Dublin City Council's Response to Primetime Investigates Programme

The Primetime Investigates Programme highlighted a small number of properties in Dublin City that were grossly overcrowded, with totally unacceptable living conditions that were clearly unsafe.
 
Dublin City Council was aware of the properties highlighted before the programme aired and had already dealt with them.
 
The worst example highlighted (Crumlin) in the programme was closed a few weeks ago by way of High Court Action taken by Dublin Fire Brigade, a second one was also closed following intervention by Dublin Fire Brigade and the others are now either fully compliant or in the process of same and are no longer overcrowded. The properties involved will be further monitored closely over the coming months.
 
While this type of situation in the private rented sector has been relatively uncommon we have noticed a growing number of such incidences over the last year or so. Dublin City Council through our Environmental Health Section and more so through our Fire Prevention Section (DFB) has dealt effectively with a number of these types of cases in recent months including a high profile case at Mountjoy Square.
 
We are very dependent on tenants and the general public to report these situations to us and in relation to our Environmental Health Section, the main source of complaints are the tenants themselves and the system is geared towards interaction by Health Inspectors with tenants and subsequently with the landlord with the aim of getting full compliance. The regulations covering building standards were updated earlier this year (2017) however the legislation covering overcrowding dates back to 1966.
 
The small number of unscrupulous landlords involved in this activity as highlighted by Primetime Investigates are taking advantage of the current housing crisis in Dublin and are taking advantage of largely young and vulnerable foreign nationals who are coming to this country to study or work (some may not have the legal status to reside here). We understand that some of these landlords may be advertising their ‘’accommodation’’ on world wide social media.
 
In this type of scenario it is very unlikely that these unfortunate tenants will make any complaint or report about their accommodation regardless of its condition and it is likely they realise that such a complaint/report could end up making them homeless. We are therefore reliant on the general public, or neighbours etc., to report information or even their suspicions to Dublin City Council.
We do need to make it easier for people to make such complaints/reports and obviously with a guaranteed follow up.
 
In relation to criticism of Dublin City Council in the Primetime Investigates Programme, some of this was justified and any weakness/deficiencies identified on how complaints were dealt with will be rectified immediately.
 
The producers of the Programme did seek our comments on some of the properties highlighted but we could not do this because of Data Protection rules and the risk of litigation so all we could do prior to the programme being aired was to send them a very general statement.
 
In relation to criticism specifically on the Crumlin case, our Environmental Health Section did receive an e-mail from a researcher on the programme which contained a phone number that our staff could not connect with (it is normal practice to try and engage with the complainant). Two further emails were later sent directly to an individual official in the Environmental Health Section (rather than through the normal route of the DCC Customer Services Office) and unfortunately these were not opened. If they had been, then it would/should have been referred to Dublin Fire Brigade (Fire Prevention).  We apologise for this mistake.
 
Ultimately, a complaint on this particular case was sent by a Local City Councillor directly to the Chief Executive which resulted in immediate action and High Court Closure Order through Dublin Fire Brigade.
 
In another complicated case (highlighted in the programme), where Dublin City Council had intervened, the tenant in situ was refusing to allow the landlord to carry out the necessary works (the landlord was fully prepared to do this work). Ultimately this situation was resolved but it does indicate the complexity of some of these private rented situations and the time and effort that goes into some individual cases.
 
It is important to state clearly that the majority of private landlords comply with all regulations and are providing a very important housing service in the city, particularly in the context of the current overall housing situation. There are other landlords who do not fully comply with current regulations on standards and these are pursued as much as possible but we are generally reliant on tenants complaining. It is a complex issue particularly in the current housing climate, for example, many landlords have been upgrading their properties in Dublin City over the last couple of years, some of this to comply with the updated regulations and when it requires vacant possession, families have become homeless with no alternative but emergency accommodation.
 
In light of this third and now more regular (but not rampant) category of gross overcrowding, council officials have been working on developing a greater co-ordinated approach to the problem and a swifter response to complaints while acting fully within the legislative framework.

It is clear that our powers and authority under Planning and Environmental Health legislation is not robust or swift enough to deal with these dangerous situations therefore, the focus has been put very much on the Fire Safety aspect where powers are stronger.  However, this is not sustainable going forward for the Fire Brigade to be overly wrapped up in overcrowding situations in residential dwellings.
 
