Threshold Calls on Government to Develop National Strategy on Private Rented Sector
The Government must introduce a strategy on private rented housing as a matter of urgency. That’s according to Threshold, the national housing charity, which launched its annual report for 2013 today (16.12.14).
Speaking at the launch, Senator Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold, said the private rented sector is not fit for purpose because of poor regulation and loopholes in existing legislation.
“The private rented sector has grown exponentially in recent years: it now provides housing for one in five families in Ireland,” she said. “However, there are chronic failings in the sector that need to be addressed before anyone living in a rented dwelling can really consider it their long-term home.
“The Residential Tenancies Act was introduced in 2004 to modernise the private rented sector. Ten years on, the sector has doubled in size, and the legislation has not been flexible enough to keep pace. Loopholes in the law are enabling landlords to remove tenants from their homes and then re-advertise the same properties at substantially higher rents. Threshold is increasingly witnessing such economic evictions, where families are forced to leave their homes because of exorbitant rent hikes.
“The 2004 legislation also fails to ensure regulations around minimum standards in rented housing are enforced. Standards and repairs were the main issue for clients contacting Threshold last year, accounting for one in fiveof all queries received. The current system of local authority inspections was designed for a different era when the rented sector was much smaller than it is today. What is needed now is a certification scheme – an ‘NCT for housing’ – which would place the responsibility for proving compliance with the landlord.
“Irish attitudes to housing have undergone a seismic shift since the Celtic Tiger boom years and the recession that followed. We are no longer a nation that prioritises home ownership above all else. The Government needs to acknowledge that, for many families, renting their home is their only option. The problem is that the private rented sector is simply not secure enough for families who need long-term certainty. The only way to address the flaws currently affecting the sector is to produce a national strategy on private rented accommodation.”
Policy Priorities for New Strategy
According to Threshold, a national strategy on the private rented sector must focus on the following areas:
- Enhanced security for tenants: Threshold believes that the current statutory right of tenants to remain in their home for a four-year period is inadequate and can too easily be undermined by landlords.
- Rent certainty: the organisation believes the existing rent regulation measures in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 must be amended to provide certainty as to the rate of increase in rents.
- Rent Supplement: Threshold is urging the Government to –
– Accelerate the roll-out of the Housing Assistance Payment.
– Review Rent Supplement limits in light of market rent levels to ensure housing needs are met.
– Arrange for the payment of Rent Supplement in advance rather than in arrears.
– Pre-approve Rent Supplement applications.
– Facilitate the payment of deposits by means of exceptional needs payments.
- Deposit protection: a deposit protection scheme must be introduced, in line with the commitment given in the Programme for Government, Threshold says.
- Receivership and buy-to-let properties: Threshold wants to see the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 amended to clarify the respective rights and obligations of landlords, tenants and receivers. The organisation is also calling for the introduction of a code of conduct for buy-to-let mortgage arrears.
- Enforcing minimum standards to ensure landlords comply with the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2008 and 2009.
2013 Annual Report
At today’s launch, Threshold highlighted key statistics from its 2013 annual report. The report reflects on changes in the private rented sector – and the issues affecting tenants – since the introduction of the Residential Tenancies Act 10 years ago.
Commenting today, Bob Jordan, Chief Executive of Threshold, said: “Over the past decade, Threshold has helped over 209,000 tenants with their housing problems. Four key issues have recurred every year over that period: illegal deposit retention, illegal evictions, standards in rented accommodation, and rent arrears.
“While standards and repairs were the number one reason why people contacted Threshold last year, overall since 2004, deposit retention has been the single largest issue affecting our clients, with 27,000 queries on that topic alone.”
Key figures from Threshold’s annual report launch include the following:
- 22,884 tenants were provided with housing advice in 2013 (209,018 in total over the past 10 years).
- 2,098 people contact Threshold for assistance and advice on standards and repairs (13,450 since 2004).
- 1,930 queries were dealt with on deposit retention last year (27,066 since 2004).
- 651 people contacted Threshold in 2013 because of illegal evictions (5,379 since 2004).
- 580 people contact Threshold last year about the issue of rent arrears (5,622 since 2004).
“A number of new issues emerged last year that had not been previously evident,” said Mr. Jordan. “The increased number of buy-to-let receiverships is causing a lot of uncertainty for tenants, and the shortage of housing supply – coupled with high demand – is resulting in dramatic rent increases. Affordability issues are now putting many families at risk of homelessness, and keeping people in their homes will be the key challenge facing Threshold in the years to come.”
To download a copy of the report click here.