Amy Molloy: 'Some simple measures could ensure tenants are safeguarded'
Despite all the political tut-tutting after exposés about the dire conditions some tenants are being forced to live in, the Government has done very little to improve the situation for renters. But there are some simple measures that can be taken to ensure tenants are safeguarded.
1. Stricter sanctions for unscrupulous landlords
Housing is considered a civil matter before the courts. Therefore, if a landlord is endangering the lives of tenants by overcrowding a four-bedroom house with up to 40 people, the biggest punishment they'll receive is a fine and a slap on the wrist.
Housing legislation hasn't been updated in Ireland since 1966, when tenants barely had any rights. The law needs to be changed so renting substandard accommodation and dangerously overcrowding properties is viewed as a crime and met with greater consequences.
2. NCT-style inspections for houses
Housing charity Threshold has been campaigning for the introduction of NCT-style inspections to improve the standard of accommodation. In the latest example of bizarre advertisements on Daft.ie, this week you can rent a bed in a kitchen in Rathmines for €1,122 a month. NCT-like certification for private rented property would help prevent this type of rental and oblige landlords to comply with minimum standards.
3. Give the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) more power - and money
The Residential Tenancies Bill, which will give the RTB "independent powers" to examine and enforce any breaches of rental caps, is expected to pass into law this year. The Government also needs to significantly increase State funding so the RTB can carry out investigations and inspections to ensure the Bill is effective.
Similarly, it needs more money to take court action when a landlord or tenant doesn't obey the terms of an enforcement order. Where an order made by the RTB isn't complied with in a specific period, proceedings must be taken before the District Court. But due to financial constraints, the RTB can't take every case before the courts, rendering it ineffective in protecting tenants in certain cases.
4. Introduce a database of serial offenders
A small cohort of landlords are consistently being brought before RTB adjudicators over unfair deposit retention and unlawful evictions. The introduction of an easy-to-navigate database where tenants can check the history of a prospective landlord would help them in making a decision about who to rent from.
Legislation was brought to Cabinet last December which would double the notice-to-quit period and see the introduction of a rent register, if passed. A database of serial offenders in the rental market would also help increase protection for tenants.