Residents whose lives were made hell by Covid lockdown parties in Cork’s university precinct have called for a raft of new laws to crack down on a specific sector of the rented housing sector.
The residents of Magazine Road and the surrounding areas, close to University College Cork, said their experience during the Covid-19 public health crisis has exposed serious shortcomings in the management of rented houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs).
HMO is a term used in the UK and Northern Ireland to describe a house rented to several unrelated adults, as opposed to a house rented to a family.
The residents’ association said the situation they faced last year, with several J1 or Magaluf-style house parties occurring in HMOs during the peak of the first wave, highlights the urgent need for statutory regulations on the standard, management and maintenance of this sector of the rented housing market.
At the very minimum, the residents said the state needs to introduce a public register of rented properties, a licensing system for all landlords, and an NCT-style test that must be passed before properties can be rented, to protect tenants and those who live near these properties.
“The current legislation in this country on the management and upkeep of rented properties is minimal, outdated and in urgent need of change to make it relevant to 2021,” association chairperson, Catherine Clancy said.
“No tenants should be left at the mercy of the personality of the landlord.
The association has now written to public representatives calling for a raft of measures, including:
- A licensing system for all landlords which would require landlords to be responsible for the condition of their properties, and especially for the health and safety and the behaviour of their tenants;
- An NCT-type test for rented properties where certain standards must be checked and approved, and that the property is deemed fit for purpose and reflects the income that can be generated, before they can be rented;
- A public register of the owners or management companies of all rented properties;
- New laws giving local authorities power to licence and inspect HMOs;
- A three-month limit on the amount of advance rent a landlord can ask for;
- New planning laws, which would require a planning application for the change of use of a two or three-bedroom residential property being converted to a HMO property with between five and 10 bedrooms.
“In the UK and Northern Ireland, a landlord requires a licence from the local government in order to rent out a HMO,” they said.
“The landlord has to prove that the house is fit for the number of people renting it, follows the necessary safety codes, and that he/she is ‘fit and proper’ to manage a house.
“In our area, in the midst of the pandemic we have students/adults renting shared bedrooms with one bathroom/washing facility between five to eight adults.
“Many of these properties are substandard to bedsits, which were made illegal some years ago due to health and safety concerns.
“These rented HMOs are not fit for purpose but can generate €50,000 to €60,000 annually for a 5/8 bedroom property. These are financially generating businesses and should be treated as such.” Registration of all new tenancies with the Private Residential Tenancy Board is a requirement since 2004.
It is an offence to fail to register a property, with a fine of up to €3,000 or six months imprisonment.
The residents association said a survey of property in their area in 2017 and again in November 2020 shows that of around 245 rented properties, 157 did not appear to be registered with the PRTB.