Belfast Telegraph

Ministers 'must regulate landlords'

A leading housing charity has attacked the Government for chronically failing to regulate landlords, forcing people to live in poor housing and leaving families in constant fear of eviction as rents soar.

Threshold said the lack of proper oversight means people in Ireland can never regard their rented house or apartment as their long-term home.

As rents go through the roof - particularly in Dublin - this has led to a surge in "economic evictions", where tenants are thrown out and landlords immediately re-advertise at much higher rates, the charity said.

Launching its annual report, Threshold chairwoman Senator Aideen Hayden said loopholes in the decade-old law governing rented homes meant it was no longer fit for purpose.

"The private rented sector has grown exponentially in recent years: it now provides housing for one in five families in Ireland," she said.

"However, there are chronic failings in the sector that need to be addressed before anyone living in a rented dwelling can really consider it their long-term home."

The Residential Tenancies Act was enacted in 2004 to regulate landlords and rented homes.

But there are now twice as many rental properties in the country, and the legislation cannot keep pace with the changing conditions, Ms Hayden has warned.

"Loopholes in the law are enabling landlords to remove tenants from their homes and then re-advertise the same properties at substantially higher rents," she added.

"Threshold is increasingly witnessing such economic evictions, where families are forced to leave their homes because of exorbitant rent hikes."

Damning the state of many rental homes, Threshold called for an NCT-style test for housing, which would force landlords to comply with acceptable standards.

A fifth of calls to the charity last year were about poor standards and lack of repairs.

Other recurring complaints are illegal deposit retention, illegal evictions, poor standards in rented accommodation and rent arrears.

Threshold, which helped 22,884 tenants last year, has demanded an urgent overhaul of the laws to improve conditions for renters.

It wants to see better long-term security for tenants, rent caps, a review of rent supplements and protection of deposits.

Bob Jordan, chief executive of the charity, said a number of new issues for tenants emerged last year.

"The increased number of buy-to-let receiverships is causing a lot of uncertainty for tenants, and the shortage of housing supply - coupled with high demand - is resulting in dramatic rent increases," he said.

"Affordability issues are now putting many families at risk of homelessness, and keeping people in their homes will be the key challenge facing Threshold in the years to come."

The warning came as homelessness charity Focus Ireland released new figures that show dozens more families will be made homeless in Dublin before Christmas.

More than 450 families - including almost 1,000 children - have become homeless in the capital up to the end of November, the organisation said.

Mike Allen, Focus Ireland's advocacy director, blamed the Government's continued refusal to raise rent supplement and freeze rents for the deepening homelessness crisis.

"The fact that 41 families became homeless last month clearly shows that the homeless crisis for families is continuing unabated," he said.

"We need firm action by the Government to stop this crisis, not excuses why the actions that are required cannot be put in place."

Focus Ireland said the coaltion needs to regulate rents in the same manner as most European countries.

"We are well beyond the point where legal excuses to camouflage inaction are acceptable," added Mr Allen.

"The Government keeps talking about the impact raising rent supplement in isolation will have on the rental market. Nobody is calling for only that action.

"Focus Ireland has always also clearly called for the introduction of rent regulation measures to freeze rents until the current housing and homeless crisis is over."

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