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Ó Caoláin calls for system to identify and prosecute rogue landlords

17 December, 2008 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Concluding a Dáil debate this evening on a joint Sinn Féin Labour Party motion on social housing and homelessness, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD called for a system to be put in place "to identify and prosecute landlords who are consistently in breach of the government's own standards for private rented dwellings."

Deputy Ó Caoláin criticised the Minister for Housing Michael Finneran's juvenile jibes at Sinn Féin and The Labour Party saying it shows up "the cavalier attitude of the Minister and his colleagues to a massive social need."

He said, "Successive Fianna Fáil-led governments have pursued a disastrous non-policy on housing over the past decade. That approach to housing was developer-driven and greed-based. It was fuelled not by the housing needs of the people but by the profit motive of developers and the avarice of banks and other lending institutions. We see the consequences now in the virtual collapse of the Irish financial system and the deepening recession in the Irish economy.

"And, irony of ironies, after a decade of madly spiralling house prices, over-dependence on construction for employment, reckless lending, massive mortgage debt and unprecedented numbers of private dwellings built, we STILL have a housing crisis because tens of thousands of our people do not have adequate homes. Over 60,000 people are on the local authority waiting lists for housing, a jump of more than 30% in three years. At the same time we have the phenomenon of empty houses and apartments in unfinished estates around the country

"I have seldom heard such an insulting speech as that delivered by the Minister for Housing. His juvenile jibes at the Labour Party and Sinn Féin for bringing forward this considered and substantive motion are beneath contempt. But they are alarming in showing up the cavalier attitude of the Minister and his colleagues to a massive social need.

"Over 40,000 households live in the private rental sector and are in receipt of rent supplement. These households are far more likely to live in dwellings which do not meet the government's existing standards. Many of these tenants live on low income and are more 'at risk' of living in sub-standard units.

"Between 2002 and 2006, 33,644 dwellings in the private rented sector were inspected. 10,162 did not meet existing legal standards. However of these units only 79 legal actions were taken.

"It is vital that a system is put in place to identify and prosecute landlords who are consistently in breach of the government's own standards. A mandatory licensing system would allow the PRTB to curtail the activity of persistently non-compliant landlords.

"There is also a need to increase the capacity of Local Authorities to enforce standards. The Department of Environment must ensure that Local Authorities take a proactive approach to their responsibilities to inspect rented accommodation and ensure that Local Authorities are adequately resourced to conduct inspections effectively.

"In conclusion I urge all Deputies to support the motion and reject the Government amendment. Outside the gates of Leinster House tonight, on the surrounding streets, you will see many people sleeping rough. The Celtic Tiger did not provide for them. It did not provide for the 60,000 families on the local authority housing waiting lists. What will their situation be in 2009 as this Government's regime of cuts is enforced? There is a better way forward and it is set out in this joint Labour/Sinn Féin motion." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's speech follows:

Ar son Sinn Féin ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo agus le Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre as an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála in éineacht le Sinn Féin.

On behalf of Sinn Féin I thank those who have participated in this debate and I especially thank the Labour Party for jointly putting forward with Sinn Féin this motion on the crisis in housing and homelessness in our country.

I want to begin by quoting a statement with which I very much agree:

"The Government congratulates itself on the tremendous level of activity which is in progress, while overlooking the misery, injustice and division which it is creating for generations to come. There is no planning. There is no environmental or social thinking and ultimately that will be a cost to our economy."

These words are not mine. They are the words of Environment Minister Gormley's party colleague, Deputy Eamon Ryan, now Minister for Energy. He was speaking on behalf of the Green Party in November 2003 in support of a Sinn Féin Bill to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. He was describing the disastrous non-policy on housing pursued by successive Fianna Fáil-led governments over the past decade. That approach to housing was developer-driven and greed-based. It was fuelled not by the housing needs of the people but by the profit motive of developers and the avarice of banks and other lending institutions. We see the consequences now in the virtual collapse of the Irish financial system and the deepening recession in the Irish economy.

And, irony of ironies, after a decade of madly spiralling house prices, over-dependence on construction for employment, reckless lending, massive mortgage debt and unprecedented numbers of private dwellings built, we STILL have a housing crisis because tens of thousands of our people do not have adequate homes. Over 60,000 people are on the local authority waiting lists for housing, a jump of more than 30% in three years. At the same time we have the phenomenon of empty houses and apartments in unfinished estates around the country, especially in the commuter belt surrounding the Greater Dublin area. It is a mess and it a mess of this Government's own making. To quote another Green Deputy from 2003, Deputy Cuffe, who said:

"It will not be good enough for the Minister to respond by listing all the houses being built. They are not being provided for the people who need them and that is what we need to debate."

That is exactly what Minister Finneran did last night. The difference is that he and his Fianna Fáil colleagues now have the full support of the Green Party. I have seldom heard such an insulting speech as that delivered by the Minister for Housing. His juvenile jibes at the Labour Party and Sinn Féin for bringing forward this considered and substantive motion are beneath contempt. But they are alarming in showing up the cavalier attitude of the Minister and his colleagues to a massive social need.

Over 40,000 households live in the private rental sector and are in receipt of rent supplement. These households are far more likely to live in dwellings which do not meet the government's existing standards. Many of these tenants live on low income and are more 'at risk' of living in sub-standard units.

Between 2002 and 2006, 33,644 dwellings in the private rented sector were inspected. 10,162 did not meet existing legal standards. However of these units only 79 legal actions were taken.

Given the increasing levels of housing need and the unwillingness of government to date to adequate regulate or police the private rented sector, it is hardly surprising that so many dwellings fail to meet the current minimal standards while so few prosecutions are secured.

There is a need to address the issue of private sector landlords refusing to take tenants on the grounds that they are in receipt of rent supplement or the Rental Accommodation Scheme. The Minister spoke of new regulations for the private rented sector but those regulations are only pieces of paper unless they are enforced. Enforcement has to be strengthened.

At present all private landlords are required to register with the Private Residences Tenancy Board. Despite this legal requirement, and the linking of tax deductions to registration, it remains the case that a large proportion of privately rented residences are unregistered. Clearly voluntary registration is not working. It is time to introduction a mandatory licensing system for private residential landlords. It is vital that a system is put in place to identify and prosecute landlords who are consistently in breach of the government's own standards. A mandatory licensing system would allow the PRTB to curtail the activity of persistently non-compliant landlords.

There is also a need to increase the capacity of Local Authorities to enforce standards. The Department of Environment must ensure that Local Authorities take a proactive approach to their responsibilities to inspect rented accommodation and ensure that Local Authorities are adequately resourced to conduct inspections effectively.

In conclusion I urge all Deputies to support the motion and reject the Government amendment. Outside the gates of Leinster House tonight, on the surrounding streets, you will see many people sleeping rough. The Celtic Tiger did not provide for them. It did not provide for the 60,000 families on the local authority housing waiting lists. What will their situation be in 2009 as this Government's regime of cuts is enforced? There is a better way forward and it is set out in this joint Labour/Sinn Féin motion.

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