We do consider that the current legislation around overcrowding (1966 Housing Act) needs to be updated and strengthened with much greater penalties on property owners who do not comply. Currently we have a multi-disciplinary group working on preparing proposals for Government on such activity.

Rather than an over focus on inspections and enforcement of current regulations that are quite cumbersome, there needs to be an emphasis on much greater penalties, including large court fines, disbarment from being a landlord, reporting to Revenue Commissioners, and injunction powers for the Local Authority.
 
Such a framework we believe would be a far greater disincentive to such immoral and unscrupulous activity. While we can close a premises down as we have in recent months, it does result in homelessness for the tenants and the landlord walks away with a big profit even if the premises is only used for a short period of time.
 
In the meantime and with a view to using all existing powers, we will shortly initiate a major public awareness campaign around this particular issue which will:

  • Encourage tenants and members of the public to report any overcrowding situations or the suspicion of same.
  • Create a dedicated phone number / e-mail address that would take all such enquiries and ensure they are immediately referred to the relevant Division.
  • Ensure that a fully co-ordinated approach is taken for each case.

The primary responsibility for private rented dwellings complying with all legislation requirements rests with landlords. Landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that all properties that are let or available for letting comply with all applicable legislation.
 
The Environmental Health Section enforces the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2017 which are applicable to all private rented dwellings. These regulations require landlords of rented dwellings to ensure such properties meet certain minimum standards. The regulations came into effect on the 1st July 2017 and relate to:

  • Structural Condition
  • Sanitary Facilities
  • Heating Facilities
  • Food Preparation & Storage & Laundry
  • Ventilation
  • Lighting
  • Fire Safety
  • Refuse Facilities
  • Gas, Oil & Electrical Installations
  • Information

 
Environmental Health Officers have both a proactive and re-active inspection programme.
 
Their proactive inspection programme includes inspection under the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and the Housing Assistance Payments Scheme (HAP) along with identifying properties for inspection more likely not to be in compliance with the legislation.
 
Reactive inspections are generally in response to complaints from tenants and full contact details of the landlord are required in all cases where enforcement action is being taken.
 
An Environmental Health Officer will then contact the complainant and arrange to inspect the letting at the convenience of the tenant. Subsequent to the inspection, the officer will then take appropriate enforcement action.
 
Where the rented property is found to be non-compliant, there is no authority under current housing standards legislation to require the landlord to terminate a tenancy or to vacate a property.
There is no provision under the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2017 that regulates overcrowding in private rented dwellings.
 
Dublin City Council has an ongoing current campaign to recruit additional Environmental Health Officers to enhance its inspection regime of private rented dwellings. Currently the Environmental Health Section has nine Health Inspectors.
 
The following table shows the level of inspections by our Environmental Health Section over recent years:

 

 

2014

2015

2016

2017

(9 months)

 

Dwellings Inspected

 

1542

 

1388

 

1751

 

880

 

Inspections carried out

 

2511

 

2513

 

3550

 

1393

 

Dwellings inspected not meeting regulatory requirements

 

929

 

1077

 

1388

 

761

 

Dwellings where compliance was achieved

 

714

 

1099

 

1749

 

750

 

Dwellings where improvement notices were served

 

828

 

975

 

1292

 

709

 

Dwellings where prohibition notices were served

 

80

 

56

 

28

 

0

 

Legal action initiated

 

40

 

24

 

14

 

0


When Dublin Fire Brigade receives a referral/complaint, an inspection is carried out by an authorised Fire Brigade Officer. If there are any fire safety deficiencies found, and depending on the findings, there are a range of actions that can be taken i.e., a warning letter, fire safety notice, fire risk assessment, closure notice, or high court order which may lead to the evacuation of the premises.
 
Where a Fire Safety Notice has been issued, this information is passed on through the chain of command to operational fire fighters to ensure that they are aware of the premises and the fire safety deficiencies.
Where a tenant or member of the public has concerns about their rented accommodation, they can contact Dublin City Council on T.222 2222 or customerservice@dublincity.ie and give details of their complaint to the customer services agent. The Fire Prevention Section of Dublin Fire Brigade can be contacted directly at  T. 673 4000 and fire@dublincity.ie.
 
ENDS
 

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