New law to crack down on problem tenants

The Government is to introduce measures to crack down on neighbours from hell and penalise landlords who fail to act.

The laws will make it easier for homeowners and residents’ groups to register complaints without fear of intimidation.

Minister of state for housing Jan O’Sullivan said that, under the initiative, all complaints will be lodged with the Residential Tenancy Board, which will force landlords to take action against troublesome tenants or face penalties. The laws will speed up and strengthen the board’s current system of dealing with anti-social behaviour and intimidation, which is seen as slow, bureaucratic, and lacking teeth.

The changes will also mean people can avoid making complaints about their neighbours to gardaí, who can only act if a criminal offence is committed.

Anti-social behaviour, intimidation, or noise from neighbours is a particular problem in areas of mixed housing provision, for example, where local authority houses are increasingly mixed with privately-owned houses or areas near colleges with student accommodation beside family homes.

Up to now, any complaints had to be brought by individuals, who risked being intimidated or threatened for doing so. However, under the new plans, complaints can be made by groups such as residents’ associations, meaning no individual is identified.

Ms O’Sullivan said anti-social behaviour in residential areas, and difficulties in dealing with it, is a huge issue. "If a neighbour is subject to anti-social behaviour, they actually feel quite intimidated and would find it difficult to bring a complaint themselves," she said.

"So we want to make it easier for people like residents’ associations to bring action.

"It is my view that law-abiding people should not be in a position where they feel they are powerless to do anything about anti-social behaviour, where only one family might cause chaos in a full housing estate."

Ms O’Sullivan will introduce the changes through an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act, which is currently going through the Oireachtas. She decided to do so after a number of TDs raised the need for stronger measures during discussions on the bill last month.

During those discussions, Galway West Labour TD Derek Nolan said a couple in their 70s in his constituency had to sell their privately-owned home because they had no mechanism to deal with unruly neighbours.

"The local authority had bought the house next door and their life was made hell by the behaviour of the children, intimidation, car mechanics operating outside the door, the illegal building of sheds against their wall, and all manner of such behaviour," said Mr Nolan. "This was an elderly couple who were afraid to speak, act or do anything."

Tipperary Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes added: "Many older people cannot sleep at night because of noise and nuisance created by unruly tenants. In this day and age, it is not good enough, particularly for the elderly, who have paid for their houses and worked hard all their lives."

Last year, a Cork landlord had to pay almost €30,000 damages after his tenants subjected neighbours to serious anti-social behaviour. The award was hailed as a victory for residents of Lower Bishopscourt, with Cork Lord Mayor John Buttimer, who supported the residents, describing it as a "game-changer".