Business man searching icon screen interface to show real estate assets as a ommodity

Concrete Plans

The Irish residential housing market is currently characterised by demand far outstripping supply while the demand on the part of international capital for real estate assets is currently unsatiable. Does this appetite really push house prices up and squeeze out owner-occupiers?

Over time, Government policies changed from being housing providers to being ‘facilitators.’  These policies have left governments somewhat accountable to investors, worsened housing affordability, accelerated a decrease in homeownership and a simultaneous increase in private renting.

The financialisation of housing refers to the transformation of housing and real estate markets by corporate finance; hedge funds, private equity, banks, insurance and pension funds, and other financial intermediaries with massive amounts of capital to invest.

Global real estate is a more valuable asset class than all stocks, shares and securitised debt combined – which, together amount to just US$170 trillion. The value of all the gold ever mined throughout history pales into even greater insignificance at a mere US$6.5 trillion.

The dominance of financial markets in the housing sector means that houses are algorithmically assessed, bought and sold in bulk landing straight in the portfolios of institutional investors and large-scale landlords while often bypassing the potential homeowner.

The combination of natural increase and positive net migration suggests the population of Ireland is to increase to 6 million by 2050. If the housing stock is to reflect the country’s demographics, close to 50,000 homes need to be built each year until 2050. Simply put, investment funds are needed to meet the country’s housing need and to reduce the burden on the State to deliver this housing.

The arrival of foreign capital in Ireland bypassed domestic banks and established a direct link between foreign capital and the Irish property market. Based on recent investment funding patterns, Ireland needs significant foreign investment to meet its housing need - an extra €75bn each decade, of which €70bn is likely to come from international sources.

Both international and Irish-based studies confirm that Ireland is one of the most expensive places in the world in which to build. The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) puts the cost of delivering apartments in Dublin at between €493,000 and €619,000 so the price metrics to sell these units to owner-occupiers just don’t work. Over the past decade, most of the bigger schemes in Dublin have been built on a forward purchase or a pre-let agreement, while the construction players engaged in largescale housing put significant demand on labour and material resources.  This leaves little for the small to medium sized builders to work with to deliver product for the owner-occupiers. All of this creates the perception that owner-occupiers are being squeezed out of the market.

For critics, institutional landlords are the vultures who prey on the wreckage of a monetary crisis and separate house prices and rents from local incomes. On the other hand, some argue, all supply is good supply particularly given the acute housing shortage and the need for investment in both the sale and rental market.

The private rental sector (PRS) in Ireland has trebled in size since 2000 – partly because of declines in social housing provision and also because it has become more difficult to become an owner-occupier.  Until the arrival of international capital, Irelands' PRS had been served by a large number of small landlords. The Rental Tenancies Board (RTB) says that around 86 per cent of landlords own one or two properties and supply just over half the total market. But recent RTB figures show the profile of landlords is changing with 26% of small landlords with 1-2 tenancies intending to sell a property within the next five years. Large landlords (with 100+ tenancies) plan to continue to invest and expand their portfolios.

Those who support the idea the institutional approach professionalises the rental sector might be suprised by the findings of a recent study of 1200 PRS housing standards inspections.  This study reveals 3 per cent of compliant properties and 11 per cent of non-compliant properties is owned and managed by the institutional landlords.

Institutional PRS investment is driven by long term demographic and housing policy trends, resulting in structural affordability problems in homeownership markets and the absence of social housing. In the context of declining home ownership, a declining number of private landlords and significant funding invested in the PRS across a number of public housing schemes, our local authorities have a critical duty to ensure rented accommodation, in their administrative areas, follow the regulatory standards

Inspex Team Reappointed

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCOCO) extends its official agreement with the Inspex team for the provision of housing inspections and support services to ensure properties available for letting in the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown administrative area are in compliance with the Housing Standards Regulations 2019.

The current minimum standards for rented accommodation are set out in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019 and specify the requirements in relation to a range of matters including structural repair, sanitary facilities, heating, ventilation, fire safety as well as the safety of gas and electrical supply.

