Christopher Sciberras v Private Residential Tenancies Board and Others
 IEHC 372
THE HIGH COURT
Landlord & Tenant – S. 123 (3) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 – Appeal against the decision of the Private Residential Tenancies Board – Increase in rent
2014/155MCA - McDermott - High - 21/5/2015 - 2015 IEHC 372
Facts: The appellant challenged the impugned Determination Order made by the second respondent. The appellant contended that the increase in rent by the respondent was in excess of the market rate.
Mr. Justice McDermott dismissed the appeal. The Court held that the impugned order did not suffer an infirmity and was made based on the evidence presented before it. The Court held that the power of the Court under s. 123 (4) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 was limited only to the questions of law and as such could be exercised cautiously. The Court held that the decision of the respondent for not taking any action against the landlord for making false assertions regarding difference in amount of rent charged for various rooms was not amendable to review in an appeal.
On 25th June, 2013, the appellant submitted an application to the Private Residential Tenancies Board, Dispute Resolution Service in respect of his tenancy of a room at 31 Reuben Avenue, Dublin 8, which commenced on 28th May, 2011. The case was taken against the landlords, Charles Dunne and Peter Dunne.
In the application the applicant states that he was paying a rent of €250 per month, plus €15 for utilities and that the landlords sought a new rent of €285 plus €15 utilities. He claimed that the landlord was seeking gas payments which were contrary to the terms of the letting agreement and a rental increase without justification. Furthermore, he complained that the landlord had refused to accept the rent and had issued a termination notice stating he would not accept rent unless the increased amount was proffered. He also complained that the landlord had a duty of care to maintain the premises in a healthy condition.
On 15th June, 2013, a document purporting to be a Notice to Quit was given to the appellant by Mr. Charles Dunne, requiring the appellant to remove himself from the premises by 31st July, 2103. He was also informed in the notice that any objection as to its validity and the right of the landlord to serve it must be made to the Private Residential Tenancies Board under Part 6 of the Private Residential Tenancies Act 2004, within 20 days of its receipt. The terms and conditions of the lease indicated that it was a monthly tenancy and that utility bills (including refuse charges) were to be shared with all other persons in the house. The landlord sought payment of the monies due in respect of the gas supply to the house on 9th March, 2013.
An adjudicator, Ms. Suzy Quirke, appointed under s. 93(3) of the Residential Tenancies Act2004, heard the appellant's application on 18th September, 2013.
The adjudicator made a finding that in accordance with the tenancy agreement of 28th May, 2011, the appellant paid a rent of €250 per month and a deposit of €250. This rent was supplemented by €15 per month as part cover of gas bills and an increase in rent had been requested to €285 per month. A notice of termination was served by the landlord on 15th June, 2013. The property was a three bed-roomed house which had been let out to four tenants, one occupying what was a living room of the house and each of the other tenants having their own room, but sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities.
The adjudicator found that it was not reasonable for the landlord to expect tenants who previously assumed the gas bill to be covered by the rent to be subject to a further demand of a balancing charge. She also found that the landlord was entitled to demand a reasonable increase in the rent and since this could not be agreed, suggested that the best option might be for the relationship to terminate. It was noted that the appellant's claim concerning the standard of maintenance was mainly grounded upon the behaviour of the other three occupants of the house, but primarily their smoking in the common and private areas. It was noted that though the landlord could not prevent other tenants from smoking in their own private space, he was obliged to ensure that there were smoke free areas elsewhere. The adjudicator found that the notice of termination was invalid. The claim that the rent sought was more than the market rate, was not upheld nor was the submission that the landlord was in breach of his general obligations.
The appellant appealed the adjudicator's determination on the grounds that the notice of termination of tenancy was invalid, the rent increase sought was unreasonable and more than the market rate, the landlord was in breach of a fixed term lease, and that the landlord was in breach of his general obligations.
A hearing of the appeal before the Tribunal was heard on 12th March, 2014. The entire Private Residential Tenancies Board file was submitted to the Tribunal. In addition, the appellant and the landlord submitted printouts of rents for comparable residential dwellings from various companies' websites. A determination was made by the Tribunal and notified to the Board on 18th March, 2014. It made a Determination Order that:-
"1. A rent for the dwelling should be set at €285 per month with effect from 1st April, 2014, until and unless lawfully varied by the respondent landlord.
The respondent landlord shall pay the appellant tenant the sum of €80 within seven days of the date of the issue of this Determination Order being damages of €300 for the consequences suffered by the Appellant Tenant as a result of the failure of the respondent landlord to fulfil his obligations less arrears for gas utility bills of €180 (€15 x 12) plus a refuse collection charge of €40 in respect of the tenancy of the dwelling at 31 Reuben Avenue, Dublin 8."
It was accepted at the hearing by both parties that a notice of termination served on the tenant on 15th June, 2013, was invalid. The determination sets out the submissions of both parties, the findings and reasons upon which they were based.
The Tribunal found that the tenant was in breach of his obligations to pay utility bills and other charges as they fell due and accrued a debt of €220 to the respondent landlord in respect of those bills and charges. It noted that there was a clear conflict of evidence as to whether or not the tenants were responsible for the payment of gas bills. Paragraph 3 of the lease which was handed to each tenant stated clearly that utility bills must be shared by all persons in the house. It was the evidence of the respondent landlord that the other tenants paid the bill in amounts of €15 per month, topped up by any arrears when the final bill was issued. It was the evidence of the appellant tenant that he did not pay the €15 for the first year of the tenancy. Having heard all of the evidence, the Tribunal determined that the appellant was also responsible for the amount of €15 per month from the date he moved in. In addition, he was also required to pay the refuse levy of €14 as requested by the respondent landlord. The Tribunal also cited s. 16(2) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, which required tenants to pay any...
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