Opposition parties and tenant rights groups have called for an NCT-style system of certification for private rental accommodation in the wake of an RTÉ expose on the sector.
Examples of poor-quality accommodation featured in the RTÉ Investigates documentary on Thursday night included overcrowded rooms, properties with mould and exposed electrical sockets, and problems with water leaking into rooms.
Dublin Fire Brigade has closed three buildings following the undercover investigation. The three multiple-occupancy buildings that were closed housed more than 120 tenants between them.
Fianna Fáil’s spokesman for housing Barry Cowen said the programme highlighted how “vulnerable people are being abused by unscrupulous landlords whose sole focus is maximising profit”.
Mr Cowen said his party will be calling for a new NCT-type certificate system to be introduced for private rental properties, to ensure rental housing meets acceptable standards.
He also said local authority departments tasked with inspecting private rental accommodation were underfunded. “The Government needs to fund this important work at local authority level. It cannot continue to turn a blind eye to potentially unsafe and inadequate private rental properties,” he said.
Private Members’ motion
Sinn Féin spokesman for housing Eoin Ó Broin said his party would be introducing a Private Members’ motion in the Dáil on Tuesday to call for the current system of private rental inspections to be overhauled.
Mr Ó Broin said an NCT-type system where all private rental properties are routinely inspected would ensure better standards.
Jan O'Sullivan, Labour Party spokeswoman for housing, said the programme raised major fire safety concerns in the rental market.
“There is a real question as to whether a criminal investigation might be required, if people’s lives were recklessly endangered due to fire safety,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
Among the dwellings featured on the RTÉ programme was one on Old County Road, Crumlin, Dublin where 40 tenants shared rooms filled with bunk beds, and two showers. There was mould on ceilings and walls, and a lack of an adequate escape route in the event of a fire.
In another property in Cobh, Co Cork, ceilings were damp and mouldy, there were holes in the floors, exposed sockets and no hot water.
Another property in Dublin had 60 tenants.
Stephen Large, manager of tenants rights group Threshold’s services in Dublin, said the lack of affordability in the current rental market was driving tenants into cheaper, overcrowded accommodation.
“What you are seeing is extra beds and people being brought into rooms. They are very often informal arrangements, which the landlord may or may not know about,” he said. Mr Large said bunk beds were now more common across rental accommodation in Dublin.
“It is a sign of the desperation out there; you have people doubling, tripling, and quadrupling up in rooms,” he said.
Mr Large said there were only eight available properties in the tenants' area of Dún Laoghaire, South Dublin, one of which was a two-bedroom apartment advertised at €4,200 a month.
Tenants and landlords routinely advertise substandard or overcrowded accommodation in online groups on social media, rather than on official rental letting websites.
Frequent examples of overcrowded accommodation advertised in the groups include single rooms with three bunk beds, which cost between €300 and €400 a month per tenant.
A report published last October by the National Oversight and Audit Commission into the level of local authority inspections of private rental properties found the current level of oversight insufficient.
The review found just 65 full-time staff were working in areas monitoring or inspecting standards in the private rental market across all 31 local authorities. In total, 55 per cent of properties inspected by local authority staff in 2014 were non-compliant with health and safety standards.