What we know about the first refusal policy for renters

Critics claim the scheme, one of the key policies outlined following ending of eviction ban, is ‘half-baked’

The Government has a lot riding on the success of its so-called “safety net” – a range of policies being brought in to mitigate the impact of lifting the eviction ban.

Critics charge that they are half-baked, some Government ministers struggle to explain them, and advocacy groups say they’re not sufficient. The Coalition must now balance a host of constitutional, political and logistical issues and hope they work.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the measures - but ahead of talks with the Attorney General this week, sources briefed on the plans say the intention is that it will work along these lines.

You’ve been given a notice to quit. What happens next?


There will be two broad options open to tenants. Firstly, they can offer to buy the home themselves. If they don’t do this, they can trigger a “cost rental backstop”.

So will I be able to buy my home?

Sources say a notice to quit will start a 14-day period where a tenant can either indicate they want to make an offer on the home, or trigger the backstop, which will involve a local authority or approved housing body buying the home for you.

Of course, many tenants won’t be able to find the money.

Will I get help to buy my home?

The First Home scheme, a shared equity programme, is being expanded. The board of the organisation which runs this programme agreed to this last week and Coalition sources say it will be operational this week.

If I can’t buy it, how will the backstop work?

The backstop is essentially a version of existing ‘tenant in situ’ purchase programmes, but the eligibility is broader – you don’t have to be in receipt of state housing or rental subsidies to be eligible. However, the intention is that you will have to be “at risk of homelessness”, which will be assessed by the local authority under the 1988 housing act. There will also be guidelines as to the costs and property types eligible.

Sources indicated that if you seek to buy your home you are unlikely to be able to later exercise the cost rental backstop as you are unlikely to be able to claim you are at risk of homelessness.

Once I trigger an option, what happens next?

The intention is that the two parties to the sale will get independent valuations, which will set the grounds for negotiation on price.

The landlord will be legally obliged to engage in this process – but, because of the constitutional priority given to property rights, they won’t be obliged to accept its outcome.

What does that mean?

Current thinking in the Coalition is that the proposed law won’t force the landlord to accept the bid. Under the plans being developed, landlords will be able to reject it and go to the open market. The caveat will be that if they only get a bid lower than that offered by a tenant, AHB or Local Authority, a landlord will have to offer it to them again.

The Government hopes that landlords will be swayed by the savings they make on estate agency fees, as well as the prospect of being paid rent up to the end of the lease, and the promise of a less complex or drawn out sales process.

The belief is that by forcing participation in a process but not the acceptance of its outcome, the ability of a landlord to obtain the market value of a home isn’t impeded.

Is any of this up and running?

Pieces are falling into place, such as mandating the Housing Agency to run the backstop from April 1st, and expanding the eligibility for the First Home scheme to help people looking to bid. The Government says the backstop option is ready to operate on an administrative basis – without legislation underpinning it. However, it’s untested. The Housing Agency said applicants should seek an appointment with the housing officer in their local authority. The local authority assesses eligibility and passes the case to the Housing Agency who then engages with the tenant and landlord.

The legislation obliging a landlord to take part in all these processes is still being worked on, so all of the above is subject to change. The intention is to use a piece of legislation slated for passage through the Oireachtas after Easter to put all this on a legislative footing, and have it up and running at some point during the summer.

Will it work?

All the above is being developed under political and time pressure. That’s usually a recipe for unintended consequences, or some undiagnosed flaw which can hamper a policy. The costs of failure for the Coalition will be steep – and the opposition will be watching for any stumble.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times