Inadequate council houses ‘breach rights of tenants’

Report prepared after collective complaint finds violation of European Social Charter

The ECSR committee said it had seen evidence of ‘sewage invasions, contaminated water, dampness, persistent mould’ in the dwellings

The ECSR committee said it had seen evidence of ‘sewage invasions, contaminated water, dampness, persistent mould’ in the dwellings

 

The human rights of local-authority tenants in Ireland have been breached by local authorities’ failure to provide adequate, clean and safe housing, the Strasbourg-based European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will declare today.

Ina significant judgment that could affect hundreds of thousands of people living in council homes, the ECSR will rule that Ireland is in violation of article 16 of the revised European Social Charter.

Local authorities, the Council of Europe body will declare, have failed to “ensure the right to housing of an adequate standard for a not insignificant number of families”.

Article 16 of the charter recognises that “the family as a fundamental unit of society has the right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development”. Included is the “provision of family housing”.

The ruling comes more than three years after tenants of 20 local authority estates took a class action, alleging that poor-quality housing was breaching their human rights.

Known as a “collective complaint”, it was submitted to the committee by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in July 2014, on behalf of the residents of estates in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

Adverse effects

Persistent damp, mould growing inside their homes, persistent bad odours, poor plumbing, the emergence of raw sewage from pipes into their sinks and baths, and a lack of central heating, were having adverse effects on their families’ lives and breaching rights including of the family and children to be protected against poverty and social exclusion, they alleged.

In addition, they had no independent body to which they could complain about the conditions affecting them – unlike private tenants, who can appeal to the Residential Tenancies Board.

Instead, local-authority tenants must complain to their own council – ie their landlord – about conditions that were the responsibility of the landlord to fix, in the first instance.

The ECSR committee said it had seen evidence of “sewage invasions, contaminated water, dampness, persistent mould” in the dwellings that raise serious concerns about habitability and the rights of tenants to services.

“It notes in particular the high number of residents in certain estates in Dublin complaining of sewage invasions . . . years after the problems were first identified.”

It says it has “repeatedly held that the right to housing for families encompasses housing of an adequate standard” and that adequate housing “must be habitable . . . providing the inhabitants with adequate space and protecting them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health, structural hazards ad disease vectors.”

It also notes “no complete statistics on the condition of local authority housing have been collected since 2002 by the Irish authorities and that in Ireland no national timetable exists for the refurbishment of local authority housing stock”.

Government failings

In light of these findings, “the Committee finds that the Government has failed to take sufficient and timely measures to ensure the right to housing of an adequate standard for a not insignificant number of families living in local authority housing and therefore holds that there is a violation of article 16 of the charter”.

It found four other complaints, including the lack of an independent complaints body for local-authority tenants, had not been proven to breach charter rights.

In a briefing note the committee says: “All member states are obliged to take steps to address any violations found by the ECSR.

“The Committee of Ministers will now discuss this decision with a view to adopting a formal resolution to the Irish authorities based on the findings. The committee will follow up on a regular basis to see what steps are being taken to address the problems identified”.