Sunday 24 September 2017

New rules for rented housing will hurt most vulnerable

The new housing standards requiring upgrading of bedsits – introduced last month – are likely to cause severe hardship to students and people on low, fixed incomes as well as older, single people who like to live in the comparative safety of the inner suburbs in cities such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford.

There is absolutely no dispute about the necessity of fire-safety standards, adequate cooking, heating, food storage facilities and washing facilities in all rented properties, but the latest regulations are by international standards the most stringent.

The traditional single unit of accommodation or bedsit in European cities, like budget hotels, is a godsend to both young and old who may be temporarily or permanently short on cash.

The standards recently introduced, while broadly welcome, go too far in the following areas:

The cooking and food-storage facilities required under article 8 are way beyond the needs of single people living in this budget-type accommodation and would be more than adequate for a family in a large apartment or four-bedroomed house.

Up to this point, no more than four units of accommodation (bedsits) could share a bathroom, but now not only is sharing banned but, to comply with article 6, hugely expensive structural work has to be undertaken to provide an adjacent bathroom within the confines of the rented unit.

In those Georgian properties that are listed as protected buildings, thousands of these units are located. It will be impossible for their owners to comply with the new rules without breaking the regulation designed to preserve listed buildings.

The end result will be that thousands of people will have to leave their comfortable and adequately equipped accommodation and move into hostels or source more expensive apartments.

This will be particularly hard on older people who have been living for years in the inner suburbs, close to the public amenities they currently enjoy.

An oil/gas-fired centrally heated house does not meet the heating requirements prescribed by the new regulations as, in order to comply, there must be a permanently fixed electric heater in the accommodation. Yet electric heaters attract a more inferior energy rating (BER) than oil- or gas-fired central heating.

Clearly, in drafting these regulations, one arm of Government was unaware of the other and those who drafted the regulations failed to foresee the consequences.

It is surely common sense to delay enforcement, except in situations where the accommodation is clearly below acceptable standards.

This will provide the opportunity to carry out a thorough review of articles 6 and 8 and, on this occasion, take into account the views of both providers and users of these low-cost budget accommodation units.

Now the private rented sector here is the most regulated in Europe. The first major piece of legislation in recent years was the Housing Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1992. This was followed by the failed 1996 Registration of Rented Housing Units, the 1998 Equal Status Act, the 2000 Litter Pollution Act and the Residential Tenancies Act, 2004.

Landlords, despite the considerable expense involved, have broadly complied with these measures, but the application of the most recent housing standards applying from February 2013 are likely to cause severe hardship to students and people on low, fixed incomes as well as older, single people.

Irish Independent

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