Bid to stamp out shoddy homes hit as unit is ditched
National inspection role ruled out despite concerns over sub-standard accommodation
Plans to establish a national inspection unit to stamp out shoddy and second-rate housing have been ditched by the Government, the Sunday Independent has learned.
It comes as tenants' rights groups call for tighter controls amid mounting concerns over poor quality accommodation.
Local authorities are the first port of call for tenants with particular complaints regarding their living accommodation.
However, council inspections to enforce statutory minimum standards on privately rented properties vary widely.
The massive growth in the rental market far exceeds the capacity of most local authorities to enforce agreed minimum guidelines.
Industry experts also point out that many tenants are reluctant to raise their concerns in case they are perceived by landlords as "troublesome", thereby putting their lease at risk.
In June, the Department of the Environment said it was considering different options for monitoring the overall standard of rental accommodation.
Among the proposals was the establishment of a dedicated national inspection unit to monitor properties, and ensure they are suitable for the rental sector.
However, the Department of Housing confirmed such a proposal was off the table, despite critics claiming current policing standards are seriously inadequate.
The private rented sector is now more than twice as large as the local authority and voluntary sector combined.
Figures show there were 285,025 private tenancies registered in 2014 - but only 13,913 dwellings underwent routine inspections that year.
Half were found to breach the minimum standards required, with damp, mould, cold, and fire safety concerns the main violations.
Tenants' rights groups argue the local authority inspection system was set up at a time when the private rented sector was much smaller.
It is claimed overall scarcity of rental properties allows many landlords to avoid attending to crucial repairs and maintenance.
Housing charity Threshold has called for the introduction of a more thorough licensing and certification network - under the aegis of an independent authority.
It believes the responsibility should clearly rest with a landlord to prove that their property meets required standards prior to letting.
Threshold chairperson Aideen Hayden said the crisis in the private rented sector has been caused by a "perfect storm" of unaffordable rents, shortage of supply, and a regulatory system, that simply does not support long-term renting.
Overall standards in private rented accommodation continue to be a "major concern". She said substandard accommodation was the second biggest issue the charity dealt with in 2015.
It accounted for 15pc of overall queries in 2016, and was the "number one issue of concern" for its services in Cork.
"This issue of poor standards is, worryingly, a growing trend," she said.
"This is being compounded by the current availability crisis, and we are seeing increasing incidences of overcrowding.
Disproportionate rent increases, she added, are pushing hundreds of families into homelessness at an "accelerated rate. The 54pc spike in calls we experienced in the past year is indicative of the huge issues now faced by many living in the private rented sector".
In a statement, the Department of Housing admitted that in order to increase the numbers of houses subject to proper inspection, specific "ring-fenced" funding would be identified from 2018 onwards.
Local authorities will also have annual targets to meet for both inspection and compliance. The objective is to increase inspection numbers "incrementally" each year, with the aim of achieving a 25pc annual rate by 2021.
A Dublin City Council crackdown on low-quality rented accommodation reported in March that almost 90pc of apartments inspected failed to fully meet required guidelines.
A total of 6,360 premises were looked at from 2012 to 2015 - and issues were raised in relation to 5,685 properties.
Some 50pc failed to achieve required standards, because of fire safety problems, including exposed live wiring in bathrooms, scorched wall sockets, and broken smoke alarms.