Annually, the Department of Housing Local Government & Heritage (DHLGH) requires that 25% of all registered tenancies with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), in the administrative area of all Local Authorities, are inspected to ensure compliance with the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019. At end June 2020, there were 19,630 private registered tenancies in the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown administrative area.

All landlords, including Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), have a legal obligation to comply with the standards and must ensure their properties are fully compliant with fire safety and minimum standards regulations for rental properties.

Where properties are deemed to be non-compliant following inspection, the Housing Acts 1966 to 2014 allocate the responsibility for enforcement of the Regulations to the Local Authorities.

Failure to comply with the minimum standards set out in the Regulations can result in penalties and prosecution.

Where there are HAP tenancies in place, under Section 41 Part 4 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, the property must comply with the relevant housing standards legislation. If an inspection finds the property does not meet the required standards, the Local Authority can suspend or cease HAP payments.

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council may issue Improvement Notices and Prohibition Notices to landlords whose properties remain in breach of the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019.

As part of its agreement with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, Inspex notifies landlords and or tenants of the requirement for a property to be inspected, inspects the rented property and determines whether the property complies with the minimum standards.

Rented houses compliance

Fair Procedures

With significant public investment in the private rented sector (PRS), consistent application of housing standards and fair enforcement of the regulations are needed. Our local authorities have a public duty to ensure rented housing complies with minimum accommodation standards.

A strong and viable PRS is a key component in a healthy housing market while the quality of rented accommodation is critical to sustaining the sector over the long-term. Residential rental properties should provide safe, comfortable and environmentally sustainable homes for those who live in them. Updating and improving accommodation standards and regulating their application are essential.

For the period from 2014 to 2020 the number of private registered tenancies with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) increased by 17.39%. All landlords, including AHBs and student specific accommodation (SSA) providers are obligated to register their tenancies. Currently, there are 334,588 tenancies registered.

Local authorities play an important and strategic role in meeting new and existing housing needs through their involvement in the provision of housing by Approved Housing Bodies (AHB’s) and housing units through the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) funding streams, such the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS).

The allocation for the housing programme increased by 230% (€943 million to €3.1 billion) between 2016 and 2021. In 2019 total expenditure on public housing was almost €2.6bn, HAP and RAS schemes accounted for almost 50% while leasing (Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP)) and RAS accounted for almost 30%. The overall capital allocation for DHLGH in the current year is €2.8 billion, an increase of €500 million on 2020.

In the context of the current high-level of demand for a limited supply of rented housing stock and significant public funding invested in the PRS our local authorities have a critical duty to ensure rented accommodation, in their administrative areas, follow the regulatory standards.

Without an inspection system in place, there is no mechanism to ensure that dwellings comply with standards. The purpose of an effective inspection regime is to recognise the importance of safety standards and in this context ensure a rented property complies with the minimum accommodation standards as set out in Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019.

Substantially increased DHLGH funding has been made available to local authorities each year since 2018 to enable the authorities to build inspection capacity and deploy external contractors such as Inspex. The number of inspections more than doubled from 19,645 in 2017 to 40,728 in 2019.

Annually, the DHLGH expects that 25% of all registered tenancies with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), in the administrative area of all local authorities, are inspected to ensure compliance with the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019. Where properties are deemed to be non-compliant following inspection, the Housing Acts 1966 to 2014 allocate the responsibility for enforcement of the Regulations to the Local Authorities.

Where properties are deemed to be non-compliant following inspection, the Housing Acts 1966 to 2014 allocate the responsibility for enforcement of the Regulations to the Local Authorities. Failure to comply with the minimum standards can result in penalties and legal proceedings. With sufficient resources made available, the local authorities are now more likely to issue Improvement Notices and Prohibition Notices to property owners whose properties breach the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019.

Current social housing tenants have existing rights under the Housing Acts 1966-2019 and the provisions of the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019 apply to all local authority dwellings. While social housing is regulated under the above Acts, private rental tenancies are regulated under Residential Tenancies legislation. A goal of the ‘Housing for All’ plan is to examine whether the social housing sector requires independent regulation.

