The Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019 specify requirements in relation to a range of matters, such as structural repair, sanitary facilities, heating, ventilation, natural light and the safety of gas, oil and electrical supplies. With very limited exemptions, these apply to all private rented residential accommodation.
All landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that their rented properties, regardless of tenancy type, comply with these regulations. Responsibility for the enforcement of the Regulations rests with the relevant local authority.
Anyone – a tenant, a neighbour or another landlord - can and should report suspected cases of non-compliance to the Local Authority, which will then inspect the property and, if it is found not to meet the standards, will take action to ensure compliance with the regulations.
If an inspection identifies that a property has been found to be non-compliant with the Regulations, it is a matter for the Local Authority to determine the necessary and appropriate actions to take, including the issuing of an Improvement Letter, Improvement Notice and Prohibition Notice, and the initiation of legal action.
My Department has made significant Exchequer funding available to local authorities in recent years, with the result that the number of inspections undertaken more than doubled from 19,645 in 2017 to 40,998 in 2019. Pandemic restrictions reduced the number of inspections carried out in 2020 and in response, some local authorities have been piloting virtual inspections. This initiative entails landlords receiving a checklist for self-assessment and being required to submit photographic/video evidence by email, tenants being invited to raise any non-compliance issues they are aware of and being asked to confirm that any remedial works requested by the local authority have been completed, and the Council reserving the right to conduct a physical on-site inspection when it is safe to do so.
While virtual inspection systems present certain challenges and limitations, they do offer a way of improving the standard of rental accommodation despite the pandemic. I support these initiatives and my Department is encouraging local authorities not involved in the pilots to consider adopting them. I have committed to providing Exchequer funding for those that do.
In order to assist local authorities increase inspection rates and strengthen compliance, an increased budget of €10m has been approved for 2021.
Additionally, the Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, commits to reducing and preventing homelessness and provides detail on how the Government is approaching this work as a priority. Homelessness is complex and causal factors and family circumstances vary considerably as do the responses needed. Homelessness is also inter-related with the other areas of the housing system and with broader social and healthcare policy and service delivery. Therefore, a whole of Government approach is required in dealing with this challenge. However, important progress is being made. There were 8,200 individuals accessing homeless emergency accommodation at the end of 2020, a decrease of 1,531 individuals, or 15.7%, on the 9,731 total recorded at end of 2019. The decrease in family homelessness was more pronounced. The year-on-year position is that December 2020 showed a decrease of 578 families, or 37.3%, on the 1,548 total recorded in December 2019. This represents the lowest number of families in emergency accommodation since March 2016.
Increasing the supply of housing, particularly new build social and affordable homes, is a priority for me and for this Government. The Programme for Government commits to increasing the social housing stock by more than 50,000, with an emphasis on new builds. In Budget 2021, this objective was backed with funding of €3.3 billion for the delivery of housing. Subject to the impact of the Covid related restrictions on the construction sector, the available funding will deliver 12,750 new social homes through build, acquisition and leasing. A major focus of this investment is the delivery of new build, with an overall target of 9,500 new homes. The increased targets will see increased local authority build on local authority land.
Additionally, it is open to anyone to apply for social housing support, applications for which are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended.
If a household meets the eligibility and need criteria, it qualifies for the suite of social housing supports, including HAP, and is placed on the housing list to be considered for the allocation of suitable tenancies in accordance with the authority’s allocation scheme.