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'We need an NCT-style certification system on minimum standards in the private rented sector'

Landlords need to fear the consequences of breaking the law, writes John-Mark McCafferty.

John-Mark McCafferty CEO, Threshold

THE RECENT RTÉ Investigates Nightmare to Let documentary got the nation talking about the lack of minimum standards in rental accommodation.

We have seen a public outpouring of support with people sharing their horror stories and calling for changes.

However, we must not let the momentum behind this important issue wane. We need to see the immediate introduction of an NCT-style certification system on minimum standards in the private rented sector, along with a definition of overcrowding and the introduction of severe penalties for landlords who place the lives and health of tenants at risk.

Slum-like conditions

The cases that have come to light in recent weeks of dangerously overcrowded slum-like conditions and appalling physical standards have no place in modern Irish society. The housing charity, Threshold, has been calling for an ‘NCT for homes’ for almost a decade now.

This process would mean the landlord would be obliged to prove compliance with minimum standards and fire safety before they could rent their properties.

The passing of the Sinn Féin motion on minimum standards by the Dáil on Thursday 9 November was a positive step towards acknowledging the importance of the NCT concept. However, it was disappointing to see the suggestion by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, that self-certification for landlords could be the solution and we are asking him to reconsider this.

Self-certification is not the answer

Threshold has been advising and supporting tenants in the rental sector for nearly 40 years and inadequate physical standards consistently rank as one of the top complaints raised.

From talking to our clients, we do not believe that self-certification is the answer to this widespread problem in the sector. Like the present system, it relies on landlords being caught and the prospects of that are slim.

We know that bunk beds are now more common across rental accommodation in Dublin, with people doubling, tripling, and quadrupling up in rooms because of the lack of affordability and supply. Self-certification is not a strong enough deterrent for the rogue landlords renting such overcrowded properties, which not only financially exploit vulnerable tenants but also put their very lives at risk.

Fear of losing home

Nor will self-certification help low income households, like the couple from the Midlands who contacted us because they were living in substandard accommodation. This couple were renting a property that had no proper heating or ventilation.

The landlord did not provide a washing machine or fridge and there was limited space to store or prepare food. Fire safety was also a major issue as there was no smoke alarm, fire blanket or fire extinguisher fitted. When the tenant raised these issues with their landlord they were given a 28-day notice to move out.

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This is just one example of the horrible predicaments some tenants find themselves in and illustrates why so many are too afraid to raise the issue of standards with their landlords for fear of losing their homes or increased rent. Low income earners are at the mercy of this cohort of unscrupulous landlords. Living in such poor quality housing exacerbates their experience of social exclusion, having adverse impacts on their health and often resulting in energy poverty.

Landlords need to fear the consequences of breaking the law and self-certification is not going to achieve this. It has not worked in the past and Priory Hall is a case in point. If we can’t self-certify a motor vehicle, then how can we self-certify rented homes?

If landlords are required to furnish BER certificates, then it should be extended to cover fire safety and minimum standards. This should not result in greater costs for the landlord. If a certificate does not exist, the penalty for renting an uncertified property should be severe so that there is no excuse for being outside the system. Inspections would then focus solely on whether the landlord held a certificate of compliance.

John-Mark McCafferty is the CEO of  Threshold. Threshold is calling on everyone who believes in the right to quality rented housing to sign their petition.

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About the author:

John-Mark McCafferty  / CEO, Threshold

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