A landlord registry for tenants

A landlord registry for tenants

We are all too familiar with landlords breaking the law and feeling powerless to protect ourselves. That’s why CATU exists in the first place – to put the power back in our hands and facilitate ways for us to defend our homes and communities together and create decent places to live. Lots of issues are behind the highly unequal power relation between landlord and tenants, like a lack of security of tenure, discrimination, and a shortage of decent, affordable places to live – to name a few. One of the issues in the 26 counties is arguably that there is no central record of landlords. Currently landlords do have to register their tenancies with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), however this doesn’t identify the landlord or letting agents, and there’s no requirement to do so when the landlord lives in the same property as their tenant. It is always worth searching for your landlord in the RTB database of dispute outcomes and the Land Registry, which contains information on who owns property. But without a central landlord registry, tenants have no real way of knowing who their landlord is, and in the worst-case scenarios, no recourse to justice when a landlord or letting agent breaks the law.

At CATU’s AGM this year, members voted to campaign for a register of landlords. Some have already taken action against the knowledge and power imbalances that exist between tenants and landlords, with members of the Fairview/Marino/Clontarf branch in Dublin sending postcards to their previous addresses, providing a means for tenants of the same landlord to unite. 

But really, landlords should be legally required to declare essential information about themselves and the properties they are renting with a central body, like the RTB, and this information should be publicly available. This isn’t a big ask as right now landlord registries are up and running for years in Wales, the 6 counties, Germany, and Scotland, to name a few:

  • Since 2014 all private landlords in the 6 counties must register with the Landlord Registration Scheme
  • Landlords with privately rented property in Wales are legally required to register with Rent Smart Wales, since 2015
  • In 2006 legislation came into effect that meant private landlords in Scotland have to sign up to the Scottish Landlord Register
  • The German Land Register, which captures up to date details about all property, was founded at the beginning of the 1900s!

A register can’t provide a magic bullet for tenants – the issues plaguing tenants are systemic. But a landlord registry is a basic public service that should be provided, and may go some way to rebalancing power towards tenants. Looking at how the registers operate in other areas gives some ideas about what they could do for tenants:

Landlord registries allow all tenants to know who their landlord is and their contact details, along with who the owner of the property is, and anyone else involved like letting agents. CATU members are all too familiar with having no recourse to justice when faced with an anonymous, uncontactable landlord who has stolen their deposit or threatened an illegal eviction. More tenants would be able to get redress from landlords more easily, more quickly, and with less stress.

Poor quality housing is a public health issue – for example Ireland has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, which has been linked to damp, mouldy housing. Landlords are already required by law to maintain minimum housing standards, but the duty falls on tenants to report poor standards to their local authority once they have moved in, and too many landlords get away without properly maintaining housing for too long. Some landlord registers, like those in Scotland and the 6 counties, deal with the quality of housing. When registering their property, landlords could be required to confirm that the property they are renting is of a proper standard and be subject to checks by officials.

Tenants should know what our rent is paying for, and a landlord registry could be a way to do this. CATU recently won a member defence case involving a family facing eviction from a vulture fund because their landlord had defaulted on his mortgage, unbeknownst to the family who have paid tens of thousands of euros in rent. In Germany, all debts related to a property must be registered with the land register (das Grundbuch) and this information is available to tenants. 

Gas boiler installers and television owners have to register and pay for a licence, so why not landlords? We already have a land register, which could be expanded to contain information relevant to tenants, like the example of Das Grundbuch in Germany. The RTB could also expand their system of compulsory tenant registration to include compulsory landlord registration. We need to finally make landlords accountable to their tenants, and a landlord registry is one step towards that.