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Mow the lawn or pay a fine

NEIGHBOURHOODS dominated by rental properties will be spruced up from next year, as landlords will be legally obliged to cut the grass and keep exteriors spick and span.

New regulations mean that investors will no longer be allowed let their rental properties fall into disrepair -- a team of inspectors will roam the country looking for houses and apartments that lower the tone of neighbourhoods, and landlords who don't comply could face hefty fines.

Yesterday, Housing Minister Batt O'Keeffe said the new laws would be introduced as a "priority" early next year, and would be vigorously enforced.

The laws will oblige landlords to paint homes and keep the grass cut, and inspectors will also ensure that proper heating systems are installed in rented accommodation.

"I'm hoping to introduce the regulations in the first quarter of 2008 to compel landlords to maintain the exterior of the house," Mr O'Keeffe said yesterday. "We'll also be looking at heating standards in the houses. It's unfair for people who have spent their life savings on a house only for private rented accommodation to not be up to scratch. The property must be maintained."

Inspections will be carried out by local authorities, which carried out 10,000 checks last year. €7m has been allocated to carry out inspections in 2008.

Mr O'Keeffe warned that landlords who were not registered, and who failed to ensure their houses were up to scratch, could face hefty fines for non-compliance.

"If a dispute arises, the tenant can go to the Private Residential Tenancies Board, which will know if the landlord is not registered, and they will face fines," he warned.

The Irish Property Owners Association, which represents up to 5,000 landlords, said yesterday that when houses were rented out, the tenant took possession of the gardens.

If the regulations were introduced, it would mean that landlords would have to enter people's homes to ensure they were up to scratch.

"When you let a house the confines of the property, including gardens, will be part of the tenancy, an amenity to be enjoyed by the tenant and therefore the responsibility of the tenant," Chairman Stephen Faughnan said.

Minimum standards for private rented accommodation have been in place since 1993, and are in the process of being updated.

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They include a requirement that houses are structurally sound, not subject to dampness or collapse because of rot or other defects, and electrical and gas supply must be safe.

There are also requirements in relation to sanitary facilities, heating, ventilation and natural light. Fines for non-compliance range from from €1,270 to €3,000, and from €127 to €250 for each day of a continuing offence.

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