Tenant rights: the State’s duty to protect
Just one in 10 inspected properties last year met minimum standards
The housing assistance payment scheme (Hap), which aims to support people in private rented accommodation, is a key area of concern for those who contact support services. File photograph: Rui Vieira/PA
When a public official calls for legislation to impose heavy fines or jail sentences on landlords who rent dangerous or overcrowded accommodation, you know the situation is out of control. Dublin City Council’s head of housing services, Brendan Kenny, believes such measures are necessary because of the gross exploitation of young people, mainly foreign nationals, by some unscrupulous landlords. Council disciplinary powers date back to 1966, when tenant rights barely existed.
Local authorities have responsibility for inspecting rented accommodation and ensuring it meets minimum standards. Last year, only one in 10 inspected properties met the criteria. Requested changes were made in most cases, but not in all. Properties were condemned as fire hazards because councils lacked the powers to close them or stop landlords renting them out. Extreme cases of exploitation saw bunk beds located in kitchens.
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy is said to be “considering” a proposal that would allow councils apply to the courts to shut down overcrowded properties and make it an offence for landlords to ignore improvement notices. Such an apathetic response does not reflect the urgency of the situation.
The Minister has instruments to hand if he wishes to use them. When he grants new regulatory powers to the Residential Tenancies Board in the coming year, they should include basic standards and enforcement processes. Alternatively, he could accept strict penalties for overcrowding, as already proposed in a Fianna Fáil Private Members’ Bill.
A shortage of rental accommodation, underlined again this week with news that rents continue to soar, offers no excuse for ignoring basic standards. Dublin once had some of the worst tenements in Europe, presided over by ruthless, rack-renting landlords, and the behaviour of some individuals has not changed. The Government has a duty to modernise consumer protection in this area and provide a more equal balance in landlord/tenant relationships.