Plan to target shoddy rental housing amid fears of crisis in standards

Landlords face regular NCT-style inspections of their properties to certify them fit for habitation under proposals aimed at cracking down on sub-standard accommodation.

Other measures under consideration involve the setting-up of a dedicated national inspection unit to replace the piecemeal approach of using a mix of council workers, HSE staff, and private contractors to carry out limited random checks on properties.

The proposals come amid fears that the next big crisis looming in the private rental sector is a slump in dwelling standards, and as figures collected by the Irish Examiner show, the system of policing standards is seriously flawed.

There were 285,025 private tenancies registered in 2014 but just 13,913 dwellings underwent routine inspections that year. Half of them were found to breach the minimum standards with damp, mould, cold, and fire safety the main violations.

Tenants’ rights groups say poor quality housing is a growing problem as scarcity of rental properties and desperation among those renting means landlords can get away without attending to repairs and maintenance.

Stephen Large of Threshold said: “The number one query that we would receive would be in relation to standards and repairs.”

Patrick Bresnihan of Dublin Tenants’ Association said: “Minimum standards is one of the main issues that tenants raise. A lot of landlords haven’t invested in their properties since the recession.”

Local authorities are responsible for enforcing statutory minimum standards for rented accommodation but inspection regimes vary widely, with the massive growth in the rental market far exceeding capacity of most councils to monitor it. Councils warn it is not feasible for them to also take on inspections of homes to be provided by voluntary housing bodies under the Social Housing Strategy.

Councils are also, by law, meant to be the first port of call for private tenants with complaints about standards. Under this heading, critics say the system is just not working.

Just over half of the country’s councils responded to queries by the Irish Examiner and most of those reported receiving fewer than 10 complaints per year. Mr Bresnihan said the tiny number of complaints in no way reflected reality.

“You have to recognise the context in which tenants are living at the moment, which is that they’re scared of the repercussions of complaining,” he said.

Mr Large echoed that view: “In the current climate, people are very afraid that if they raise an issue, the landlord will retaliate by giving them notice.”

One council said it rarely recorded complaints formally because tenants were scared of causing trouble. It said investigations were carried out under the guise of routine inspections.

Mr Large said Threshold had been lobbying for a licencing or certification system and he would welcome an overhaul of the current regime. “Having an independent body dealing with all of that would certainly improve things,” he said.

Reviews of the existing regime are under way by both the Department of the Environment and the National Oversight and Audit Commission. The department said: “Options for driving improvement in standards and configuring the enforcement system most effectively, including the potential role of certification and a shared services approach, will be considered as part of the review.”


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