Labour will tackle private rented sector if re-elected, Kelly says

Minister promises new government strategy for sector if party is returned to power

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly has promised a new government strategy for the private rented sector if Labour is re-elected. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly has promised a new government strategy for the private rented sector if Labour is re-elected. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

A new government strategy for managing the private rented sector would be proposed by the Labour Party if it is re-elected, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has said.

Speaking at the publication of the annual report from the national housing charity Threshold on Thursday, Mr Kelly said there needed to be a different way of thinking about the sector.

Mr Kelly said: “I am 100 per cent in agreement that there needs to be a new vision for the sector going forward.

“It is going to have to be managed completely differently and we are going to have to come up with a strategy which is long-term, and I mean really long-term. It is a sector that is here to stay.”

The Minister was responding to a call from Threshold chairwoman, Labour Senator Aideen Hayden, who said “a new national strategy for the private rented sector is now an absolute requirement”.

She said that such a strategy should be “a priority for whatever government is elected in the New Year”.

She said that one in five households is now in the private rented sector and it was no longer just a transient housing option.

She said that people, particularly families with children, needed to know they could build lives and homes in the sector.

“A comprehensive strategy is needed to tackle such issues as security of tenure, long-term rent certainty, quality of rented housing, promoting the supply of affordable rented accommodation and dealing with difficulties in the buy-to-let sector,” said Ms Hayden.

“Also, as most of the new social housing units will be sourced in the private sector, the success of the social strategy 2020 depends on modernising the private rented sector.”

Protection for tenants

Ms Hayden said that she welcomed recent measures to give some protection to tenants in the sector, including the extension of the period in which rent reviews may occur to two years and extensions to the rent increase notice times and notice-to-quit times.

However, she said that rent supplement and housing assistance payment rates must also be increased, particularly in urban areas.

She asked how the Department of Social Protection could expect a household to access housing in the Dublin area with a rent supplement cap of €900 a month when the average market rent was €1,400.

She said that other key concerns for the charity are the widespread problem with substandard accommodation, which too many local authorities are not addressing, and the impact of the growing rate of repossessions of buy-to-lets on tenants.

Threshold is calling for the Residential Tenancies Act to be amended to “clarify the respective rights and obligations of landlords, tenants and receivers”.

The charity dealt with 21,270 housing queries in 2014, while 1,516 people were in touch with concerns about rent increases.

The most common query of 2014 related to substandard accommodation.

Some 89 per cent of Threshold’s clients last year were in the private rented sector and 37 per cent had children.