Council counted doorbells to find illegal dwellings
'Ghetto sub-culture' targeted in report
Published 21/11/2011 | 05:00
INVESTIGATORS surveying illegal 'tenement'-style homes were forced to count doorbells outside buildings to get some idea of how many existed inside, the Irish Independent has learned.
The extent of Dublin's "subculture of ghettoisation" remains unknown.
Houses subdivided into flats and bedsits -- often with shared facilities such as bathrooms and kitchens, and generally squalid and extremely cramped conditions -- were regulated under new planning laws in 1963.
But those built before then were exempt from the rules, and landlords were allowed to keep the numbers they had.
And if landlords build tenement-style units that are undetected by the planning authorities for seven years, they too become exempt.
It means many landlords divide homes into multiple spaces to maximise rental income.
Now Dublin City Council is attempting to record just how many "tenements" are in the city -- but it is proving extremely difficult.
The first part of a study undertaken by the local authority examined two large areas of domestic buildings in the capital, much of which is supported by rent supplement.
As part of their external review of the buildings, the council had to count doorbells to get an idea of the extent of their subdivision.
They also traced planning enforcement histories.
The study follows concerns raised by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) at the potential extent of abuse of planning laws.
The living conditions in the cramped spaces are set to be the subject of a second report, which, combined with the first, will go towards formulating a strategy to address the issue.
"We feel there was ad hoc ghettos being formalised in the city," Paul Kelly, the RIAI's representative to the council's policy committee on housing, said.
"There is obviously the issue of placing people at risk in dangerous housing in relation to fire regulations.
"People in these houses tend to be the most vulnerable and the least able to look after themselves and I believe they are being exploited and placed at risk by this situation.
"There is also the question of the damage that this uncontrolled development does to the city. In this case the planning system has let the city down badly."
The council report focused on two extensive roads near Dublin city centre, which can't be identified for legal reasons, and was carried out last August.
Of 313 homes on one of those roads just 16pc were deemed to be single-household dwellings while 84pc, 262 homes, were multi-occupancy households.
Just 21pc of those multi-occupancy homes were found to be in existence prior to 1963, exempting them from planning regulations.
There were similar findings on the other road where 77pc of surveyed properties (82 houses) were multiple-occupancy but just 24pc of those were subdivided prior to 1963.
"The planning department of Dublin City Council is not in a position to prove how many of the units on both (roads) have been in situ for less than seven years," the report noted.
Independent councillor Mannix Flynn, who has been outspoken on housing in the city, said there was no way of confirming the extent of the problem on a nationwide basis.
"What you have here is a subculture of ghettoisation," he said.
"Quite a lot of these are illegal and (landlords) say they are pre-1963. If we want to prove that they are not it will cost a fortune because you would have to get engineers and warrants to go in. It's completely unregulated."
Dublin City Council said it could not comment on a working report, with a secondary section dealing with internal conditions yet to be finalised.