Emergency measures to protect residential tenants from eviction and rent increases during the Covid-19 pandemic were introduced under the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid – 19) Act 2020 (the "Act") (link to act here).

The emergency measures temporarily amend the existing residential tenancies legislation (governed by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 "Residential Tenancies Act") and will apply to all residential tenants and students in purpose built student accommodation for a period of three months from 30 March 2020 (the "Emergency Period"). The legislation provides that the Emergency Period may be extended if the pandemic continues beyond the three months and the legislation sets out the mechanism for that extension.

The measures introduced seek to protect residential tenants by:-

  • Prohibiting any residential rent increases even where increases had already been communicated but had not yet taken effect by 30 March 2020.
  • Prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants during the Emergency Period. The prohibition against evictions applies in respect of "all proposed evictions in all tenancies in the State" and is not limited to tenancies under the Residential Tenancies Act. Commentators have already highlighted that this broad reference could capture commercial leases which would appear to be an unintended consequence of the drafting.
  • Where a termination notice has been served on the tenant and the tenancy is due to expire in the next three months, the legislation provides that the termination date in the termination notice will be automatically revised. The revised termination date will be the day after the aggregate of (i) the Emergency Period and (ii) the period of notice left unexpired on 30 March 2020.

    Tenants should note that in cases where a dispute is being adjudged by an adjudicator or a tenancy tribunal with the Residential Tenancy Board, the determination of the adjudicator or tribunal will stand during the Emergency Period.

  • Under the existing legislation, a landlord would have to serve 14 days' notice on a tenant for non-payment of rent. This has been extended to 28 days and such notice will only be valid if served after the Emergency Period.
  • Normally where a residential tenant has been in situ for 6 months they will acquire a right to remain in the property for a further five and a half years. A tenant shall not acquire this right during the Emergency Period.

While the measures will ensure that during this unprecedented time, tenants will not be forced to move from their homes, rent is still payable throughout the Emergency Period and so the legislation does not contain a rent freeze. On the other hand, measures have been introduced to facilitate mortgage forbearance for 3 months so landlords will be expected to act reasonably in terms of dealing with tenants who are struggling to pay rent due to job losses as a consequence of the virus.

On the whole, the legislation should have a positive impact for tenants however it will have a negative impact for any property owner who contracted to sell a property with vacant possession before this crisis began. It means that they will not be able to comply with contractual commitments made to a purchaser to deliver a property free of tenants. As the Covid-19 crisis was thrust upon us, there is no way that contracts could have anticipated this development. The hope in these circumstances is that both sides can reach an agreement on next steps. However with the current economic uncertainty we are facing, it could well present an opportunity for a purchaser to renege on a purchase.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.