The Irish Times view on the homelessness crisis: rebalancing rights

Housing charity Threshold recorded 50% rise in number of calls from tenants served notices to quit

Pussyfooting around the private rental sector, while failing to respond effectively to ongoing abuses by landlords, can no longer be tolerated. Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy acknowledged a year ago that there was a "homeless crisis". The situation has deteriorated since, with an increase of 17 per cent in homeless numbers, involving families and young children.

A shortage of rental properties and the behaviour of some greedy landlords, who evict tenants in order to facilitate improper rent increases, are contributing to the worsening situation. The housing charity Threshold recorded a 50 per cent increase in the number of calls from tenants who were served notices to quit during the past year. Its chairwoman, Aideen Hayden said landlords are using "pretend sales" and refurbishment excuses to evict existing tenants and to breach the established cap on rent increases.

Her observations cannot have surprised Murphy, who launched the agency’s annual report. He undertook to give the Residential Tenancies Board power to fine landlords who breach the four per cent cap. Elsewhere, the Government announced that, next week, the Cabinet would consider legislation dealing with rent pressure zones, notices to quit and the establishment of a rent register. That approach and the inevitable legislative time lag does not reflect a burgeoning crisis. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke of establishing a rent register that reflected a “trend” in local charges. Such an approach would not reflect the kind of transparent and fully accessible register of existing rents sought by Threshold.

The construction of many more social and affordable homes will help to deal with this emergency. But the problem does not stop there. Living space for well-paid employees is so limited and rents are so out-of-line with gross family incomes that Government intervention is required. Without a fully transparent rent register, legal caps will prove meaningless and property owners will do as they please. A rebalancing of rights and obligations, together with strict supervision by the Residential Tenancies Board, is required.