Arbitration boards for legal housing matters are not available throughout Austria
Arbitration boards for legal housing matters are easy-to-access and citizen-oriented institutions providing legal protection. They are tasked with extrajudicial disputes related to housing and, if possible, with reaching a settlement between the parties. At the same time, they are supposed to relieve the courts. In its report "Arbitration Boards for Legal Housing Matters with a Focus on the Cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg“ presented today, the Austrian Court of Audit (ACA) highlights the need for reform. For example, it would have to be assessed in which municipalities such arbitration boards are needed. Furthermore, the duration of the proceedings should be reduced. Overall, the number of such boards has decreased significantly since they were established about 100 years ago. In May 2021, ten housing arbitration boards were available to citizens throughout Austria.
Moreover, the ACA recommends to the Federal Ministry of Justice, based on the Government Programme 2020-2024, to start an initiative on the envisaged housing law reform. The intricacy of housing law provisions should be critically examined. The audited period spanned the years from 2015 through 2020.
Lower financial risk for citizens
In its report, the ACA emphasizes the advantages of easily accessible institutions providing legal protection in housing-law-related matters, especially for citizens with low income: on the one hand, because of the markedly lower costs of proceedings in an arbitration board compared to court proceedings. On the other hand, because of the lower financial risk of arbitration board proceedings. In 1923, 88 municipalities had such decision-making powers. In May 2021, housing arbitration boards still existed in ten municipalities. They were established in municipalities of varying sizes.
Six of the initially still eleven municipalities with arbitration boards also had the highest housing stock in Austria, namely Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Linz, Salzburg and Vienna. Another four arbitration boards were established in municipalities with a housing stock of around 7,000 to around 32,000 apartments, of which two arbitration boards were in municipalities with less than 10,000 apartments.
Until April 2021, the municipality of Mürzzuschlag, which had around 5,000 apartments, also had an arbitration board. In comparison, the municipalities of Dornbirn, Steyr, Villach, Wels and Wiener Neustadt did not have any arbitration boards, although they had around 23,000 to around 39,000 apartments each.
Available throughout Austria and easy to access
The ACA notes that neither the Federal Ministry of Justice nor the Federal Ministry of the Interior conducted needs-oriented analyses of the arbitration boards – with one exception: With the announcement of April 2021, it was determined that the legal requirements for an arbitration board no longer applied to Mürzzuschlag. A similar assessment was not carried out in the other municipalities.
The ACA recommends to the Federal Ministry of Justice to propose, in case of a reorganization of the arbitration boards, the establishment of a countrywide, easy-to-access institution for legal protection in housing-law-related matters with uniform tariffs and a limited cost risk.
Criteria for relieving the courts
By the time of the audit, the Federal Ministry of Justice had not established any objective criteria with the help of which a relief of the courts through the arbitration boards could have been assessed in a uniform manner. In particular, the ministry failed to define the number of proceedings starting from which the establishment of an arbitration board would be justified.
Criteria for a uniform assessment of the relief of the courts as stipulated by law would have to be elaborated and threshold values – for example on the number of proceedings – would have to be defined. Thus, it should be clarified when the establishment of an arbitration board in municipalities is justified, taking into account the associated costs and the benefit for citizens.
Following up on planned reform efforts
The drafting of a transparent, comprehensible and legally secure housing and tenancy law was addressed in all government programmes of the three federal governments in office during the audited period. The ACA recommends to the Federal Ministry of Justice to start an initiative on the housing law reform envisaged in the Government Programme 2020-2024 and to also look critically at the intricacy of housing law provisions. At the time of the audit, the ministry had not yet taken any initiative to implement the objective of a housing law reform contained in the Government Programme 2020-2024.
Ensuring the legally defined duration of proceedings
The arbitration boards had to reach a decision no later than six months after the application was filed. The ACA determined the duration of the proceedings of all cases of the arbitration boards of the cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg applied for and concluded in the period of 2015 to 2020: Arbitration board I in Innsbruck exceeded the stipulated duration of proceedings of a maximum of six months in two thirds of the cases. At the arbitration board II in Innsbruck this was the case for one fifth of the applications. At the arbitration board Salzburg, one third of the procedures were exceeded.
It is recommended that the legally stipulated maximum duration of six months be ensured in all proceedings.
Improving the availability of information
Comprehensive information provided on the websites of arbitration boards should facilitate access for citizens seeking justice. In this way, numerous questions can be clarified in advance. Correspondingly, the cities of Salzburg and Innsbruck set up websites for their respective arbitration boards.
The ACA notes that the city of Innsbruck provided citizens with comparatively comprehensive information on its website. It has detected a need for improvement at the arbitration board of the city of Salzburg. Furthermore, it criticizes the fact that both cities lacked the possibility to submit an application via a separate online form and to independently calculate the permissible rent electronically based on the reference value.
- pdf Datei:
- 4,692.1 KB
- 98 Seiten
Report: Arbitration Boards for Legal Housing Matters with a Focus on the Cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg (in German)
From November 2020 to May 2021, the ACA audited the arbitration boards for legal housing matters with a focus on the cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg. The audit aimed at assessing the performance of tasks of the arbitration boards responsible for legal housing matters and the resources deployed therefor. The audit was carried out at the Federal Ministry of Justice as well as the cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg. The ACA also carried out assessments at the Federal Ministry for the Interior. The audited period spanned the years from 2015 through 2020.