With the stock of available rental homes at an all-time low, concerns have been raised about the increased restrictions being placed on tenants by landlords occupying the houses they are letting.
Landlords argue some properties are unsuitable for home-working due to a lack of space, while housing charities believe the Covid-19 pandemic has led to tenants experiencing more restrictions in the houses they are renting.
Legal experts have also warned that landlords are worried about insurance issues in the event of someone being injured while working from home, with employment law solicitor Richard Grogan saying: “Nobody wants to open that Pandora’s Box.”
A number of adverts currently on rental website Daft.ie state that tenants cannot work from home and will not have access to communal areas in the properties.
Other posts say tenants cannot have guests or visitors.
“House is owner-occupied, as the owner works from home the sitting room is not a shared area at any time,” one advert says.
“Midi sized box room for rent with wardrobe and side locker. No work from home set-ups as it won’t suit the atmosphere,” another says.
“This house would suit someone friendly and tidy who likes to socialise but live an independent lifestyle, and, ideally, someone who doesn’t work from home,” says another.
Another advert said the owner is looking for someone over 30, who does not work from home and has no pets.
The Sunday World contacted more than 30 landlords who did not mention remote working in the property description – the majority occupying the houses they are renting – and 10 said working from home would not be suitable due to reasons such as a lack of space and the owner being at home during the day.
Some did not reply and 12 said prospective tenants can work remotely.
One also replied with a list of questions including: “What is your income?”, “What is your lifestyle like?”, “Do you smoke or have a pet?” and “What do you eat for dinner?”
Gavin Elliott, legal officer with housing charity Threshold, said there is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to tenants having a right to work from home.
He also warned that tenants who live with their landlords are not protected by the Residential Tenancies Act and do not enjoy the same rights as other renters.
“It is something we have always seen in the student accommodation market, where tenants were being restricted in that they could only rent Monday to Friday,” he said.
“But certainly during and post-Covid restrictions about what people can and can’t do in the property, and what part of the property they can use, has become a little bit more common.
“If you’re a licensee [renting a house where you live with the landlord] you have very few rights and no access to Residential Tenancies Board, and that scenario can come as a bit of a shock to people. There are some people who know what they’re getting into, and they are moving in knowing that they have limited or no rights as there are so few places to rent. People are accepting situations they wouldn’t find ideal normally.”
Employment law solicitor Mr Grogan said private landlords are facing the same problems as employers when it comes to remote working.
“The first issue that of course comes up is restrictive covenants, particularly for apartments. Apartments usually have a clause in that they will not be used for business purposes. Now, if you have someone working from home there is an argument this is a change of use and is a breach of the covenant.
“The second one is insurance. Whether it is an apartment or private home, the insurance is on the basis that it is primarily a residential premises and not a workplace. If people are working from home consistently they need a printer, but maybe also a shredder for confidential documents, so if some five-year-old sticks their finger in a shredder, who is responsible?”
The Irish Property Owners Association, an organisation representing private landlords, also highlighted some concerns about remote working including health and safety issues and disputes arising between tenants in shared accommodation.
“Working from home may disturb other people in the house who have a right to live normally and make normal noise,” said Margaret McCormack, information officer with the IPOA.
“Tenants at home will often want to listen to music or carry out an activity that results in noise causing problems in shared property.
“Utility bills in a house share are normally divided equally however if some of the occupants are working from home this will distort the amount each person has to pay, with additional heating and electricity being used causing friction and dissension.”