New figures from the Residential Tenancies Board show that rents across the country continued to rise strongly in the final quarter of last year, increasing 6.4% when compared to the same period a year earlier.

However, the growth represents the lowest annual increase since the first quarter of 2014.

"We are encouraged to see that Q4 2019 recorded the lowest annual rent increase in six years, showing signals of stabilisation in urban areas," said Padraig McGoldrick, interim director of the RTB.

Despite this, five new areas have been designated Rent Pressure Zones because rental costs in those locations have reached the necessary criteria.

The data contained in the RTB Rent Index, which is compiled in conjunction with the ESRI, shows that nationally rents during the final three months of last year stood at €1,226 a month.

This was 1.2% lower than the July to September 2019 period.

In the capital, while the cost of renting a home was up 5% during the quarter compared to the same period last year at €1,716, the rate of increase was the lowest annual increase in Dublin since 2013.

"However, I am aware that the period reflected in the latest Rent Index represents a very different world to the one we are living in today, and that the Covid-19 crisis presents new challenges for both landlords and tenants across the country," said Mr McGoldrick.

The RTB has reminded renters that emergency laws introduced by the Government to deal with the Covid-19 emergency prevent landlords from ending tenancies or increasing rents.

"These temporary measures help to ensure a balanced and fair market in the current circumstances and while rent must still be paid, no rent increases can take effect," said Mr McGoldrick.

The board also said the designation of a further five LEAs as RPZs provides further protection for renters in these areas.  

The new local electoral areas to be designated rent pressure zones are Mallow, Killarney, Athy, Tullamore and Mullingar.

The data contained in the report is based on actual rents paid on 17,269 tenancies registered with the RTB in the quarter.

In the seven counties of Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow the average rent exceeded or equaled €1,000 per month.

Across the country, the annual growth in average rents for apartments was under 6% in three consecutive quarters.

This indicates signs of stabilisation, particularly in urban markets, the RTB claims.

Outside of Dublin, the standardised average rent for the greater Dublin area of Meath, Kildare and Wicklow stood at €1,247, up from €1,158 the previous year, an increase of 7.7%.

Beyond the greater Dublin area, average rents were up 7.8%.