Consistent application and fair enforcement of standards is critical to sustaining the PRS over the long-term. A proficient deployment of IT means that Inspex provides its local authority clients’ consistent inspection and verification services when capturing, analysing, and determining the condition of private rented dwellings and in particular confirming whether minimum accommodation standards are met under the relevant housing legislation.

Student Specific Accommodation

Built For Profit

Student Specific Accommodation (SSA) is housing built or designated for students.  This includes purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) and accommodation that is let for the sole purpose of providing accommodation to students during the academic year.  While PBSA is an important component of the government’s housing strategy, its critics argue that PBSA is built for profit and not according to what students need.

In recent years, the unprecedented growth in those participating in higher education – 168,000 in 2014 to an estimated 193,000 in 2024 has led to an increase in demand for suitable student accommodation.  In tandem, the purpose-built student accommodation sector (PBSA) has seen significant growth, between 2014 and 2020, almost €950m worth of PBSA assets transacted. From an investment perspective, being relatively insulated from market cycles, student housing performs well.

The Government’s Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan 2016 underlined the importance of providing well designed and located student accommodation to meet demand.  The objective of the Government’s National Student Accommodation Strategy 2017, was to incentivise affordable student housing and ensure an increased supply of PBSA bed spaces -  an additional 21,000 places by 2024 – to ease demand pressures in the private rented sector (PRS).  The strategy also highlighted the significant upfront capital investment required to increase PBSA supply and the necessity to seek the funding shortfall from private developers.  Recent reports indicate of the 8,229 PBSA units completed since 2016, 84% are privately delivered and €87 million in tax breaks granted to the PBSA providers.

The Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2020 deal with the regulation of the mainstream PRS including the approved housing body (AHB) sector.  The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 brought SSA under the remit of the RTB in July 2019. This means that SSA tenants have most of the same rights as private tenants (excluding Part 4 provisions).

Under the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021 students now have safeguards in place around the payment of rent in advance, notice periods and refunds. The Bill ensures any upfront payment upon the commencement of a tenancy is restricted to a total value that does not exceed two months’ rent i.e., a deposit and one month rent in advance. This restriction applies to all tenancies including for students. A student can make a larger upfront payment by way of an opt-out option but they cannot be forced to do so. The Bill also provides that the notice period in respect of student specific accommodation is limited to a maximum 28 days’ notice. All SSA providers must now comply with the law governing rent reviews. From 16 July 2021, for tenancies in a Rent Pressure Zone (RPZ), rent calculations are based on the Harmonised Index of the Consumer Price (HICP) values.

Critics of PBSA development argue there is an over reliance on the private sector for its provision and the reason why the cost of PBSA is rising beyond the reach of the average student. In terms of rents charged for accommodation within PBSA schemes for the 2020/2021 academic year, rates varied depending on schemes but the average advertised headline rent in Dublin was approximately €9,000 for 39 weeks in line with the previous year. Some operators offer incentives to take-up accommodation and as such, the average effective rent was about 2% less overall.

More recently, PBSA providers report a lack of student demand that has led to Dublin City Council (DCC) granting permission to convert student beds to short-term lets. These change-of-use decisions have led to some serious accusations that DCC is perpetuating the student housing crisis.

Purpose-built student accommodation is defined as housing built or designated for students.   Between 2014 and 2020, almost €950m worth of PBSA assets have transacted in Ireland and €87 million given to the private operators in tax breaks.  Clearly PBSA is an important component of the government’s housing strategy but its critics argue this is housing that is built for profit and not according to what students need.

Supply and demand

No Place Like Home

Housing affordability is a controversial topic globally because people on average wages are priced out of the housing market, particularly as salary increases have failed to match hikes in rental and housing. Feeling squeezed by increasing rents and house prices, voters threaten to make their frustrations felt at ballot boxes and politicians respond with policies aimed at controlling rental and price increases.

Changes in population and household formation have significant implications for housing demand.  With the population in Ireland projected to increase by 1,953,300 by 2051, 53.8% of the increase due to net inward migration and 46.2% due to natural increase, real housing demand in Ireland is now estimated to range between 32,000 and 50,000 units per year.  Delivering sufficient housing to create an affordable choice for renters and owner purchasers is an immense challenge and one that is not likely to be solved in the short or medium term.

