Security and Agency in the Irish Private Rental Sector
Funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations programme
In partnership with Threshold
Dr. Rachel McArdle, Department of Geography, Maynooth University
Download full report here
Recent years have witnessed a significant new body of research and data which can inform policy and practice.
This has predominantly focused on housing and rental market data, for example, rental price inflation and
levels of investment in the private rental sector. The evidence base for rental sector policy has thus become
stronger. However, there has been much less qualitative research on the experiences of tenants and the social
dynamics within the rental sector. This is of particular importance as it is at this level that many of the issues
around policy implementation arise.
The aim of the research is to understand tenants’ agency in the Irish private rental sector (PRS) in order to shed
light on the role of tenants in policy enforcement, implementation and compliance. The findings add to our
understanding of these issues by providing the first in-depth theoretical and empirical exploration of tenants’
agency and how that agency is shaped by the legislative context, market dynamics and other relevant factors.
To create effective and appropriate policy for the sector, we need to understand how tenancies actually work in
practice, how landlords and tenants make decisions and take action, and the factors which shape and constrain
those decisions and actions.
The report is primarily based on in-depth, qualitative interviews carried out with more than 20 tenants in
Dublin, Galway and Cork. Tenants were recruited with the help of project partners Threshold and a sample was
constructed that reflects the makeup of the rental sector in terms of gender, family status, migration status, etc.
The research does not aim to be representative of tenants as a whole. Rather, purposive sampling was employed
to focus solely on those tenants who are experiencing an issue and who have come into contact with Threshold.
Therefore this research concerns tenants who experience a breach of their rights or an issue with their tenancy, and who attempt to remedy said breach.
Expert interviews were also carried out with six Threshold staff, barrister Tricia Sheehy Skeffington and
Janette Fogarty (head of Dispute Resolution at the RTB). The report also reviewed the available ‘grey literature’,
specifically reports produced by Threshold, the RTB, the Department of Housing and other stakeholders.
- The research identifies a pattern to conflict within tenancies, described as the ‘landlord-tenant conflict journey’. This consists in four stages: initial relationship; conflict trigger; landlord reaction; and crisis management.
- Fear and uncertainty play a significant role in shaping tenants’ agency. Tenants fear conflict with their landlord, that such conflict has a significant impact on tenants’ experience of their home, and that conflict can generate significant distress and impact on physical and mental wellbeing. Fear of conflict constrains tenants’ agency.
- Tenants’ agency is limited by the absence of security of tenure and a lack of available alternative accommodation. These factors constrain tenants’ ability to challenge their landlord in relation to
issues such as rent increases or minimum standards violations. Tenants also fear retaliatory penalization by their landlord. The report findings suggest that this fear is to some degree grounded, with a third of our sample experiencing retaliatory or penalizing action from their landlord.
- The market context shapes tenants’ agency. In the present market, tenants feel ‘easily replaceable’ and are aware of very significant obstacles to finding an alternative property. In addition, tenants are concerned about landlord selectivity and discrimination, particularly for tenants who are parents or in receipt of HAP. These factors contribute to tenants’ dependency on their current landlord, which further constrains agency.
- The findings indicate that the tenancy relationship is crucial to understanding tenants’ agency, and hence outcomes in the rental sector. The power of landlords to terminate tenancies and engage in other retaliatory behaviour limits the capacity of tenants to advocate for themselves and remedy breaches of their rights. The landlord-tenant relationship is thus an asymmetrical power relation.
- Policy reforms to the sector which are not cognizant of the vulnerabilities of tenants and do not include measures to protect tenants from the risks associated with advocating for themselves risk failing to meet their objectives.
- Policy implementation and the regulatory regime for the rental sector require greater recognition of
the asymmetry between landlord and tenant.
- Greater understanding is required of the prevalence of retaliatory conduct on the part of landlords
and additional policy responses may be required to respond to this issue.
Press statement from Threshold - Tenants must be given power to defend their rights in the private rental sector -
Presentation slides from Dr Michael Byrne
Presentation slides from Dr Adriana M Soaita
View a recording of the launch of Dr Mick Byrne's report