Focus Ireland: Laws may increase homelessness

A homelessness charity has warned more people could end up on the streets as a result of new laws for landlords.

Focus Ireland said Government regulations that prohibit the renting of sub-standard bed-sits put people on low incomes at risk as landlords will move out of the market as they can’t afford to renovate the properties.

Director of advocacy Mike Allen said a third of tenants living in a traditional bed-sit, often with a shared bathroom and no kitchen facilities, are unemployed.

“Many landlords will not be able to afford to upgrade their properties in order to meet the new standards so they will look to get out of the market,” Mr Allen said. “If they do not upgrade this means any sitting tenants in their properties will have to leave this accommodation.”

While Focus Ireland supported the Government’s aims to improve living standards, there was a concern that a number of vulnerable tenants would be unable to find alternative affordable accommodation.

However, tenants advocacy group, Threshold, has welcomed the new regulations, due to come into effect on Friday, saying that the changes are being introduced “at a good point of time” as the numbers in bedsits are falling as “tenants are finding better quality accommodation elsewhere”.

Figures from the 2011 Census revealed more than 6,000 people were living in 4,475 privately-rented bed-sits — three-quarters of which were in Dublin.

More than 3,000 of those comprise only one room while only 9% of bed-sits had no central heating. One in five of those tenants were living with a disability while 10% were unable to work as a result. The figures also showed that 5% of bed-sit tenants were retired.

The new Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations were first signalled in 2008, meaning landlords have had around four years to have made changes to their properties to ensure they comply.

Meanwhile, Threshold has warned that “huge numbers of its rent supplement clients are struggling to pay utility bills and to pay for events like First Holy Communion as their landlords are demanding top-up sums in addition to their rent allowance payments from the State.

“As more and more people are renting rather than buying, the people on rent allowance are struggling to compete with working people who can pay more expensive rents. In a recent survey up to 60% of our clients were paying some kind of top-up supplement.

“This isn’t sustainable for them and our hope is that this will end when rent supplement is transferred to the local authorities who will then pay the supplement directly via bank accounts to the landlord. This new local authority scheme will forbid any exchange of money between landlord and tenant,” Threshold director, Bob Jordan said.

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