A big increase in the percentage of tenants taking landlords to Tribunal. Are the stats showing a new trend or is the lockdown to blame?

New statistics from Tenancy Services put the spotlight on applications to the Tenancy Tribunal and at first glance, tenants appear to be standing up for their rights. However, the figures may not show true indication of a new trend due to the impact of the lockdown imposed by the Government. 

In August 2019, we obtained data from Tenancy Services under the Official Information Act that highlighted how many applications were being made to the Tenancy Tribunal and who was making them. Now, Tenancy Services have recently launched their new quarterly Dispute Resolution statistics which breaks down each quarter, who is making applications to the Tribunal and what is the basis of their claims.

Usually, less than 15% of all Tribunal applications are made by tenants. For 2017, just under 12% of all applications were made by tenants and in 2018 and 2019 respectively just under 15% of applications were made by tenants. This trend continued going into the first quarter of 2020. A total of 14.4% of all applications were being made by tenants. However, since the 1st of April through to the 30th of September, tenant applications have increased to 24%. What has caused the increase?

Lockdown to blame

Emergency changes to the RTA during the lockdown led to a large decrease in landlord applications to the Tribunal

Due to the lockdown, landlord applications have decreased substantially and in particular, for rent arrears. This is due to the emergency provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) that was introduced to protect tenants once the lockdown was announced. Because of this, you could not apply for eviction unless the tenants were 60 days or more in arrears meaning that the number of applications made by landlords dropped dramatically. In the period between the 1st of January and 31st of March 2020, landlords made 6,239 applications compared to 1,050 by tenants. 6,024 of these applications had claims regarding rent arrears. A staggering 96.6% of all landlord applications.

However, when the lockdown commenced, the number of applications made by landlords in quarter 2 dropped by just over 50%.  Only 3,083 applications of the total number of 4,100 applications were made by landlords in Quarter 2. Whilst landlord applications increased to 4,227 in quarter 3, they were still substantially down on Quarter 1. Rent arrears applications dropped from 6,024 in quarter 1 to 2,231 in quarter 2 and 3,667 in quarter 3. 

Applicant Jan to Mar Apr to Jun Jul to Sep TOTAL %
Landlord 6,239 3,083 4,227 13,549 80%
Tenant 1,050 1,017 1,321 3,388 20%
Total 7,289 4,100 5,548 16,937 100%

This chart shows the number of applications made in the first three quarters of 2020. Landlord applications dropped significantly once the lockdown began. Sourced by Tenancy Services.

Are tenants becoming more bullish?

However, quarter 3 is showing signs that tenants are becoming more aware of their rights and the percentage of tenants applying in terms of numbers, has increased significantly. In quarter 3, 1,321 tenants applied to the Tribunal, an increase of approximately 100 per month. This is over 300 more applications than quarter 2 and 1 respectively and an increase in the averages we have seen over the last 3 years.  This may be an outlier but only time will tell. It may not be a surprise to see the trend continue however as more tenants begin to exercise their rights under the RTA. Many landlords are struggling to cope and make sense of pending RTA reforms. This, in light of tenants no longer fearing retribution through the removal of no-cause terminations as well as being able to have name suppression on Tribunal orders where they are successful means that tenants could become more bullish in fighting for their rights. 

Rent arrears still the biggest issue

One thing that the information does highlight is how much time is taken up by the Tribunal dealing with rent arrears cases and wait times could easily be reduced if rent arrears only cases were removed from the Tribunal.

There was a significant drop in the number of landlord cases in Tribunal. Predominately, due to rent arrears

In Quarter 1, 6,024 of all cases had a component of rent arrears about them. Compare that to Quarter 2, 2,231 cases dealt with rent arrears. This must-have reduced wait times significantly. Over 82% of all applications had a component of rent arrears in the application in Quarter 1. One must acknowledge that many of these applications will be made up of other components such as damages and cleaning. Some will also likely have cross applications made by tenants for other issues, but one cannot overlook the fact that so much of the Tribunal’s time is taken up on cases where there actually isn’t a dispute. If someone simply hasn’t paid their rent then it is more a matter of fact than a dispute between a landlord and tenant.

For over a year now, we have been arguing that rent arrears only cases should be removed from the Tenancy Tribunal in an attempt to reduce Tribunal wait times. Rent arrears only cases could be handled remotely and tenants still have the opportunity to challenge the findings. This is how the process would work.

  • The landlord makes an application for termination and possession of the tenancy based on the fact that the tenant has become more than 21 days in arrears (section 55 of the RTA). Evidence will have to be provided to prove that this is the case.
  • Both parties will be notified of the application via email, SMS and to their contact address.
  • An adjudicator will assess the facts presented to them by the landlord and, so long as all the information is correct, a possession order will be written up terminating the tenancy. Possession will be granted to the landlord within ten working days of the order being written.
  • Notification will be sent to all parties via email, SMS and to their contact address.
  • If there has been a substantial miscarriage of justice, the tenant can seek a rehearing under section 105 of the RTA. The tenant has five working days to do this.
  • Landlords would be unwise to provide false evidence in their application. Giving false evidence can result in imprisonment with a term not exceeding 3 years.

This process would lead to a large reduction in Tribunal cases, freeing up valuable time for more complex cases.

Landlords still getting the basics wrong

One thing that is highlighted in the statistics under tenant applications is that there are still a large number of landlords who simply do not understand their legal responsibilities or they do not care. Bond’s not being lodge, failing to maintain the premises and quiet enjoyment make up a significant number of tenant applications. Just under 90% of tenant applications were seeking compensation and exemplary damages in Quarter 3.

From the 1st of January to 30th of September 2020, there have been 492 applications to the Tenancy Tribunal for bond’s not being lodged whilst there have been 503 applications for alleged breaches of quiet enjoyment. This is simple stuff that should not happen.

In terms of failing to maintain the premises, 518 applications have been made by tenants. This equates to just over 3% of all Tribunal applications.

Top disputes detailed in applications: January to September 2020. Source Tenancy Services

Jan to Mar Apr to Jun Jul to Sep TOTAL
1 Rent Arrears 4948 2231 3107 10286
2 Refund Bond 3869 1955 2707 8531
3 Termination/possession 3357 1094 2091 6542
4 Compensation/Damages 2184 1448 1973 5605
5 Outgoings 1106 519 757 2382
6 Exemplary Damages 689 580 812 2081
7 Other orders 686 562 748 1996
8 Rent arrears breach 1076 0 560 1636
9 Remedy to breach 637 388 504 1529
10 Cross Applications 373 400 467 1240

Statistics on rulings required

One thing that we are fascinated to get more data on is the rulings made by the Tenancy Tribunal. The information that Tenancy Services are providing is based on applications made to Mediation, Tenancy Tribunal and FastTrack. They do not show the outcomes of those applications.

This information would be very useful in terms of getting a better understanding around the outcome of disputes and driving consistency of the Tribunal as well as providing a great source of information for landlords and tenants so they can try to resolve disputes without heading to the Tribunal.

One thing is for sure, with the amount of media attention on renting at the moment, we do not expect to see a drop in Tribunal applications and it would not surprise us to see a higher percentage of tenants exercising their rights as the RTA amendments come into effect in February 2021.

As ever, our core business is education and we will continue to keep Property Managers informed to help them make better decisions that benefit both the landlord and tenant.

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