In Ireland a decade of under-investment following the property crash in 2008, has led to a significant decrease in the housing stock per capita.  As a result of persistent housing shortages, house prices have grown faster than household income and home affordability has worsened.

The standard method to measure affordability is to define a threshold value that housing cost should not exceed as a proportion of household income. In the United States, affordability is considered a problem if housing expenditures exceed 30% of income. By comparison Eurostat sees households spending more than 40% on housing as overburdened. Tenant organisations are increasingly targeting 25% as a threshold. Given the competing definitions, the widely accepted metric for affordability is above a level of 30% of gross income is ‘unaffordable’.  Nationally, an average home is listed as being €303,000; €412,000 in Dublin and €254,000 outside of Dublin.  This means that people on average wages (€40,000 gross per annum) are priced out.

While incomes have grown recently, rents have grown much faster, putting increasing pressure on the ability to save.  High rental costs, extends the time needed by a potential first-time buyer to accumulate down payments via savings. The number of years needed for a first-time buyer to save the required down-payment to purchase an average house in Dublin increased by between one and two years between mid-2014 and mid-2016, and by between three and six months in the rest of the country. The cost of paying rent while saving to accumulate a down payment postpones homeownership. While the age that marked the changeover between renting and home ownership was broadly stable between 1991 and 2006 (27 years on average), it increased from 28 years in 2006 to 35 years in 2016.

Home affordability has worsened for both tenants and homebuyers in Ireland since 2013, especially for low-income tenants and homebuyers living in and around Dublin. Property and rental prices have increased faster than household disposable income while the relative cost of housing is higher for tenants than for owners.

The traditional developer and buy-to-let landlord in the private rented sector are being replaced by institutional investors.  While institutional investors enjoy the benefits of organisational structure, economies of scale and stronger equity, greater compliance and regulatory costs, rent control and the current tax regime continue to drive smaller investors from the housing market.

The high cost of building apartments in Dublin is more than owner-occupiers or first-time buyers can afford.  In the first six months of 2021, investors funded the supply of 2,949 new homes for the rental market. Even though investment funds have had the capacity to pay the high construction costs of apartment blocks in urban areas while satisfying the Government’s requirement to deliver scale in a demanding housing market, others believe some of the larger landlords are of now of sufficient scale to possess rent setting powers in certain locations.

For housing to be more affordable, supply must increase.  Encouraging construction activity is vital but simply building more houses is not the solution. The balance between owner occupied and build-to-rent developments needs to be effectively managed to deliver affordable rents which frees up the money to save for a deposit.

The ‘Housing for All’ plan includes the aim of building 90,000 social houses, 36,000 affordable homes, around 18,000 cost rental homes, and 164,000 private ownership and private rental homes by 2030. It is reported the project has more than €20 billion in funding through the Exchequer, the Land Development Agency (LDA) and the Housing Finance Agency over the next five years.

Housing affordability is a controversial topic because people on average wages are priced out of the housing market, particularly as salary increases have failed to match hikes in rental and housing. Constructing new affordable homes and increasing housing stock is not something that takes a short amount of time. If affordability continues to be an issue in Ireland more people may demand government steps in between developers, landlords and renters.  Such interventions can be costly and may not be in the interest of everyone.

Housing Inequity

No Quick Fix

Despite successive governments’ efforts to curb rising homelessness, affordability issues and housing inequity with multiple funding streams there is seemingly no quick fix. The urgency to build quickly with little regard for the future has meant that construction issues and building defects persist.  An estimated €1 billion is likely to be spent to deal with construction defects.  Any industry that regulates itself will be susceptible to conflicts of interest, inconsistent application of standards and inadequate oversight.

The intent of changes made to a building control system is to ensure stronger compliance with building standards and to provide consumers with a better means of assessing new construction. Without an effective and independent inspection system in place, there really is no mechanism to ensure that buildings comply with standards.

