The parameters of a statutory appeal from a determination of the PRTBThursday, 12 November 2015
ByrneWallace recently acted for a receiver notice party in successfully resisting a statutory appeal from a determination of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, made in favour of our client.
The Private Residential Tenancies Board and dispute resolution mechanisms
The private residential rental market and the relationship between landlords and tenants of residential dwellings are regulated under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 (the “Act”).
One of the aims of the Act is to provide for an efficient and cost effective dispute resolution mechanism for disagreements arising in the context of that relationship. The Act does this by providing that such disputes, except in exceptional circumstances, must be referred to the Private Residential Tenancies Board (“PRTB”), a State body charged with inter alia adjudicating on such disputes.
Where a dispute has arisen, either of the parties may refer the matter to the PRTB for resolution. The dispute will generally be referred, at first instance, to a PRTB appointed adjudicator. The determination of such adjudicator can be appealed by either party to the PRTB’s internal appeals board – the Tenancy Tribunal. The parties have twenty-one days to further appeal the Tenancy Tribunal's determination to the High Court on a point of law. If no such appeal is filed, then the PRTB will prepare a determination order which will be binding on the parties.
Statutory Appeal to the High Court on a point of law
There is a very limited scope under Section 123 of the Act to appeal a determination order of the PRTB Tenancy Tribunal. Such an appeal can be made to the High Court on a point of law only.
The meaning of the phase “appeal on a point of law" and the scope of any such statutory appeal was considered in a recent High Court judgment in Michael Doyle -v- Private Residential Tenancies Board and Tom Kavanagh (Unreported, Baker J. 10 November 2015).
Statutory Appeal on a point of law and Judicial Review
Judge Baker noted that there was an established jurisprudence as to the meaning of the phrase “appeal on a point of law” and cited inter alia the recent Supreme Court decision of Clarke J. in Fitzgibbon –v- Law Society of Ireland  which:
“identified a distinction between an appeal on fact or primary facts and an appeal on a point of law. The latter includes decisions based on an interpretation of documents and of statutory provisions which fall squarely within the definition. More difficult to characterise are appeals where a deciding body has come to conclusions on primary facts which no reasonable body could have made, and such decisions are amenable to an appeal on a point of law as the deciding body ‘must be assumed to have misdirected himself as to the law or made a mistake in reasoning’. The third category of an appeal on a point of law is the more obvious one of where a deciding body has adopted a wrong view of the law”.
In Judge Baker’s view, while any public law decision having an effect on legal rights and obligations (including for example, a determination of the PRTB) is amenable to judicial review, the scope of a statutory appeal on a point of law was broader, allowing a court to consider a broader category of issues.
“When the Oireachtas provides a statutory right of appeal on a point of law, it must have intended some greater degree of court involvement with the decision than the perhaps more constrained approach taken by a court on a judicial review... The appeal on a point of law, then, gives a wider scope to a court to reverse or vary a decision of the body at first instance, and while that is not to say that the court will set aside a finding of fact, more important for present purposes, it does suggest that a court hearing a statutory appeal may set aside a finding which arises from an incorrect interpretation of the law or of legal documents, including contractual documents which bear on the dispute, or a mixed question of law and fact”
Referring to the decision of Laffoy J. in Canty –v- Private Residential Tenancies Board  IEHC 243, Baker J. agreed that “findings on primary facts should not be set aside by the court unless there was no evidence whatsoever to support them”.
In the Doyle case the appellant (the “Tenant”) was a tenant of a residential property in Foxrock, County Dublin. In March 2013, the Receiver was appointed over the landlord’s interest in the property and sought to recover the rental income from the Tenant. Except for one payment made in May 2013, no rental payments whatsoever were made by the Tenant and the Receiver sought to terminate the tenancy by serving the required formal Notice of Termination. The Tenant referred a dispute as to the validity of that Notice of Termination to the PRTB. In December 2013 the PRTB adjudicator determined that the Notice of Termination was valid. The Tenant appealed that determination to the PRTB Tenancy Tribunal which ultimately in June 2014, determined that the Notice of Termination was invalid by reason of non-compliance with Sections 34 and 67 of the Act (affording particular periods of notice in the case of termination on foot of arrears of rent). The Tenancy Tribunal did however make a further determination that the Tenant should pay circa €40,000 by way of arrears of rent within 28 days of the issue of the determination notice.
It was the making of this latter determination that the Tenant appealed to the High Court arguing that the PRTB Tenancy Tribunal had erred in law in a number of respects including the extent of the PRTB’s jurisdiction to hear “counter-claims” from the landlord/Receiver and the entitlement of the Receiver, who was not named in the tenancy agreement, to collect rent. While the Judge considered that the Tenant had raised certain points of law which were amenable to statutory appeal, the appeal against the determination order compelling him to discharge arrears of rent failed on all counts.
The PRTB’s jurisdiction to hear counterclaims
The primary point that the Tenant sought to argue was that the sole dispute referred by him to the PRTB was as to the validity or otherwise of the Notice of Termination and that the PRTB’s jurisdiction was thus confined to parameters expressly delineated by the Tenant in filing his application for dispute resolution. The Tenant argued therefore that the issue of rent arrears was not properly before the PRTB and that it did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate on that issue.
Having regard to the provisions of Section 75(3)1 and Section 97(2) 2 of the Act, the Court considered that the “primary argument of the [Tenant], that the adjudicator and the Tribunal were constrained in their approach to the dispute by the initial disputed as framed or formulated by the [Tenant] to be incorrect as a matter of law and as a matter of good sense”.
The judgment is a useful restatement of the position relative to the parameters of statutory appeals "on a point of law” generally, and, more specifically, appeals from the PRTB Tenancy Tribunal and will be welcomed by stakeholders operating in the private residential rental market. Furthermore, the decision clarifies the scope of the jurisdiction of the PRTB to consider all aspects of matters referred to it for dispute resolution.
1 which defines "disagreement” broadly to include “any issue arising between the parties with regard to the compliance by either with his or her obligations as landlord or tenant under the tenancy … including a claim by the landlord for arrears of rent to which the tenant has not indicated he or she disputes the landlord’s entitlement but which it is alleged the tenant has failed to pay”.
2 which requires an adjudicator to “inquire fully into each relevant aspect of the dispute concerned”