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Private Rented Accommodation Provision

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 18 September 2012

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Questions (39)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

39. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the legal obligations for landlords in Dublin City to maintain a high standard quality of their rental accommodation, to prevent overcrowding in their properties, to prevent the dereliction of their rented accommodation internally and externally, to replace and maintain appliances in their properties for their tenants and to manage waste and dumping; the legal avenues that exist for communities and residents in Dublin Central that are having difficulties with landlords who are not addressing these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39327/12]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Environment)

Minimum standards for rental accommodation are prescribed in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2008, made under section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992. These regulations were further amended by the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) (Amendment) Regulations 2009, which expanded the definition of "a proper state of structural repair" to allow for all aspects of the internal and external appearance of a dwelling to be taken into account for the purposes of the regulations. All landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that their rented properties comply with these regulations. Responsibility for enforcing the regulations rests with the relevant local authority, supported by a dedicated stream of funding allocated by my Department.

Article 12 of the regulations provides that each house must have access to suitable and adequate pest and vermin-proof refuse storage facilities. In addition, section 12 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, as amended by section 100 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, requires a landlord of a dwelling to provide receptacles suitable for the storage of refuse outside the dwelling except where the provision of such receptacles is not within the power or control of the landlord, as could arise, for example, where it is a function of a management company to provide such a service.

Following the enactment of the 2009 Act, local authorities have a strengthened, updated legislative and regulatory framework available to them that provides for the issuing of improvement notices and prohibition notices where landlords are in breach of their obligations under the regulations. Fines for continuing non-compliance with the regulations have also been significantly increased.

The issue of overcrowded houses is dealt with in Part IV of the Housing Act 1966. Under that Act, a housing authority may request information from the owner or occupier of a house such as will allow that authority to determine if a house can be deemed to be overcrowded, having regard to section 63 of the Act. The housing authority may serve notice on the owner of a house specifying the maximum number of persons that may occupy a house without causing overcrowding and, where the owner of a house is causing or permitting the house to be overcrowded, may require the owner to desist from causing or permitting such overcrowding within a period not exceeding 21 days. Any person who neglects or refuses to comply with these requirements is guilty of an offence.

I wish to draw a matter to the Minister of State's attention. According to the 2011 census, more than 75% of households in north inner city Dublin were not owner occupied. Of those, approximately 70% were private rental accommodation, a significant number of which were not registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB.

There are responsible landlords. In the space of two months, however, I attended approximately eight community forum meetings in Dublin Central. The common denominator was the other kind of landlord, people who had a complete disregard for the communities in which their rental accommodation was located. They are a plague on the lives of other people living in those communities. There is overcrowding, the rubbish is unbelievable, there is serious anti-social behaviour and some of the houses are substandard.

The legislation requires one thing, but the reality is something different. We have met the local authority and the Garda, but their hands are tied because the legislation is not strong enough. Will the Minister of State's Department be the driving force to determine where the gaps lie and consider how to have joined-up thinking to allow for an interagency approach? The fire section would do one bit, the planning section would do another bit and the local authorities and Garda would do something else.

The landlords in question are disregarding the requests of the local authority and the Garda to meet.

It is not working and something stronger is needed. Will the Minister of State address that point?

There are significant powers so local authorities can take action with regard to both the improvement and prohibition notices. There are fines stipulated, with a maximum fine of €5,000 and €400 for each day of a continuing offence. It is probably the case that many local authorities do not take that kind of action but the powers exist.

The Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, also has significant powers. We are aware of the need for some amendments in the area and we have published legislation to amend the law relating to the PRTB. We hope that will come to the Chamber in the near future and we welcome any proposals from Deputy O'Sullivan or others in that regard. I intend to bring some amendments to the published legislation, including one relating to deposit retention. Nevertheless, significant powers already exist, although we recognise the need to strengthen legislation. We will do so.

The existing powers are not strong enough as they are not working on the ground. I acknowledge the work of Dublin City Council, whose representatives would argue that their hands are tied. We can see the consequences at meetings with residents.

I asked that waste could become the responsibility of a landlord, although the Minister of State indicated there would be no legislation introduced in that regard. It is currently impossible to go after 20 individual tenants, whereas if the landlord was responsible for all waste in a premises, it might bring about results. Another proposal might be the provision of a behaviour clause in a tenancy agreement, as there is with local authority tenants. I would like both of these ideas to be considered.

I would be very happy to take on board any suggestions that could strengthen the rights of tenants. There are certain actions that local authorities can take, although I am not sure if there are interventions in every case. We will consider any suggestions coming from any side of the House when we debate the legislation in the near future.

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