In June 2017 existing planning policy was changed to allow for a temporary system of “fast-track planning”, enabling applications for large-scale housing developments of 100+ units to by-pass local planning and go directly to  An Bord Pleanála (ABP). In March 2021 Government introduced changes to the planning framework to curtail the purchase of homes by institutional investors and ringfence a portion of all units for first-time buyers and for affordable purchase, in addition to the 10 per cent reserved for social housing under the Affordable Housing Bill.

Budget 2021 committed €5.69 billion in funding to the Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage (DHPLG). This included €3.3 billion to be spent on housing, 24% more than 2020 and the highest single investment in housing by government in any year to date. But increases in budget spending, Ireland’s liberal approach to planning policy, decades of cheap credit availability, a rising population and changing demographics are the recipe that has led to a series of most unfortunate events.

Updates and changes to regulations, including Construction Products Regulation 2013, Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, Minimum Standards in Rented Houses Regulations and the CIRI register have come largely in response to widespread building defects, revealed through several cases associated with a lack of transparency, compliance with building practices and independent oversight

Priory Hall in Dublin is perhaps the best-known example of a scheme developed with no oversight of and adherence to standards. The 189-unit development was condemned, with residents being forced to vacate their homes by a court order in 2011 due to serious fire hazards and safety concerns. More recently the Crescent Building in Dublin 12 constructed in 2003 has been deemed a fire safety hazard with inadequate fire stopping throughout and requiring a new fire alarm system. Before 2014 amendments, compliance with building safety standards were so light touch that a Fire Safety Certificate for an apartment complex was issued by the Building Control Authority provided the works or building was constructed in accordance with the plans and specifications submitted.

Pyrite and mica are now synonymous with the poor application of regulations and standards of construction.  Multiple areas of North Dublin, as well as Meath, Kildare, Wicklow, and other areas in the east have been affected by pyritic heave.  In 2010 it was estimated that around 20,000 claims were made to HomeBond in relation to pyrite. Despite the HomeBond scheme (underwritten by Allianz) having a latent defects element to the policy, HomeBond did not accept liability.  With mounting pressure on the Government at the time, the Pyrite Remediation Scheme was set up to remediate dwellings significantly damaged caused by the swelling of hardcore under ground floor slabs.  Several thousand properties in the northwest, including Mayo and Donegal, are now presenting with serious structural defects having been constructed with concrete containing around 17% mica mineral content causing the buildings to crumble.  With so many properties affected the Government was forced to establish the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.

While the new building control regime brought in new roles and administrative procedures, it is still possible for real estate developers to employ their own certifiers directly. Creating a project-specific company and employing a registered professional directly is allowed under the new regulations.  Meanwhile a Local Planning Authority (LPA) is only required to validate statutory certificates. Clearly, there are limitations to the amendments and there are concerns in the residential sector that the self-certification regime remains entirely in the control of a developer.

Despite successive governments’ efforts to deal with the housing issue there is seemingly no quick fix. The urgency to build quickly with little regard for the future has meant that construction issues and building defects persist.  Property defects could be avoided if we have fit-for-purpose regulation combined with an independent inspection and verification regime.

Compliance Chart

A New Level of Complexity

Given recent experience in Ireland, the construction sector must operate to the highest of standards and be accountable for its actions.  Regulation of the sector is critical but revisions and additions to an already complex regulatory environment adds an additional level of complexity for compliance and dilemma for enforcement.  Appropriate regulation, with consistent application across the local authority areas, is fundamental to the development of a strong and sustainable construction sector.

Emissions from the construction industry reached the highest ever level in 2019. The use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) for heating, lighting and cooking as well as an increasing energy demand for air-conditioner cooling with worsening extreme heat means that together, construction and building operations account for nearly 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Addressing the industry’s CO2 emissions is crucial to delivering climate-action objectives.

As new construction is expected to double the worlds building stock by 2060, an increasing number of institutional investors are recognising that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors can materially affect a company’s performance and market value and are key to reducing risk. These socially conscious investors consider the ESG standards as the means to future-proof the value of investments.

