Threshold, the national housing organisation, is calling on the government to tackle slum landlords by introducing new minimum standards legislation for the private rented sector. Threshold’s annual report 2005 launched today shows that appeals for help from tenants living in unfit accommodation doubled last year, from 386 in 2004 to 785 in 2005. Threshold is alarmed at the poor living conditions endured by a growing number of callers to its advice services, including a lack of hot and cold running water, mould growing on walls or ceilings, and vermin infestation. Some tenants are living in windowless rooms.
Urgent action is needed because existing minimum standards for the private rented sector are primitive and outdated. For example, under the current Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 1993, landlords are not required to provide tenants with a cooker or central heating. Ireland has made vast strides in other areas such as environmental protection, health and safety standards, and employee protection, yet when it comes to people who have to rent their homes the protection is inadequate. The recently published social partnership agreement ‘Towards 2016’ says that minimum standards regulations will be updated, but this is repeating a promise made over a year ago. But introducing new regulations is only one part of the problem as the current legislation is not being enforced.
Aideen Hayden, Chair of Threshold, said:
“The existing minimum standards regulations are from a bygone era and must be updated. Diners who can afford to eat in a restaurant are better protected by quality standards and inspections than a family on low income living in a rented home. The days when a two-ring camping stove is considered adequate for cooking or when one toilet on the landing is shared between four bed-sits must end.
Local authorities are obliged to inspect rented properties, but some carry out no inspections whatsoever despite receiving government funding to do so. The poorest people need protection because sometimes substandard accommodation is all they can afford. Many local authorities in Ireland are letting these vulnerable people down by failing to ensure their home is fit to be lived in.”
Local authorities conducted only 6,815 inspections of an estimated 150,000 rented properties last year, with over 30% (2,048 properties) found to be below minimum standards, but legal action was initiated in just eleven cases. Dublin City Council carried out over half of all inspections nationally (3,735), but 19 local authorities failed to inspect a single property including Cork County Council, Galway County Council, Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council.
Local authorities are funded to carry out inspections through registration fees collected from landlords and distributed by the Department of the Environment. The total amount distributed to local authorities in 2005 was almost €1.6 million. Threshold believes that local authorities that fail to inspect rented properties in their area should have this funding taken away. It is calling on the Minister for Housing, Noel Ahern TD, to seek the return or reallocation of this money to ensure that tenants get the protection they deserve.
Threshold is also proposing the introduction of a new process of certification for rented properties to ensure they are fit for the purpose of renting (i.e. an ‘NCT for housing’). Qualified professionals would certify properties for both minimum quality standards and fire safety standards.
“The current system of inspection is hopelessly inadequate. People are entitled to live in safe, secure accommodation. We need a system that makes sure all rented property is fit to live in, both in relation to minimum standards and fire safety. It is ironic that the home, which is the place where safety matters most, is almost the last area for appropriate regulation.Threshold is drafting a proposal to government for a system of certification to ensure that all rented property meets a decent standard. We believe every compliant landlord in the country should welcome such a system.”
Other findings in the Threshold annual report include:
Threshold provided information, advice and support to a total of 19,512 people in 2005 through its advice centres in Cork, Dublin and Galway.
A high number of Threshold’s clients live in poverty. Over half (57%) of Threshold’s household clients in 2005 had an income of less than €15,000.
The return of rent deposits continued to be a major problem for Threshold’s clients in 2005. The risk of homelessness increases when a landlord fails to return a deposit because a tenant on low income may not have other funds to put down for new accommodation. Threshold’s advice workers dealt with 2,325 cases of deposit retention last year.
Threshold supported 284 people who faced illegal eviction in 2005. 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.
Threshold’s Access Housing Unit, funded by the Homeless Agency, helps people who are homeless to move out of homeless hostels and shelters and into longer-term rented accommodation. The AHU completed its third successful year of operation in 2005 by helping 143 people, including 44 children, to move out of homelessness.