Though most tenancies you deal with will be largely problem-free, as a landlord in Ireland you must be prepared for any potential disputes. As there is money involved, one of the areas where this is most likely to crop up is in regards to the security deposit.
Legally, the deposit money belongs to the tenant until you have a valid reason to keep hold of it. Naturally, this can sometimes lead to disagreements about who is entitled to what. Fortunately, there are several systems in place that will help you not only prevent problems, but deal with them swiftly should they ever arise. Here is everything you need to know about resolving tenancy deposit disputes.
What Are Tenancy Deposit Disputes Usually About?
Almost all deposit disputes happen when you retain part or all of the security deposit and the tenant doesn’t think you are entitled to. Let’s take a closer look at each of the reasons you may think about keeping a deposit and how you can avoid any problems.
Damage To The Property
You may be entitled to retain some of the deposit to repair damage done to the property throughout the duration of a tenancy. However, you must bear in mind that you are only allowed to do so if the damage to the property goes beyond usual wear and tear, which can sometimes be seen differently by landlords and tenants.
To avoid these kinds of disputes, it’s essential that you conduct a full property inventory at the beginning and end of the tenancy. Having this in place makes any disagreements about damage much easier to deal with as you have a clear record of the property’s condition. For more information, take a look at our handy blog post, ‘The Landlord’s Guide To Property Inventories’.
Not everyone has the same cleaning standards, but the main thing to bear in mind is that the property should be returned to you at the same level of cleanliness as it was at the beginning of the tenancy. If it is left dirtier than when you let it out, you may be entitled to retain some of the deposit to cover cleaning costs.
This is another instance where having a full property inventory is vital, as it will document the cleanliness of the property as well as its condition. Photos that accompany the written inventory will also go a long way in preventing disagreements.
Non-Payment Of Rent
This is one of the most common problems landlords in Ireland face. If there are rent arrears at the end of the tenancy you are well within your rights to retain some or all of the deposit to cover the payments. Fortunately, as you are obliged to provide your tenant with a rent book, it should be easy enough to prove whether or not you have received all the rent due.
If the problem starts getting out of hand while the tenancy is ongoing, we have outlined the steps you can take in our blog post, ‘Know Your Rights: What To Do When A Tenant Stops Paying Rent’.
The Steps For Resolving A Dispute
If you do run into problems with your tenant, the Residential Properties Board (RTB) has set out some clear guidelines to follow to get them resolved. You are required to register all of your tenancies with the RTB, and they will assist you in any disputes that arise.
Step 1: Self Resolution
In the first instance, you should always try to resolve the dispute between you and your tenant through open and honest communication. Having the proper documentation in place at the outset of the tenancy is vital in successful resolution at this stage. That way, the expectations for both parties are clear in black and white and can be easily referred back to.
For the best chances of resolving the issue informally, you should always deal with complaints promptly, show genuine concern and listen to what your tenant has to say. Acting in a professional manner can go a long way in settling any problems early on.
Step 2: Mediation
If you are unable to settle a dispute informally, the RTB offers a free mediation service which should be your next port of call. Offered over the phone, the aim of mediation is not to decide who is right and who is wrong, but rather to reach a mutually satisfying outcome.
A trained, independent mediator will arrange a convenient time to contact each party separately and come up with a solution. After they have proposed an agreement you will both have 10 days to withdraw if you change your mind, and after that it becomes a binding Determination Order with the terms and a timescale.
If a resolution can’t be reached through mediation, then you can move onto a more formal process where each party prevents evidence in a case. Alternatively, they can appeal to a Tenancy Tribunal (see Step 4 below).
Step 3: Adjudication
For €15, you can submit an online application for an adjudication, where you and your tenant will present evidence. As with mediation, the adjudicator will then give a binding Determination Order that you must follow.
Unlike mediation, the Determination Order will be posted on the RTB website stating the names of each person involved and the property address. If either party disagrees with the outcome, then they can escalate it by appealing to a Tenancy Tribunal.
Step 4: Tenancy Tribunal
At a tribunal, both parties will present their evidence again in front of either one or three members from the RTB’s Dispute Resolution Committee. Based on the evidence given, the tribunal members will make a decision on the day, and it’s important that you come prepared with all the necessary documents laid out in a straightforward way. The RTB offers helpful guidelines for preparing for a tribunal here.
The online application fee for a tribunal is €85, though there is no guarantee that it will be granted. If approved, the tribunal will usually go ahead within 1 to 2 months in either Dublin City, Cork City, Galway City, Limerick City, Sligo Town, Athlone or Wexford Town. Though you are entitled to legal representation, it is not necessary (and if you do go ahead you will need to cover the costs yourself).