. Regardless of any relationship with a local authority, these are private tenancies. A tenant or landlord can come to us directly. We would not have a relationship with the local authority in that regard. It would be with either the tenant or the landlord.

There is a bit of confusion on that because many RAS tenants whom I would deal with would go back to the local authority. RAS tenants are taken off the local authority housing list. There is a lot of confusion. With HAP, they come to the local authority also. It is important that we highlight what the witnesses have said and work with them on that because many people are not aware of this. It is something we can highlight through Citizens Information, which does great work. I am always highlighting the point the witnesses have made, but many people are not aware of their entitlements or the information. That it is something of which we need to be very aware.

Ms Rosalind Carroll

That is something we can take on board and maybe specifically target in our awareness campaigns. The census results probably reflect that where the numbers in the rental sector were not what we expected them to be because people identified as social housing.

There are a few questions I may have missed. On the electoral divisions, ED, question, that was looked at as part of the overall review of the rent pressure zones. We did find difficulties with it from a methodological perspective, and there are probably some ways around it, such as joining EDs. We could look at that a little further.

We are under a little bit of time pressure. We were supposed to have our next session at 2 p.m. I suggest to members that we take a ten-minute break and start our next session at 2.15 p.m.

I thank the representatives from the Residential Tenancies Board, Ms Walsh, Ms Carroll, Ms Ward and Ms Gallagher, for attending. If there is anything they think is relevant, they might follow up on it and send it to the committee afterwards, please. We will meet more stakeholders on this topic on Thursday.

I propose that we suspend for ten minutes and I remind members that our second session will be in committee room 4.

Sitting suspended at 2.07 p.m. and resumed at 2.24 p.m.