Law on rental overcrowding ‘totally outdated’ senior DCC official says

Deputy chief executive of DCC said ‘much stronger penalties’ were needed to tackle overcrowded properties

DCC are taking legal advice on the current legislation around overcrowding in rental properties, after which they will be making recommendations for changes to the Government. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Legislation dealing with overcrowding in rental properties is "totally outdated" Brendan Kenny, deputy chief executive and head of the housing department at Dublin City Council has said.

Kenny said “new legislation with much stronger penalties” was required to tackle landlords with overcrowded accommodation. He said updated regulations were needed “particularly in light of recent incidents of gross overcrowding”.

The senior council official said current legislation regulating overcrowding goes back to the 1966 Housing Act, and added there were no provisions covering the issue in the regulations for rental standards released last year by the Department of Housing.

"Where the rented property is found to be non-compliant there is no authority under housing standards legislation to require the landlord to terminate a tenancy or to vacate a property" he said. The comments from Kenny were including in correspondence sent to Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin O'Broin TD.

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DCC are taking legal advice on the current legislation around overcrowding in rental properties, after which they will be making recommendations for changes to the Government, Kenny outlined.

Egregious offences

Eoin O’Broin said legislation should be brought in to introduce an automatic penalty for “egregious offences” of overcrowding or serious breaches in minimum standards.

Currently if a landlord’s rental property is substandard they will be served an improvement notice by the council, and be given an opportunity to bring the property into line with minimum requirements.

O’Broin said this system is a “licence to do whatever you want if you are one of a small number of unscrupulous landlords,” as there is no automatic fine or penalty if they are caught breaching standards.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said he is considering making it a criminal offence for property websites to advertise substandard rental properties. Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday he said however it would be more difficult to regulate the advertising of rental properties on social media sites like Facebook.

The measures would be introduced as part of planned legislation to increase the powers of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), which is the regulator for the private rental market.

Inspections

In the first nine months of last year Dublin City Council inspected 880 private rental dwellings, 761 (86 per cent) of which did not meet minimum standards, according to latest figures from the local authority.

The high rate of non-compliance is linked to inspectors tendency to prioritise properties that have known issues, or respond to complaints from tenants.

DCC deputy chief executive Kenny outlined the ability of the local authority to enforce standards “suffered in recent years,” due to staffing reductions across the public service.

In the vast majority of cases council inspectors took enforcement action, and compliance with minimum standards was achieved in 750 cases. During the first three quarters of 2017 the local authority did not serve any landlords with a prohibition notice.

In 2016 28 prohibition notices were served on rental properties by DCC, these are an order that landlords do no re-let the properties until they have been improved. More than half of these notices included issues relating to fire safety, which covers overcrowding.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times