Threshold, the national housing organisation, is calling on the government to tackle slum landlords by introducing promised new minimum standards legislation for the private rented sector. Figures released today [11 July 2006] by the Department of the Environment show that more than 30% of properties inspected in 2005 were substandard. These are properties where the basic necessities were not present. Threshold is alarmed at the poor living conditions of 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.
While local authorities have a statutory obligation to inspect properties in the private rented sector, they are largely failing to do so. Only 6,815 inspections of an estimated 150,000 dwellings were carried out by local authorities last year, with 2,048 properties found to be below minimum standards. Over half of all inspections (3,735) were carried out by Dublin City Council, but Limerick City Council failed to inspect any rented properties while Waterford City Council conducted just three inspections. 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’.
The recently published social partnership agreement ‘Towards 2016’ says that minimum standards regulations in the private rented sector will be updated, but this is repeating a Government promise made more than a year ago. Urgent action is needed because existing regulations are primitive and outdated. For example, under the current Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 1993, landlords are not required to provide a refrigerator or central heating; they do not have to supply a cooker, just the means of installing cooking equipment; and there is no requirement for fire alarms or extinguishers. A lack of proper regulation increases the risk to many vulnerable people living in rented accommodation.
Patrick Burke, Director of Threshold, said:
“The introduction of the Residential Tenancies Act in 2004 greatly improved tenants’ rights in the private rented sector. But the government must now copper fasten this progress by eliminating poor quality 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. 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.”