The move by the Housing Minister, Michael Finneran, comes as a housing charity published figures showing an increase in the number of cases last year where tenants had their deposits withheld by landlords.
Threshold also criticised local authorities for failing to carry out inspections on sub-standard housing, claiming just three landlords were prosecuted last year despite thousands of complaints and a suspected 4,000 properties failing to comply with minimum standards.
Threshold chairperson Aideen Hayden said millions of euro set aside for councils to carry out inspections still had not been spent, at a time when some tenants were living in properties infested by vermin, shoddy wiring and mushrooms growing on the walls.
Other issues, such as illegal evictions and rogue agents failing to pass on deposits or rent to landlords, were also highlighted.
Speaking at the launch of the Threshold annual report 2009, Mr Finneran said the heads of the bill aimed at introducing tough sanctions against landlords who illegal hold on to deposits would come before the Oireachtas shortly. “I am very hopeful that the introduction of significant automatic penalties will seriously reduce the volume of deposit retention difficulties,” he said, adding later that the penalty could be two or three times the size of the deposit.
But while he said there was “no evidence” that local authorities were not properly inspecting rented properties, Threshold said estates in some urban areas like Waterford and Limerick had never been checked.
Ms Hayden said this compared unfavourably to parts of Dublin and Cork, where there are inspection rates of more than 40%, and said a housing estate in Co Cavan, built six years ago, had been checked twice.
According to the Private Residential Tenancies Board, there were over 234,000 tenancies registered at the end of the year, and a 300% increase in the number of enforcement proceedings sought and progressed during last year to more than 4,000.
More than 40% of all tenancies registered with the board were in Dublin county, Cork had 12%, Galway 7% and Limerick 5%.
But Threshold said half of all complaints made to it by tenants were regarding properties that were not registered. More than one-third of its clients were on social welfare and deposit retention accounted for 4,125 advocacy queries – quarter of its workload – up from 3,688 the previous year.
Ms Hayden said Rent Supplement reform, so that the state negotiates directly with landlords, was essential to ensure state money is not lost and tenants live in better conditions.