The Housing Agency warned local authorities that delays or failures to carry out inspections to check repair works on homes in a mortgage-to-rent scheme for distressed borrowers, could leave councils and tenants “exposed”.
Under the scheme defaulting borrowers can stay in their home as a renter, after surrendering ownership of the property to a mortgage lender.
The local authority collects rent as a landlord when the lender sells the properties to providers signed up to the scheme, who agree to carry out any repairs to bring the homes up to required standards.
Late last year the Housing Agency, which oversees the scheme, suspended issuing any new agreements for lease to the scheme’s largest provider, Co Wicklow company Home for Life (HFL), due to concerns over the standard of repairs carried out.
Several local authorities, including Dublin City Council (DCC), reported issues with HFL repair works, leading the Housing Agency to launch an investigation into the matter.
Under mortgage-to-rent rules, the local authority and HFL are required to carry out an inspection of the property within five months of any repair works being completed.
An internal analysis found in inspections of 224 HFL properties carried out by late October that 166 homes had “issues” and would need further work to be carried out.
In a November 8th, 2022 email, Claire Feeney, Housing Agency director of services, wrote to DCC officials outlining the council had “recourse available” to ensure HFL carried out repairs to required standards.
This included suspending lease payments to the company or the council carrying out the works then “recouping” the costs from HFL, she said.
Correspondence from the Housing Agency was released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.
Ms Feeney stated it was “important” that joint inspections of properties were undertaken after repairs were finished. “Failure to follow this process as set out in the lease could leave your tenants and your LA [local authority] exposed,” Ms Feeney said.
“I can’t stress enough at this point and time how important it is for you, in the first instance, to follow up with HFL on properties where the target date for the completion of the works has passed and you have not been notified that the works are complete.”
If there were issues, Ms Feeney suggested councils “put pressure” on HFL to carry out works to a satisfactory standard by suspending payments to the company.
In a statement, Paul Cunningham, HFL chief executive, said feedback from recent inspections of repairs was positive.
“We are working with everybody and we are confident everything is going to be fine,” Mr Cunningham said.
Correspondence shows both mortgage services provider Pepper Finance and Bank of Ireland, who are involved in the scheme, sought a briefing from the Housing Agency on the issues facing HFL late last year.
Separately, the Department of Housing is considering looking for more providers to take part in the scheme, emails show.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien’s office was “keen” to advertise that the department were seeking expressions of interest, according to a December 14th email.
One department official was not “overly concerned about the recent media activity” around the scheme, emails stated.
In a response, Ms Feeney said she would be “very concerned” about expressions of interest being sought from other providers before Christmas.
A department spokesman said the expression of interest process was currently with the Minister for his consideration.