Dublin council ‘needs 100 inspectors’ to tackle rental overcrowding

Threshold calls for NCT-style certification for properties after investigation exposes flaws

The rental sector in Ireland has been exposed in the RTE Investigates programme, Prime Time: Nightmare to Let. Video: RTE

 

Dublin City Council needs 100 more health inspectors to deal with the overcrowding issue in rental properties, its deputy chief executive has said.

Brendan Kenny was speaking after an RTÉ Investigates programme exposed substandard, severely overcrowded and dangerous rental accommodation across the State.

Dublin Fire Brigade has closed three buildings following the undercover investigation and a representative organisation for landlords has described those who rent out slum-like houses and flats as “sharks and vultures”.

The three multiple-occupancy buildings that were closed housed more than 120 tenants.

Mr Kenny, who is responsible for the housing department in the council, also apologised for the eight-week delay in responding to complaints about an overcrowded property in Dublin.

“An apology should have been issued earlier,” he told RTÉ’s News at One. “It was an administrative situation that shouldn’t have happened.”

Mr Kenny explained that complaints were handled by three different departments, but in future there would be better communication between departments, with a dedicated telephone line and email address for complaints.

“We have to fix our own system to make it better, so people will report to us. That delay shouldn’t have happened. I can offer a cast iron guarantee that it won’t happen again.”

Unscrupulous landlords are taking advantage of vulnerable people, he added.

“The reality is when the fire brigade goes out and shuts down a property, the landlord walks away with €42,000 in his pocket. We need far higher fines.”

‘RTÉ Investigates’ exposed serious overcrowding in some properties across the State.
‘RTÉ Investigates’ exposed serious overcrowding in some properties across the State.

At present there are 25 different allegations of overcrowding being investigated, he said.

“We need to get the message out to unscrupulous landlords, to do that we need severe penalties.”

Mr Kenny said the Government needed to introduce legislation and penalties along with higher fines and to injunct landlords.

Minimum standards

Earlier, the chair of the national housing charity Threshold called for the introduction of an NCT-style certification system for rental properties.

Aideen Hayden said that the current system of inspection for rental properties could not work.

There is no legislation to address the issue of overcrowding or minimum standards.

“That would improve the situation,” Ms Hayden told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“The Minister could do that today. We are relying on fire-safety legislation, we are relying on people getting caught. The shoe needs to be on the other foot.

“There should be no incentive whatsoever for a landlord staying outside the system.”

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Ms Hayden said that landlords should need a certificate of compliance before they are allowed to rent a property.

If they do not have such a certificate then they should receive a hefty fine, she said.

“Until we have a prosecution where someone is sent to prison for putting lives at risk there isn’t an incentive for landlords to comply.

“Landlords have no fear of enforcement.”

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, a tenant had been paying €125 per week before he stopped in protest at the conditions. Ceilings were damp and mouldy, there were holes in the floors, exposed sockets and no hot water. There were also mice on the property.

In Co Louth, one woman was in a rental property for nine years, where there was mould on numerous surfaces, rain coming through the roof and flowing down around ceiling lights, as well as mice on kitchen counter surfaces. Another property in Dublin had 60 tenants.

Noncompliance

Also speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Kevin Hollingsworth from the Chartered Building Survey said the extent of noncompliance by landlords with regard to safety regulations was horrific.

There is an urgent need for clear cut legislation so safety and overcrowding issues can be dealt with quickly, he said.

Mr Hollingsworth also called for more effective internal communication between councils and fire authorities.

There is no appropriate legislation on overcrowding and that needs to be looked at immediately, he added.

He described some landlords as “amoral people, making money out of the misery of others”.

The current situation in Ireland is reactive and it needs to be more aggressive in terms of policing the enforcement of standards, he said.

“There needs to be a focus on dangerous properties.

“We have good laws and standards, the problem is enforcing them.

“People think they can get away with it. There is no stick to beat them to comply.”

‘Hard cases make bad law’

Meanwhile, a lecturer in housing studies has said the lack of resources for enforcement of regulations was the Achilles heel of the Irish rental market.

Landlords are going to get away with murder because there is little chance of them getting caught, Lorcan Sirr told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke show.

Fianna Fáil’s housing spokesman Barry Cowen, speaking on the same programme, said the bottom line was that a life could be lost because of the lack of enforcement.

“What cost a life?” he asked.

‘RTÉ Investigates’ went undercover to reveal the experiences of people living in sub-standard rented accommodation in Ireland.
‘RTÉ Investigates’ went undercover to reveal the experiences of people living in sub-standard rented accommodation in Ireland.

However, Fintan McNamara of the Residential Landlords Association said that the existing legislation was sufficiently robust.

He said he had been shocked by what he had seen on the RTÉ programme which “doesn’t do anything for landlords”.

But he maintained that the people featured in the programme were not landlords as they were running hostel type accommodation.

“There are always hard cases and hard cases make bad law.”

Mr Cowen repeated the call for NCT style certification for rental properties. “Dodgy properties can cost lives,” he warned.

He said the Government had to do more than “aspire to” such a certification scheme.

“If you want to let property you will have to get certification that the property is compliant.

“All properties need to be inspected before they are offered to rent.”

Mr McNamara said this would mean more red tape and bureaucracy.

“Very few lives have been lost in private rental accommodation.”

The NCT system for cars had been “a racket” too, he said, while there was a need to incentivise landlords.

“The law is there, it can be enforced. When properties are inspected people do comply. They want to be kosher.”

Mr Sirr said that local authorities had been passing the buck on to the fire authorities.

There were only two officers within the fire brigade available to carry out inspections.

“They are snowed under with something that local authorities should be doing themselves.”

Ireland’s regulations on overcrowding need to be updated radically, he added.

He pointed out that in other countries once a property NCT has been conducted, the landlord is issued a licence number which is then included when the property is being advertised for rent.