Covid Legislation Tracker: Residential tenancies and face coverings

With the fight against the novel coronavirus known as SARS-Cov-2 fast approaching the six-month mark, perhaps it’s time to dissect some of the more high-profile pieces of legislation that have been passed since our last update back in April.

Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020

Back in March, the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 was enacted, bringing in a host of measures designed to halt the spread of the virus and limit the scale of the economic fallout therefrom. As part of this Act, sweeping protections for those living in private rented housing were introduced – including a moratorium on evictions and a blanket rent freeze for the duration of the emergency period.

However, these protections lapsed on 1 August 2020 and have since been replaced by the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 which came into effect the following day. Commenting on the legislation as it was being introduced, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien commented that the Bill strikes the correct balance between the need to protect renters affected by Covid-19, and property rights.

As ending tenancies and rent increases are now both permitted, the new Act is certainly not going be seen as an umbrella blanket of protection for renters. Instead, the Act aims to protect those who have hit hardest by Covid-19, extending the moratorium on evictions and ban on rent increases until 10 January 2021 where individuals can show that they meet certain criteria, namely:

  • Those who lost income or had to claim Disability Benefit due to being temporarily out of work on account of contracting Covid 19 or being a probably source of infection;
  • Those who were in receipt of or entitled to receive the temporary wage subsidy or any other social welfare payment for loss of earnings due to Covid-19.

In addition to satisfying these criteria, the affected person must also self-certify that as a result of their changed financial circumstances, they are now at risk of having their tenancy ended by their landlord. The self-declaration form which must be sent to the RTB can be accessed in full here. Further information on this Act can be found on the website of the Department of Housing.

SI 296/2020: Regulations on face coverings in certain premises

Another highly publicised and discussed enactment has been SI 296/2020, colloquially known as the ‘face mask’ or ‘face covering’ regulations. Brought in by new Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, these Regulations mandate the wearing of face coverings in certain premises and settings, and are due to run up until 5 October 2020, unless of course they are extended or replaced by another instrument.

Regulation 3 provides a number of useful definitions. For example, a ‘face covering’ is defined as any garment that covers an individual’s nose and mouth and so could therefore include a scarf or any other form of makeshift covering so long as the nose and mouth are contained. A ‘relevant premises’ for the purpose of the Regulations includes most indoor premises where goods and services may be obtained by the public.

Crucially, banks, post offices, credit unions, indoor premises where the serving of food and drink is a critical aspect of the business and medical or dental settings are exempt from the requirement to wear face coverings. The requirement to wear face coverings also does not apply to:

  • Children under the age of 13;
  • Members of an Garda Síochána;
  • Workers operating behind a screen;
  • Persons or workers who have taken care to maintain 2m social distancing.

Regulation 5 outlines certain scenarios whereby an individual may provide a ‘reasonable excuse’ for failing to wear a face mask. This includes where a person cannot, by reason of any physical or mental illness, wear a face covering. Persons who would be caused ‘severe distress’ by wearing a face covering are also offered an exemption under Reg 5 (a)(ii). A face covering may also be temporarily removed to administer medical care to another, to take medication or to avoid harm or injury. For a full list of exemptions to the requirement to wear a face covering, please see Regulation 5 here.

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