What will the council look for when inspecting a rented property?
Property Clinic: Purpose of inspection is to ensure property complies with Minimum Housing Standards Act
The most common issues that arise tend to be the question of whether there are vents on walls or windows to ensure circulation of air and restrictors on windows. Photograph: iStock
A friend who rents out a flat in her basement is due to have it inspected by the council. They gave her notice of the inspection for a date in the middle of lockdown but agreed to put it off for a bit. She wasn’t aware that the council could do this but she gathers local authorities have always had this right under housing standards legislation. Her question is, what will the council be looking for?
Kersten Mehl replies: When the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) was set up and the 2004 Tenancies Act was introduced, it was envisaged that the relevant local authority would carry out an inspection of every property registered with the RTB. That proved impossible given the sheer scale of the private residential market. In fact, until the RTB was established the size of the private residential rental sector was something of an unknown quantity.
Accordingly, the roll out of full inspection never occurred and the inspections from the local authorities that do take place tend to be confined to Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) tenancies, ie where rents are paid or subsidised by the State; or in the event of an unhappy tenant making a report to the RTB/local authority about the condition of their dwelling.
The purpose of such an inspection is to ensure that the property complies with the Minimum Housing Standards Act. Please understand that the minimum housing standard for private residential rental properties is significantly higher than for owner-occupiers. Indeed, one frustrating issue I’ve encountered is that of newly built houses being inspected and then being found not to be in compliance with rental regulations on relatively minor issues. Thus, a property that had been passed by the planning authorities and built according to its precise specification could be held to be non-compliant for minimum rental standards.
Sometimes when you hear comments that properties do not meet the minimum housing standard, it’s worth exploring a little further to see what the exact issues are. Sometimes it’s due to this higher bar.
The first thing your friend needs to do is get an electrician to inspect the wiring and provide an Electro-Technical Council of Ireland (ETCI) certificate. If the property is heated with gas or oil, she needs a certificate from the service engineer and she will also need a BER (Building Energy Rating) certificate. These are not only standard items but are basic health and safety requirements a landlord should be in possession of regardless of an inspection.
After that, the most common issues that arise tend to be the question of whether there are vents on walls or windows to ensure circulation of air and restrictors on windows. The main reason for these I presume is to help keep children safe. Regardless of whether your friend owns a basement flat, she will still need same.
The bathroom and kitchen require a mechanical extract ventilation fan (it does not matter whether there is a window or not). The inspector may request a cooker extractor leading to an external vent - even though that may be impossible to do - and will not accept charcoal extractor fans. There should be a heater in every room including the bathroom.
They will look for standard items like carbon monoxide alarms, smoke alarms, fire blanket and a fire extinguisher. These are in your friend’s interest to supply to ensure the tenant’s safety.
If you are in a multi-unit building - and a house over a basement falls into this category - the inspector may insist on a mains-wired smoke alarm in the unit hallway. This can be very expensive, with costs ranging from €1,500 to €15,000 depending on size and age of the unit.
I see you describe it as a basement flat. I automatically think of a Georgian or Victorian property and if that is the case then the expense involved in this will only go one way. Up!
Kersten Mehl is a chartered residential agency surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie