While Local Authorities own varying quantities of housing stock, they also pay rent subsidies on privately owned, rented accommodation for their clients. It’s a sobering thought to bear in mind that a reasonable average monthly payment of €1,300 can be paid by a Local Authority to a landlord over a 4 year period. This represents a figure of €62,400 of taxpayers’ hard earned money on a single rented property.
Would it not be in everybody’s interested that each property retained by a Local Authority be inspected on a regular basis – on behalf of the tenant and the Taxpayer, to investigate the quality of the property they’re paying for. But despite the fees they receive from the State to carry out inspections, only a percentage of properties are being inspected.
Senator Aideen Hayden of Threshold expressed great concern at the finding of their 2013 survey where she says they made contact with thirty four Local Authorities around the county. At the very least, the Threshold findings reveal an alarming degree of ambiguity on the part of the Local Authorities as to their legal obligation to carry inspections.
‘There was a varying degree of knowledge’ Senator Hayden says ‘Eight of those Local Authorities surveyed suggested that it was the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) who should be taking responsibility for this. Also, there’s very little information on some of their websites in this regard.’
She says ‘We know for a fact that in a lot of cases, the inspectors are only going to modern house and apartment buildings when the inspections consist of a tick box exercise. This, when they should in fact be making a point of inspecting pre-1993 houses and multiple occupancy dwellings. I want to stress that it’s the quality of the inspections that we are questioning here. There appears to be no set standard currently in place and we believe that an NCT certification process in the way to go.
In a recent interview, Irish Property Owners Association spokesperson Margaret McCormack says ‘Local Authorities should be enforcing existing regulations; there’s no-one better to do this than themselves. There would be no sub-standard properties if this was happening. A total of 212,306 landlords are registered with the PRTB to whom the registration fee is paid. There’s no excuse. The funding is there and there should be more inspections of their rented properties.’
Commenting on the lack of transparency around the funding provided to Local Authorities for the purpose of inspecting their own and private rented properties, Anne Millar at Inspex Solutions says ‘We have been monitoring the growth of private housing provision that fills the gap in the public housing sector since 2008. We’ve also been monitoring the increase spend of public monies into inspection activity across the Local Authorities generally.’
Ms. Millar continues, ‘And yet, the only statistics made available is how much money is spent without any the detail of how many inspections nor the inspection framework used on Local Authority housing and private rented accommodation. We’re not told what properties comply and/or do not comply. Given the advancements in technology, this confusion is no longer necessary.
On a positive note, Anne Millar of Inspex points out that it is evident that the Department of the Environment has the will to establish inspection activity across the Local Authorities nationwide, and is allocating substantial budgets to achieve this.
She says ‘However, there is no standardised approach to these inspections. We have even heard reports of Local Authorities using ‘drive-by’ techniques for these inspections which is quite scary (as in the inspector drives by the house and tick some boxes without actually getting out of the car and entering the property).’
IPOA’s Margaret McCormack stated that they were not in favour of introducing an NCT certificate system as proposed by Minister Jan O’Sullivan, saying ‘This would simply mean more bureaucracy. We already have a system in place that needs to be working. We [landlords] have huge difficulties currently around financial issues with property values plummeting. Some are lucky enough to be on tracker mortgages, but they’re the exception. It’s tough times for landlords.’
According to the IPOA spokesperson, ‘If the Local Authority inspection system was functioning properly, we wouldn’t be talking about new systems which will add additional costs for the landlord. It’s tough times for landlords who were charged, and have paid for these inspections to be carried out. All properties should be regulation standard and Local Authorities should streamline their system. We want to keep our tenants happy; they’re our customers too’
Ms. Millar says ‘Here at Inspex Solutions, we use technology and Government regulations to set an inspection standard. We are leading the way in property certification. We are promoting the benefit of a transparent independent inspection process to ensure that accommodation standards improve generally in line with regulations.’