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Saturday 20 July 2019

Bad neighbours: landlords to face fines if they fail to tackle antisocial behaviour

 

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Landlords will face fines under proposed new laws if they fail to deal with complaints about tenants making lives a misery for neighbours.

A Sunday Independent investigation reveals the volume of complaints being made about antisocial behaviour by neighbours in towns and villages across the country.

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A survey of local authorities found people have made 29,199 complaints to city and county councils over the last five years about harassment, vandalism, intimidation, drug dealing and other offences.

More than 25,000 interviews have been carried out by local authorities since 2014 to address the problem. However, the difficulty in tackling the issue can be gauged by how few tenancies have ended because of antisocial behaviour.

Only 25 evictions have been carried out by councils since the beginning of 2014 on foot of complaints about nightmare neighbours. This compares to 30 evictions for people who fell in to rent arrears over the same period.

A further 184 tenancies were subjected to legal proceedings after a local authority investigation. In some instances this led to exclusion orders where the occupant of a household who is not the main tenant can be ordered to leave the property for a maximum period of three years.

In 61 cases local authority tenants voluntarily surrendered their home once legal action began. Fianna Fail TD Darragh O'Brien said evictions should only be "a nuclear option" but called for greater efforts to protect families from neighbours who are "destroying people's lives".

Figures from the Residential Tenancies Board show it handled 716 disputes between landlords and tenants about antisocial behaviour complaints linked to private and public housing.

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CSO data shows more than 500,000 crimes linked to antisocial behaviour have been reported to the gardai since the beginning of 2014.

Mr O'Brien, Fianna Fail's spokesperson on housing and local government, called for tenants and landlords to face fines if they failed to address the problem. "It is very difficult for local authorities to evict people because if you evict them you are making them homeless," he said.

"Depending on the severity of the antisocial behaviour, I think you could be looking at quite substantial financial penalties. Eviction has to be kept as a last resort."

Mr O'Brien wants new regulations to protect families from antisocial behaviour. New laws he is proposing under the Residential Tenancies Bill would allow authorities to impose strict financial penalties on tenants who fail to improve their behaviour.

Landlords who fail to react to poor behaviour by tenants or who fail to maintain their houses would also face fines.

A criminal conviction is usually required to evict a tenant from public housing.

Most councils try to avoid this route as it can force a resident into homelessness. Many councils issue tenancy warning notices, which can lead to an eviction, but Mr O'Brien said that further measures were necessary.

"Local authorities, being the biggest landlord in the country, have a responsibility. Some shirk that responsibility and that is why I think primary legislation is needed to actually deal with it. Sometimes the way to hit people, whether they are on private incomes or social welfare, is where it hurts most - in the pocket."

A Sunday Independent survey of each local authority found Dublin City Council has received the most complaints about antisocial behaviour in public housing. In the five years to the end of 2018, it received 11,932 complaints.

Staff in local authorities say dealing with complaints eats up thousands of hours every year, costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousand of euro. In most cases an interview can take between two and three hours.

Dublin City council carried out 6,627 interviews over the past five years. South Dublin County Council has carried out the most interviews: 15,766 between 2014 and the end of April this year.

Rural councils also reported high numbers of complaints about antisocial behaviour. Tipperary County Council received 2,452 complaints between 2015 and 2019. Limerick City and County Council received more than 400 complaints per year, while local authorities in Kildare and Laois recorded more than 900 complaints in five years.

Residents on the Housing Assistant Payment scheme have also faced sanctions, according to the Department of Housing, with 201 tenancies exiting the scheme since it was set up in 2014 because of antisocial behaviour.

Sunday Independent

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