Controversial planning rules for build-to-rent apartments to be axed

Rules introduced in 2018 permitting non-compliance with minimum-size standards and less stringent storage requirements to be abolished

Controversial planning rules for “build-to-rent” (BTR) apartments are set to be axed, The Irish Times has learned.

The rules, introduced by then minister for housing Eoghan Murphy in 2018, mean apartments owned by institutional investors and developed specifically for the rental market do not have to comply with minimum size standards required in homes for sale, while there are less stringent storage requirements and more apartments permitted per floor.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is expected to tell the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis on Saturday that he will issue an amendment to existing guidelines effectively removing BTR standards. Developments already in planning will be allowed to continue under the existing regime, but a spokeswoman for Mr O’Brien said he intended to remove the category this year.

The move comes amid pressure on the Government to provide more social and affordable homes as the number of homeless people hit a record 10,805, including more than 3,000 children relying on emergency accommodation.

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Social housing

He has also told officials to investigate whether stranded BTR developments can be converted into social housing or affordable homes. Due to increasingly tight financing conditions, industry sources said some projects with planning are now unviable.

Data provided by the Department of Housing indicates that 78 per cent of planning-approved BTR developments have not yet commenced construction — some 9,561 units.

A spokeswoman for Mr O’Brien said: “The Minister recently received Cabinet approval to accelerate the delivery of social and affordable homes by mandating the Land Development Agency to work with the major urban local authorities to activate stalled planning permissions for cost-rental, affordable-purchase homes and social homes.”

“It’s clear from the number of BTR developments which have received planning permission but have not yet begun that the State needs to take action to ensure these developments are activated.” It is understood converting BTR planning permissions into conventional standard units will be considered as part of the process.

‘Just boxes’

The development standards have been the subject of criticism by the Opposition since their introduction. Labour housing spokeswoman Rebecca Moynihan criticised the standards in the Seanad earlier this year, saying apartments developed under them were “just boxes”.

Mr O’Brien’s spokeswoman said he “intends to bring an end to BTR which was effectively established as a separate class of development for planning purposes under the 2018 apartment guidelines. The Minister is taking this action to bring a fairness back to the market.”

Industry sources said that axing the development standards would add to the cost of building homes in urban areas.

Under the rules, a requirement that the majority of all apartments in a development exceed minimum floor area standards by a minimum of 10 per cent does not apply, and the requirement for a maximum of 12 apartments per floor does also not apply.

They stipulate a “default of minimal or significantly reduced car parking provision” and that “flexibility shall apply” in relation to storage and private amenity space associated with individual units.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times