The Irish Government’s current policy initiative, Project Ireland 2040, indicates that by 2040 an additional one million people will live in Ireland and an additional two-thirds of a million people will work here.  This means that an immediate priority is to increase the overall housing supply to between 30,000-35,000 housing units annually by 2027.  Private equity and Build-To-Rent (BTR) have a vital role to play in meeting these goals.  Partnering with international investors, an increasing number of Irish based developers are bringing BTR projects to market.

On the investment side, according to both CBRE and Savills, investors increasingly consider that ESG criteria have a role to play in successful residential development and are targeting investment opportunities which fulfil these criteria. The ESG strategy published by Hines and its Dutch joint-venture investment partner APG for the mixed-use development at Cherrywood in South County Dublin outlines the approach being taken to minimise construction and operational impacts on the environment and the ways in which energy efficiency, health & wellness and social inclusivity is being promoted within the development.

On the construction side, building green and decarbonising the construction sector should mitigate the worst effects of climate breakdown and there have been positive developments in the construction sector in Ireland. The Irish Green Building Council (IGBC), an organisation aligned with the World Green Building Council (WGBC), promotes the acceleration of building sustainable homes.  Its Home Performance Index (HPI), a new voluntary building code for home building in Ireland, is awarded based on the standard of a home’s design, construction, and environmental sustainability. Developers who set out to build new homes to this standard can also avail of loan discounts through Home Building Finance Ireland (HBFI).

Ireland's growing population, rising property prices and demand for long-term private residential accommodation are fundamental drivers for investment into the BTR sector and construction but revisions and additions to an already complex regulatory environment adds an additional level of complexity for compliance and dilemma for enforcement.

The question of who pays the additional costs associated with meeting new ESG targets in development, construction and living amenities remains for now unanswered.  While investors focus on the bottom line, tenants already challenged by high rental costs, seem unlikely to agree to any additional outlays.

Given recent experience in Ireland, the construction sector must operate to the highest of standards and be accountable for its actions. If managed correctly, the interconnectedness between building, rental, green and ESG standards could enhance accommodation standards overall. Regular inspection to independently verify standards along with enforcement where contraventions are identified should ensure the best outcome for all stakeholders.

RTB Rent Index

RTB/ESRI Q1 2021 Rent Index

The RTB/ESRI Q1 2021 Report produced by the Residential Tenancies Board and the Economic and Social Research Institute tracks price developments in the Irish rented housing market. The current Report is based on rents paid on 15,899 private tenancies registered with the RTB in Q1 2021 compared to the 16,235 tenancies registered in Q4 2020.

The decline in the number of tenancies registered with the RTB in this quarter is most likely linked to the increased Covid-19 restrictions in place during the first quarter of 2021. There were a higher number of tenancies registered in Q3 and Q4 of 2020 and a lower number of registrations in the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Renewal tenancies were not included in the sample used to generate Q1 2021 Report; tenancies that commenced before 24th December 2016, landlords were required to register a tenancy as a Part IV Renewal after 4 years. For tenancies that commenced after 24th December 2016 landlords are required to register the tenancy as a Part IV Renewal after 6 years. This change means that no Part IV Renewals will be registered until Q1 2023.

Dublin and the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) accounted for 55.8 per cent of all tenancy agreements registered. In terms of property type, 60.4 per cent of the tenancies were for apartments. In Dublin, 77.2 per cent of tenancies were for apartments while it was 43.8 per cent and 50.6 per cent in the rest of the country and the GDA respectively.

On a quarterly basis, rents rose in all except 5 counties in Q1 2021, with 17 counties recording annual growth of more than 5 per cent in the first quarter of 2021. The highest standardised average rent was in Dublin at €1,820 per month while the lowest monthly rent was in Leitrim where the standardised average stood at €596 per month.

The national standardised average rent stood at €1,320 in Q1 2021 – an increase of just under €33 compared to Q4 2020.  On an annualised basis, rents grew by 4.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2021. This growth rate is higher than that of the previous quarter (3.3 per cent) and the highest since the 4.7 per cent annual growth recorded in Q1 2020.

The standardised average rent for houses was €1,304 per month in Q1 2021, a rise of 2.6 per cent on Q4 2020 and a rise of 7.0 per cent year-on-year. The standardised rent for different housing types varied between €1,121 per month for a one-bed house to €1,442 for a house with four or more bedrooms; inflationary pressures continue to be greatest (year-on-year) for houses with four or more bedrooms.

