Housing crisis has created perfect storm for predatory landlords, TD tells Dáil

Ruth Coppinger says she has received more disclosures, particularly from three women in the Hap sector

Ruth Coppinger points to screen shots of text messages during a press conference at Buswells Hotel in Dublin discussing landlord and tenant relationships prior to her raising the issue again in the Dáil. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ruth Coppinger points to screen shots of text messages during a press conference at Buswells Hotel in Dublin discussing landlord and tenant relationships prior to her raising the issue again in the Dáil. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The housing crisis has created the “perfect storm for predatory landlords”, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger has told the Dáil.

She warned that in the Housing Assistance Payments (Hap) sector in particular, it was “very dangerous giving private landlords such control over vulnerable women and children”.

The Dublin West TD again highlighted on Tuesday concerns about young women looking for housing being exploited by landlords and letting agents.

She expressed particular worry about the Hap sector, where State financial aid is provided for people to meet rental costs.

But Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy warned against linking such concerns with a housing support because vulnerable people might then refuse to use the Hap payment and landlords might do likewise. This would increase the risk of vulnerable people entering homelessness, he said.

Last week Ms Coppinger claimed unscrupulous landlords are seeking “sex for rent” from vulnerable tenants, and that a young woman in Rathmines in Dublin was offered free rent by her landlord “if we agree something”.

Ms Coppinger said she had received a lot more disclosures, particularly from three women in the Hap sector.

She wanted to make it clear that “where you have predominantly female, young and very vulnerable people looking for scarce accommodation, particularly in the Hap sector then you increase the prevalence of exploitation - all kinds, including sexual”.

She said “it’s very sinister that an estate agent with such power to evict or give people accommodation is engaging in sexual harassment”.

The Irish Times reported on Tuesday that a mother, Kirsty Cyane-McGill , who feels she was sexually harassed by an estate agent said she was unable to ask him to stop for fear of becoming homeless.

Ms Coppinger told the Dáil women were getting “comments about their bodies - discouraging boyfriends, offering dinner, getting drunken texts late at night”.

She said: “The housing crisis has created the perfect storm for predatory landlords and the Hap sector in particular as the basis for social housing is very dangerous - giving private landlords such control over vulnerable women and children”.

The Minister said significant further protections had been introduced for people who are vulnerable because of the lack as yet of sufficient housing. But he stressed that they had also introduced further protections for tenants and “for the vast, vast majority of tenants in the rental sector they have safety and security”.

Ms Coppinger and her party colleague Mick Barry later held a meeting with Mr Murphy at which, they said, the Minister explained the Government had sought information from the UK home office about collated statistics and surveying for the prevalence of such incidents. Ms Coppinger and Mr Barry suggested the Hap payment should be administered by local authorities, thus avoiding tenants having to apply directly to a landlord.

Ms Cyane-McGill was among those at a press conference with Ms Coppinger earlier on Tuesday. At the press conference Ms Coppinger said her office had had a “huge reaction” since she detailed another case in the Dáil last week.

Ms Coppinger said in one case a tenant said her landlord with whom she shared a house in Dublin, told her she had “the whole package” and: “If I was 20 years younger I wouldn’t even ask you, I would just jump you”.

Ms Coppinger read extracts from the account the woman had given her: “I put on my washing and when I arrived home the landlord had all my clothes dried, ironed, folded neatly in a basket left at my door. He commented on my bra and underwear sizes saying I had the perfect shape. I felt uncomfortable thinking he was touching my belongings and thinking these things about me.”

A second woman’s testimony of her experience in Dublin 7 was read out. “I was homeless for the eight months previous and desperate for a landlord to accept the Hap. I went to the viewing and he knew it was just me and a small child.

“After it he mailed proposing that he would choose me if he could call up whenever, asking what did I think of him, asking was I still around. He then said I was the best [prospective tenant] of the night but he may hold more viewings unless I could give him more. I was so desperate at the time I was close to going back but didn’t”.