The housing crisis in Ireland is in bloom, and the “anything goes” attitude of landlords is really not helping the situation.
According to Threshold National Housing Charity, an Irish agency that advises people on their housing rights, each year more than 16,000 tenants contact them after receiving a termination notice from their landlord. This year, over 2,000 people were evicted because their landlord claimed to be carrying out substantial renovations. That way, some landlords are able to exploit a loophole in the law, and let the property at a higher price after making some minor improvements.
The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB, operates Ireland’s National Tenancy Register and resolves disputes between landlords, tenants and third parties) plans on publishing guidelines for landlords and tenants on what constitutes substantial refurbishment, as there are no clear criteria yet.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy also promised to introduce some changes that would make the landlords uphold minimum standards in rented accommodation.
Firstly, the RTB is to be reformed, with landlords obliged to register their tenancies on an annual basis and “to certify that the property in question is compliant with regulations, in relation to standards for rental accommodation, overcrowding, and fire safety”.
“Failure to provide this certification, failure to register the tenancy, or very importantly the provision of an untrue certification will all constitute offences prosecutable by the RTB,” Mr Murphy said.
Also, funding of local authorities will be increased to allow them to conduct inspections in at least 25 per cent of rental properties let.
This year, for example, less than 4 per cent of rental property in Cork was inspected and only 3 per cent of the tenancies inspected were compliant with building standards. Similarly, over 90 per cent of privately rented houses and apartments in Limerick, Carlow, Galway, Wexford and Clare failed inspections.
However, Barry Cowen, Opposition Spokesperson for Housing, Planning and Local Government, is less than enthusiastic about the upcoming reforms, saying that they “smelled of self-regulation”.
Eoin Ó Broin, the spokesperson of left-wing Irish republican political party Sinn Féin, also thinks that the proposed measures are not enough. He called for jail sentences for opportunistic landlords who provide unsafe accommodation and put forward a motion for a NCT-style certification system on minimum standards (NCT, a National Car Testing is a compulsory car testing introduced in Ireland in 2008. Any car owner who fails to comply with the system will face fines and penalty points). Mr Murphy, while he considers the system ineffective, did not oppose the motion.
The housing crisis goes hand in hand with the homelessness crisis which has been growing since 2012. “There are things that could be done that haven’t been done; small changes, rule changes, enforcement of rules around housing, as well as real significant political will to engage and move in new social housing and building. That nettle has to be grasped. I just don’t get the sense that there is a political will there to grasp that nettle.” says Dr Niamh Hourigan, head of UCC’s School of Sociology.