The standardised average rent for apartments stood at €1,351 per month in Q1 2021, an increase of 2.3 per cent on Q4 2020 and a rise of 2.2 per cent year-on-year. The standardised rent for different apartment types varied between €1,207 per month for a one-bed apartment, €1,374 for a two-bed apartment, and €1,574 for an apartment with three or more bedrooms. The year-on-year increase for two-bed apartments was 2.7 per cent while apartments with three or more bedrooms had the highest year-on-year growth at 4.9 per cent.

The economic context determines the drivers of rental inflation in Ireland. Having grown at 4.7 per cent per annum in Q1 2020, the national rate of inflation dropped to 1.6 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 as the Irish economy and society experienced various levels of restrictions.  In Q3 and Q4 of 2020, the annual inflation rate increased to 2.5 and 3.3 per cent remaining below the pre-pandemic level of inflation. The 4.5 per cent annual growth rate Q1 2021, similar to the rate recorded in late 2019, suggests a return to pre-pandemic levels of rental price inflation.

Dublin has seen a greater initial drop and slower rebound in rental price growth since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic than elsewhere. This reflects the impact of Covid-19 on both the demand and supply sides of the market in the short term.

Highlight Rent in Context

The Wider Context

The more accurate information is at RTB tenancy registration, the more efficient the process is in the wider context of seeking to maintain the standard and safety of accommodation generally across the private rented sector.

The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) was set up under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to deal with the regulation of private rented sector housing.

Registering a new tenancy with the RTB as required under the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2019 is not the last link in the chain for a landlord with a new tenancy. The RTB uses this information to maintain a publicly available property register as well as for a variety of intergovernmental requirements.  All landlords are responsible for registration and are expected to update the register when information about a tenancy changes.

At present, new tenancies must be registered with the RTB within a month of the start of the tenancy. Each new tenancy is allocated a Registered Tenancy (RT) number. When a tenancy has been in existence for 4 years or more, a new tenancy begins and the landlord must re-register this new tenancy with the RTB.  The basic rate for registering a private rented or Approved Housing Body (AHB) tenancy is €90 per tenancy. A late fee of €180 per tenancy applies if a registration is received more than a month after the tenancy commenced.

The introduction of annual registration is being floated as important to assist the RTB in monitoring and regulating the rental sector. Under the Act 2019, landlords will be required to register a tenancy annually, rather than simply registering a new tenancy when it commences or 4-years later. The Act creates a new fee structure, €170 for bulk registration, €40 for private rented tenancies, and €20 for AHB tenancies. Yet to be enacted, the RTB intend to roll-out a new tenancy management system (RTB360) to underpin the administration of the annual registration scheme.

Information provided in a tenancy registration is used by the RTB to facilitate a variety of requirements under relevant legislation and where necessary the information provided at the point of registration can be shared between agencies such as the Revenue Commissioners, Department of Social Welfare, local authorities, and officers of the local authorities such as Inspex.

Most landlords already know the current minimum standards for all private rented accommodation are set out in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019.  Our local authorities are responsible for checking and enforcing these minimum standards. Officers of the Housing Authority, such as Inspex, are authorised under section 18(2) of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 to access rented properties for the purpose of rented house inspections.

Where contracts and data agreements exist, Local Authorities issue Inspex with a schedule of rented properties for inspection as registered with the RTB together with landlord and tenancy details as registered for the purpose of processing inspections of rented properties in accordance with Housing Standards.

With there being two types of business relationships – let-only/managed - between landlords and property agents, landlords should know registering precise information about a tenancy on the RTB portal is important.  The information registered is the foundation that ensures to avoid confusion and time wasted further down the line. Information should be accurate and timely if it is to be actioned efficiently.

A let-only service is for those landlords who wish to manage their rented properties day-to-day and collect rents while the letting agent finds the tenants, checks bonafides and prepares the legal documents including registering the tenancy with the RTB.   When these tenancy agreements are being registered on the RTB portal the details of the Agent should not be included as authorised to act on behalf of a landlord.

