Poor standards in rented homes - Regulation remains a sorry joke

So many of the weaknesses that undermine our way of doing things come together around housing, especially rented housing, that no matter how you try to infuse your Monday with a determination to walk on the sunny side of the street the scale of the challenge is so daunting that it cannot be ignored. 

That challenge is so pressing that it reaches even into the lives of those happily housed in mortgage-free homes.

Regulations decree that a significant deposit is required before a mortgage can be secured.

The scale of this demand is such that many older people — usually retired parents — who paid their mortgages over many decades steeled by the prospect of a retirement free of debt are sacrificing savings to help children buy a home.

And they are the lucky ones.

Others unable to be so generous watch as adult children struggle in an increasingly dysfunctional rental market.

Whether it is comfortable to admit it or not, these realities are symptoms of profound social and political failure and we, through government, are obliged to resolve them.

This obligation has not been matched by the sense of forceful urgency or imagination that a Government with a full understanding of the problems this crisis imposes on families would show.

One of the consequences is that tenants must live in properties that do not meet basic standards expected in 2016.

This exploitation is facilitated by an official inspection regime that seems no more than the cruelest kind of tokenism.

This bad-joke oversight undermines the credibility of the entire system and exposes tenants to circumstances we imagined consigned to history when the last of the tenements were razed.

Simple figures show that the idea of protecting tenants from those who would be called slumlords across the Atlantic remains an aspiration and facilitates the worst kind of exploitation.

Two years ago, there were 285,025 private tenancies registered but only 13,913 were inspected. Half of these did not meet minimum standards.

It is not unreasonable to assume that had all properties been inspected that a similar proportion would have failed. In other words, only about one in 40 properties, just 2.5%, met basic standards.

Once again we facilitate property rights — where ever they start or end — trumping what should be basic human rights.

This may be understandable when rents increased, on average, by 8.5% last year but that does not make it acceptable.

This has led to the point where landlords can expect regular NCT-style inspections under plans to better regulate accommodation.

Another proposal is a national inspection unit to replace ineffective mixture of council workers, HSE staff and private contractors to carry out limited, random checks.

This seems a minimum requirement, as local authorities have warned that they cannot take on inspections of homes provided by voluntary housing bodies under the Social Housing Strategy, despite the fact that councils are, by law, the first port of call for private tenants with complaints on substandard accommodation. Getting these measures on the statute books will be a long and slow process, but having them enforced will be, if history is any guide, even more difficult.

By our actions ye shall know us indeed.


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