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Column Minimum standards and regulations of rental properties should be enforced

Landlords shouldn’t be allowed to rent a property unless it meets minimum legal standards and they held a cert to prove this, writes Bob Jordan.

A FLAT WHERE the bed is on a ledge above the cooker. A bedsit where you open a tiny cupboard to access your ‘kitchen’.  A makeshift bathroom stuffed into what’s intended as a wardrobe space. In nearly ten years working with Threshold, I’ve seen it all.

Yesterday, we launched Threshold’s annual report for 2012.  It shows that, despite improvements in tenancy laws in recent years, many renters still live in substandard homes.

Over 1,600 people contacted Threshold last year because of poor standards.  Broken heating systems, poor ventilation, leaks and dampness were the most common problems encountered in private rented homes.

Poor standards

In some cases, landlords were refusing to carry out repairs; in others, properties had been neglected completely since the economic downturn began.

In the past, poor standards were a fact of life for many renters.  Tenants had little protection from uncaring, negligent landlords, and ‘Strumpet City’ style bedsits were commonplace.

In recent years, thankfully, this situation has changed: great strides have been made in regulating standards and, most significant of all, in February of this year, the traditional bedsit – with its shared toilet facility – was abolished.

Lack of laws

So the current problem with substandard accommodation isn’t due to a lack of laws.  The legislation exists to protect tenants.  The problem is that – without enforcement and compliance – laws don’t work.

Responsibility for making sure landlords comply with the minimum standards law currently lies with local authorities.  They’re meant to regularly inspect private rented homes and enforce minimum standards.  Their approach to this task is, at best, hit and miss: while some local authorities – notably those in Dublin – can be praised for establishing effective systems, others seem blissfully unaware that they have a duty in this regard.

Recently, Threshold conducted a survey of the 34 local authorities in Ireland.  This showed almost 40 per cent thought private inspections were not a matter for them.  They were unsure who should deal with inspections or suggested – incorrectly – that they were a matter for the HSE or the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB).

The websites of the majority of local authorities had no information on private residential accommodation, or – again – suggested queries should be directed to the PRTB.

Local authorities

Four councils had information online that referred to standards that have been out of date since 2008.  And, even after being advised of the current law by Threshold, 25 authorities continued to have no information or incorrect information online.  A number of local authorities indicated that, although they were aware of their obligation to carry out inspections, they had insufficient resources to do so.

Our survey shows the current system for inspections and enforcement doesn’t work.  As a result, tenants have no way of knowing whether or not a property complies with the law.  A lick of paint can hide a multitude of sins, so lots of people move into homes thinking they are perfect only to quickly uncover a range of hidden flaws.

NCT for housing

To resolve this issue, Threshold wants to see a certification system put in place.  What we’re calling for is basically an NCT for housing. Under such a system, landlords would have to prove they complied with minimum standards. They wouldn’t be allowed to rent a property unless it met minimum legal standards and they held a cert to prove this.

One in five Irish families now lives in private rented homes. So this issue isn’t going to go away. In fact, if the enforcement system stays as is, things will only get worse.

Rising demand for rental properties and the resulting rising prices will continue to leave desperate families with no option but to live in substandard homes.

My belief is that private renters in Ireland are more vulnerable now than at any other stage during the recession. Lower-income families are really struggling to find and hold on to decent homes, and many face the terrifying prospect of homelessness.

Threshold launches our Christmas fundraising appeal next week – our most important appeal in decades. Families in desperate need are contacting us on a daily basis because of the challenges they face in finding a suitable home. Now, more than ever, it’s essential we provide them with the help and support they need.

Bob Jordan is Chief Executive of Threshold, the national housing charity.  Further information is available at

Column: This is home – a mouldy kitchen, faulty electrics, damp and children with respiratory illnesses>

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