Threshold, the national housing organisation, is calling on the government to introduce radical reform of minimum standards legislation in the private rented sector. The housing charity’s 2004 annual report, being launched today [22 August], shows that requests for help from people living in unfit accommodation increased by over a third (36%) last year. Callers to Threshold reported problems such as a lack of hot and cold running water, mould growing on walls or ceilings and vermin infestation. Some were living in windowless rooms.
While local authorities have a statutory obligation to inspect and approve properties in the private rented sector, they are largely failing to do so. Only 7,232 out of an estimated 150,000 dwellings were inspected last year, with almost 30% found to be below minimum standards. Yet legal action was initiated in just four cases. This is sending out the wrong message to rogue landlords. Threshold is calling on local authorities to step up inspections and to prosecute more landlords guilty of serious abuses. Those found guilty of breaches of the law must be ‘named and shamed’.
Aideen Hayden, Chair of Threshold, said:
“The introduction of the new Residential Tenancies Act last year has greatly improved tenants rights in the private rented sector. But the government must now copper fasten this progress by tackling the quality of accommodation, particularly at the lower end of the market. It is totally unacceptable that people are forced to live in windowless flats, sleep in bedrooms covered in mildew or make do without hot running water. We also have to ask is it acceptable that in this day and age people are expected to live in one room with a toilet opening off it, and that room is their kitchen, living room, dining room and their bedroom? The government must not only ensure that existing standards are enforced but they must also introduce new standards that reflect today’s accepted living conditions.”
Threshold’s annual report also highlights the fact that many inner city apartment blocks are being let to families on low incomes but are totally unsuited to family living. Much of this poor accommodation is being let to rent supplement tenants resulting in high concentrations of poverty.
“Planners are approving buildings that may suit the needs of young single urban dwellers, but are completely inappropriate for family living. Too few apartments are designed with children in mind. Living spaces are cramped with no play or study areas. Often there is nowhere to dry clothes or to store children’s toys and bikes. Unfortunately while we are following a European model of apartment dwelling, we are not following the standards of amenities that make communal living possible. This is particularly important for people on low incomes living permanently in rented accommodation.
From our work on the ground, Threshold is deeply concerned that many inner city developments are becoming slums of the future. The government need to act urgently to make sure we are not putting in place slum clearance programmes like the Ireland of the 1930s and 1940s in the Ireland of 2010.”
Other findings in the Threshold annual report include:
The total number of clients seeking help from Threshold’s advice services grew by 20% to 20,601 people in 2004.
The return of rent deposits was a growing problem for Threshold’s clients in 2004. Inability to regain a deposit from a previous landlord increases the risk of homelessness because those affected may not have other funds to put down for a new tenancy. In 2004, Threshold’s advice workers dealt with 2,648 cases of deposit retention, 44% more than 2003.
Illegal evictions also generated more calls to Threshold than in 2003. The shock of being locked out of home, having personal possessions damaged and having no place for children to sleep seriously undermines a household’s wellbeing. During 2004, Threshold dealt with 271 people who faced illegal eviction, 41% more than in 2003.
Threshold’ Access Housing Unit, which helps people who are homeless to move into rented accommodation, completed its second successful year of operation in 2004. A total of 127 people were helped to move out of homelessness, including 40 children.