Complaints from tenants doubled in last year

Complaints from tenants doubled in last year

COMPLAINTS from tenants about housing standards and repairs more than doubled last year, according to the annual report from housing agency Threshold.

The report, which was launched on Wednesday by Minister for Housing and Planning Willie Penrose TD, shows that Threshold received 1,971 queries in relation to standards and repairs in 2010, up from 947 in 2009, with the bad weather and landlords carrying out repairs themselves cited as key factors.

At the report’s launch, Threshold called for radical measures aimed at preventing homelessness, rather than reacting to the problem as it emerges. Their report also highlights serious issues experienced by many in the rental sector.

Alongside problems regarding sub-standard heating, burst pipes and ineffective repairs, the report also highlights the noticeable lack of rent reductions at the lower end of the rental market.

It also calls on landlords to properly investigate the option of applying for grants to insulate properties so as to raise the standard of accommodation. Threshold chairwoman Aideen Hayden told The Irish Examiner: “One thing we are noticing more and more is landlords refusing to carry out repairs because of the costs involved — some are in negative equity themselves, and are struggling with debts, and their properties fall into disrepair as a result.

“There is also a significant underlying problem with substandard properties in the private rented sector.

“For example, many of the cases we dealt with last year involved heating systems that were old and hopelessly inadequate, and some properties lacked basic protection from the cold weather.

“Enforcement of minimum standards for private rented accommodation also remains a concern. Despite the introduction of more robust regulations and the provision of dedicated funding for inspection, most local authorities still do not have a comprehensive programme for inspecting properties.”

She said grants available to households through Sustainable Energy Ireland for tasks such as attic insulation, building upgrades and solar heating can be taken up by landlords.

Threshold has also warned against significant reductions in the rent supplement in the budget, as it said the lower end of the rented housing market has not experienced the levels of rent reductions that have applied to the wider rented sector. This is attributed to greater competition for single accommodation units.

Speaking at the launch, Minister Penrose outlined his vision for a transformed housing landscape based on tenure neutrality, a strengthened rental sector and an expanded role for the voluntary and cooperative housing sector.

He said: “We are uniquely positioned now – if we are brave enough – to put right years of poor policy choices. We need to provide choice for households but this must be based on household circumstances and need.

“We will not entice people through fiscal or other stimuli to treat housing as a commodity or means of attaining wealth. We will not construct a set of incentives so powerful that the choice of different tenures is essentially removed”.

Minister Penrose said he recognised calls from Threshold and other stakeholders for a specific scheme to address the problem of the illegal retention by some landlords of tenants’ deposits.

He said: “I have asked the PRTB to research potential schemes and to provide me with a sound evidential base on which I can make a decision in this regard and I intend to make recommendations to Government on this topic in 2012.”

He also noted that the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2011 proposes the introduction of a system of fines in cases were a landlord is found to have unjustifiably retained all or part of tenant’s security deposit and said that this could be a first step towards the elimination of this problem which can have very heavy financial impacts for tenants.

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