Monday, June 20, 2011

Crackdown on unregistered landlords who get state funds

By Paul Melia

Monday June 20 2011

UP to 8,000 landlords getting state payments will be warned in the coming weeks to register their properties or face prosecution.

The Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) last night said it planned a major crackdown on non-compliant landlords, with eight to be prosecuted next month.

And chief executive Ann Marie Caulfield said the agency had received data about landlords in receipt of state payments from the Department of Social Protection and local authorities, and would begin checking all to confirm they had registered their properties.

Failure to register can result in a fine of up to €3,000 and/or six months imprisonment, plus daily fines of €250.

The move comes after the Irish Independent last week revealed that the State paid more than €250m last year to thousands of unregistered landlords.

Half of the landlords who get rent supplement payments -- which can be as high as €1,100 a month -- from the Department of Social Protection do not have their properties registered with the PRTB, despite being legally obliged to do so.

Rent supplement is paid out to tenants who can no longer meet the cost of their rent because of a change in circumstances. The tenants then pass the money on to the landlord.

The PRTB now has seven people working full-time on enforcement, and will meet its solicitors tomorrow to discuss mounting prosecutions.

"We would see prosecutions as a last resort," Ms Caulfield said. "We wrote to 6,000 landlords in recent weeks advising them of the consequences (of not registering), and we will be sending more letters out shortly.


"We'll be meeting with our solicitors tomorrow with a view to taking prosecutions. It's quite a severe penalty so we want people to try and mend their ways.

"We would have been doing a lot of chasing, but now we're getting tough on these guys.

"They should know they have to register, there's no excuse. People will be in for a nasty shock."

The agency will use data on the second-home tax, Rental Accommodation Scheme payments made by local authorities, and rent supplement payments made by the Department of Social Protection to identify offenders.

A change in the law will also allow them to get data from the Revenue Commissioners.

The PRTB has secured seven criminal convictions in the last six months against landlords. One landlord was sent to jail for 35 days.

Summonses have been issued against another eight landlords, who will appear in court next month.

The agency has recently received data on 17,000 landlords in receipt of payments from the Department of Social Protection.

Up to half may not be registered, and they will receive warning letters in the coming weeks.

The crackdown comes at the same time as a Revenue Commissioners probe of landlords to ensure that they are tax compliant.

Data from a number of sources -- including taxpayers' claims for the rent tax credit, PRTB registrations, information from the HSE and Department of Social Protection on rent subsidies, data on the second-home tax and "local intelligence" -- is being used to check that landlords are paying tax, along with door-to-door checks.

The State paid out €516m in rent supplement payments last year, and expects the bill for 2011 to reach €465.5m.

The high rate of non-compliance means these landlords may have received up to €260m in payments in 2010.

- Paul Melia

Irish Independent

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