A letting agent that manages a property will perform the same services as let-only but will also take care of the general day to day running of a rented property and deal directly with the tenants. When these tenancy agreements are being registered on the RTB portal the details of the Agent should be included as authorised to act on behalf of a landlord.

Where bulk registrations are completed by an agent on behalf of several landlords, form fields relating to an agent’s details are automatically filed without user interaction.  This setting does cause problems further down the line.

Once local authority inspection activity recommences in July 2021, Inspex will be reviewing the data already received from the RTB and will be contacting landlords and agents again to arrange an inspection of rented properties as per Housing Standards.

With local authorities working to meet DHPLG targets for independent inspection of the rental stock and with Inspex working on behalf of several local authorities to deliver the targets, the more accurate information is at RTB tenancy registration, the more efficient the process is in the wider context of seeking to maintain the standard and safety of accommodation generally across the sector.

Rent Regulations, wooden blocks with the word Fair and a wooden house showing balance is needed

Rent Stabilisation Measures

Rent regulations take many forms, the most common of which are rules about how much landlords can increase rent or a cap on how much they can charge. In a time of a housing crisis, when rents are increasing rapidly, the inclination is to protect renters using rent stabilisation measures and impose restrictions on the capabilities of landlords to achieve open market rents.

While policy interference in the rental market may appear to protect tenants in the short term, over the longer term a ceiling on rents can reduce the quantity and quality of housing available as the opportunity for higher returns on investment are curtailed and landlords become disincentivised from improving or maintaining properties in good order. Policy measures to control rents can, some say, do more harm than good.

Governmental attempts to control rents is a contentious issue in many jurisdictions. Most recently in Germany the courts ruled against a state law in Berlin restricting rent increases and ruled in favour of private landlords who argued the law interfered too much in the private market. In New York, rent controls are considered to suppress supply and as and encouragement to set higher rents at the outset to ensure the desired rate of return over the lifetime of a tenancy can be achieved with the controls in place.

Historically rent control in Ireland, as in other European countries, has its roots in the legislation enacted following the end of the second world war. The legislation that limited rent increases, to protect tenants, was extended by various amendment acts until the Rent Restrictions Act 1960 brought most restrictions to an end. Any restrictions that did remain were terminated by the Supreme Court judgement in Blake v. The Attorney General [1982] I.R. 117 that determined rent restrictions constituted an “unjust attack on the property rights of certain landlords”

But history has a way of repeating itself and despite these rulings, rent control became a protagonist in the Irish Private Rented Sector (PRS) again under the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, with the introduction of the Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs). The measures aimed to “moderate the rate of rent increase” by imposing a 4% cap on permitted annual rent increases. Although these measures were described from the outset as ‘temporary’ and effective for a period of three years, their scope and longevity have since been extended to December 2021.

With the difficulties for the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) to adequately monitor and assess all PRS market activity, there is clear disagreement as to whether the RPZ measures have been successful in achieving the desired outcome.

With opportunities to circumvent the 4% cap either by valid exemption or deliberate non-compliance, it is reported that over 40% of tenants have been subject to annual rent increases of more than the 4% cap since the rules came into effect. Recent reports suggest that several of the large-scale landlords “distort” the market by restricting supply, foregoing new letting opportunities in the short term or by offering ‘rent-free’ periods on commencement of a new lease to reduce the pro-rata annual rent paid while keeping the higher headline rent intact.

When rent restrictions prevent the achievement of true market rates, landlords can be reluctant to make adequate investment for repairs or maintenance of a property. When controls begin to negatively impact the standard and quality of rented properties available and discourage tenants from speaking out about those shortcomings, the system designed to protect has become contradictory and capricious.

Despite the lack of evidence that rent controls have ever worked wherever they have been tried, a system of accountability must be maintained for all landlords to, at a minimum, provide accommodation that meets the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019, regardless of rent paid.

With its PRS regulatory expertise and many years of working with local authorities inspecting rented dwellings to ensure compliance with prescribed standards, Inspex is well positioned to continue delivering this aspect of the PRS regulatory programme.