Renters’ lives are at risk due to overcrowding

 

Sir, – We appeal to every member of the Oireachtas to lend their support to the introduction of an NCT-style certification system to ensure minimum standards in the private rented sector.

Few could be anything but appalled at living conditions in rental properties across the country highlighted in a recent documentary Nightmare to Let.

The RTÉ Investigates findings are, in all probability, the tip of the iceberg. Many of our clients who are living in substandard properties lack the basic necessities for a quality of living, such as adequate heating facilities, as well as hot and cold running water. Many people living in sub-standard private rented accommodation are too afraid to report it for fear of notice of termination or landlords doing substantial work and then increasing the rent. Either way the tenant suffers.

For some time, the national housing charity Threshold has been campaigning for an NCT-type certification system for private rented housing, whereby landlords would be obliged to prove compliance with minimum standards before they could rent their properties.

The current system, in which local authorities are responsible for the inspection of properties in the private rented sector, is not fit for purpose. Local authorities do not have the capacity to inspect and effectively enforce minimum standards. In 2014, eight local authorities with more than 10,000 tenancies inspected less than 5 per cent of the registered properties in their area. Counties such as Kilkenny, Louth, Offaly and Limerick scored a 100 per cent failure rate. Overall, the non-compliance rate stands at 69 per cent.

We firmly believe that a certification system needs to be put in place where the onus would be on landlords to prove their compliance with minimum standards. If a certificate does not exist, the penalty for renting should be severe so that there is no excuse for being outside the system. Inspections would then focus solely on whether the landlord held a certificate of compliance.

The present system relies on landlords being caught. But the prospect of being caught is slim. There is no fear of the consequences in the absence of regulations and proper, robust and proactive inspections.

We welcome the actions of Dublin Fire Brigade, which has closed three multiple-occupancy buildings that housed more than 120 tenants between them.

However, the current reliance on the fire service to enforce fire-safety standards is too much of a demand on overstretched frontline services.

From dealing with clients, we know that bunk beds are now more common across rental accommodation in Dublin. It is a sign of the desperation out there; with people doubling, tripling, and quadrupling up in rooms. One of the greatest fire safety risks in private rented accommodation is overcrowding, which is not covered under current minimum standards laws. In 2016, the CSO report shows that close to one in every 10 people now lives in accommodation with more people than rooms. This is a rise of 28 per cent since the 2011 census.

However, these averages mask the reality. At the lower end of the rented market the figures will have risen more dramatically. At the moment we are reliant on the provisions of the fire and safety regulations and planning law. This lack of clarity means some landlords are taking advantage of the housing shortage.

Not only are renters being exploited financially but their lives are being put at risk. Threshold is urgently calling for emergency legislation to be put in place to introduce a legal definition of overcrowding. – Yours, etc,

AIDEEN HAYDEN,

Chairwoman, Threshold

National Housing Charity,

Dublin 7.