Landlords Adding Extra Charges On Top of Rents, Avoiding Laws That Restrict Rent Increases

In September 2017, when New Maltings, a corner block of apartments on Watling Street on Usher’s Island was put up for sale, the tenant living in Apt 211 was paying €750 a month, a sales brochure told those interested in bidding.

In May 2021, the property was being advertised on Rent.ie for €1,385, which is 85 percent more.

It’s a similar story with other flats. For Apt 247, the brochure said the rent was €1,250, while in March 2021, the property was advertised on Rent.ie for €2,200, 76 percent more.

For Apt 229, the brochure gave the rent as €850, while it was being advertised on Daft.ie in May 2021 for €1,350, 59 percent more.

Dublin has since December 2016 been in a designated rent-pressure zone (RPZ), where rent increases are, save for some exemptions, capped at 4 percent a year – which would be 17 percent over four years.

A spokesperson for LRC Group, which owns New Maltings through Cyprus-based subsidiary Jersia Limited, said that it’s not as simple as taking the headline figure in the more recent adverts.

The brochure figure is the rent, they said. “The advertised figure includes more than just the rental component - such as car parking and service charges (which are all listed on the lease agreement).”

The LRC Group spokesperson didn’t answer queries as to how long it has charged extra for car parking and service charges, what the service charges cover, and whether the car-parking space is optional or not.

LRC’s landlords have a strict policy of sticking to the rules and regulations set by the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), the spokesperson said. “The rents for these units have been established in accordance with RTB regulations.”

What Is the Rent?

The extent to which tenants in the rental sector are charged “non-core price payments” is unclear. Researchers at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) flagged the issue briefly as an interesting area to look at, in a paper published last month that looks at inflation in rent pressure zones.

“If landlords are not able to charge higher rents, they may ask households to make side payments or else to cover more of the utilities and other charges associated with the property than they did previously,” the paper says.

“Future research should attempt to consider the questions as, if such payments occur, the benefits of lower growth in terms of rental market affordability may not fully materialise,” it says.

Stephen Large, the Dublin regional services manager at the housing advice charity Threshold, said: “It is not really something that we’re seeing much of.”

It could be that it’s not happening much or that people aren’t aware of the breakdown of what they’re paying or that they have accepted it, he says.

Large said he is aware of a couple of cases where people faced increases in charges that they were unhappy about. “I don’t think there’s anything to prevent this from happening,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Residential Tenancies Board said tenancy agreements should set out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants, and what charges the tenant has to pay on top of the rent.

“If extra services are required to be paid on top of the rent, this needs to be clearly set out in the lease agreement and the landlord is required to show evidence of the requirement to increase these services through receipts or bills,” they said.

They didn’t directly address a query about the concern that extra charges could undermine rent pressure zone caps.

“If a tenant believes that rent is being unlawfully set, they can apply for dispute resolution with the RTB,” they said.

Avoiding Disputes

Large, the regional manager with Threshold, says he thinks that people asking questions when they’re looking to rent a new place, and getting as much broken-down information as possible, is key.

Although, “when you’re looking for places and they are few and far between, a person’s agency is greatly reduced in these situations”, he says, but “they can still ask all the questions and revert after the fact”.

In other words, they could take a case with the RTB once they’ve signed a lease or agreement if they think charges do for some reason violate the rules or file a complaint with the RTB’s investigations unit.

Not many tenants take up the option of filing disputes in relation to breaches of rent pressure zone rules, though.

Fewer than 2 percent of tenancies registered a dispute in 2019, and fewer than 4 percent of disputes, or 263 cases, were for breaching an RPZ rent-increase cap, says the RTB’s annual report.

The RTB has had investigations and sanctions powers since July 2019, to launch its own cases. In the second half of 2019, it started more than 50 investigations, arising from written complaints or phone calls or analysing internal or open-source data, says its annual report.

Figures for 2020 weren’t yet available as the RTB is still working on its annual report for that year, a spokesperson said.

When Ciarán Hanrahan went to sign the lease on a new apartment in Clontarf earlier this year, the estate agent breezily pointed out how the advertised figure was split into two components.

“When we were signing the contract he was like, just a heads up, you’ll see it broken down,” says Hanrahan.

Within his lease, it gave details, as required under law, of when and how the rent had last been set. That had been on 1 November 2020 so Hanrahan and his partner had the same rate, it showed.

The lease also notes that there is a separate agreement for the car parking space.

Hanrahan and his partner, who don’t have a car, also had to sign that second agreement, he says – even though they didn’t want it. “They said it wasn’t optional.”

The car-parking space is €50 a month, he says. “We just kind of accepted it because it was the price that we had accepted.”

“I mean, we already know we’re overpaying. But it feels like we’re overpaying again. Because it’s even beyond the, like, the limits,” he says.

The advert for the place had given the total figure, but it should be broken out if part of the monthly rate was for other services, he says. “The contract should kind of reflect the price advertised.”

Hanrahan says he wouldn’t have felt comfortable challenging the letting agent on the issue. “Because he’d choose the next person.”

He would worry that he and his partner would have to leave if they did decide to file a dispute, he says. “I still think there’s just no protection there to do anything other than accept the terms.”

They moved into the place earlier this year and a landlord can end a tenancy within the first six months without giving a reason as to why.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that the current rent pressure zone measures expire at the end of this year.

“The department is currently examining options for their replacement as part of a rent reform bill which will be brought forward in the autumn,” they said.

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Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

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