Five Years’ Time – A Property on the Rental Accommodation Scheme

A private apartment that failed an inspection in 2015 is still being used by Kerry County Council on an accommodation scheme, despite the highlighted issues remaining outstanding.

The private property is used in the council’s Rental Accommodation Scheme.  

Under this scheme, councils draw up contracts with landlords to provide housing for an agreed term for people with a long-term housing need.  

The local authority pays the rent directly to the landlord.  

How did this all came about?

The tenant, Hana, availed of Kerry County Council’s Rental Accommodation Scheme in March of 2014 and moved into a two-bedroom apartment the following month.

The private property was constructed in 1983 and has a BER of E1.

I visited this property in February of this year and recorded an interview with Hana. Here is a quick reminder of the conditions in the apartment.

 

The landlord’s agent, ProPlan, was told in August of 2015 by the council that the property was recently inspected and did not reach minimum standards for the following reasons:

  • The washing machine and dryer are installed in the shower room and should be removed
  • The window seals are leaking

In December 2015, a prohibition notice was served on ProPlan. The council referred to a previous improvement notice, dated November 2015. It went as follows:

“All the issues raised in the improvement notice have not been addressed i.e. the washing machine and dryer are located directly adjacent to the shower within the shower room, in contravention with current ETCI electrical standards. I therefore wish to inform you that you shall not let or re-let the house for rent or other valuable consideration until all of the improvement works have been completed. This prohibition notice was issued under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.”

I understand that internal council correspondence in Spring of 2016 noted the delay in rectifying the issues raised.

In March, council documents noted the tenant’s issues.

[The tenant] called regarding a couple of issues about the above property:

  • Leaking window down the side and mould growing
  • Another window to be fixed
  • Dampness on the walls

In April, a council official said “This is the apartment with the washer and dryer in the bathroom and the landlords were slow to deal with the issues.”

Later in 2016, KCC writes to the landlord and his agent looking for some documents. It receives them all, with the exception of confirmation in writing of a fire safety certificate and emergency evacuation plan.

These issues were brought to the attention of the Residential Tenancies Board. What was the outcome of the adjudication and hearing?

In April 2016 the tenant made an application to the RTB and an adjudication followed. The RTB found in favour of the tenant and ordered the landlord to pay €650 for failure to carry out necessary repairs.

The landlord appealed this decision and the appeal was heard in September. It said the tenant had two main grievances; the placement of the washing machine/dryer in the bathroom and windows seals which she claimed were deficient.

The RTB found that the landlord had tried to rectify the window seals, however, it still ordered that the tenant be paid €650 because “the Appellant Landlord was in breach of his obligations…” (under Section 12(1)(b) of the Act in respect of the standard and maintenance of the Dwelling arising from the unavailability of appropriate washing and drying facilities)

The tenant sought information from Kerry County Council around this time, seeking what inspections were undertaken before she moved in. What did this reveal? 

The council says an inspection was carried out on 14th January, 2014, which did not indicate an issue with any electrical equipment.

However, the section in the inspection report for the bathroom and shower facilities was blank, despite checklists for other rooms being filled in. This would suggest that the bathroom and shower facilities weren’t inspected.

Furthermore, a home visit report, dated May, 2015 had ‘yes’ in all boxes including the condition of the third and fourth bedroom.

However, it’s a two-bedroom apartment.

The inspection also noted an emergency evacuation plan was in place and there was a fire safety cert, yet different council officials asked the letting agent and landlord four times over three years for those documents because it hadn’t received them.

So, by September 2016 there had been two inspections by Kerry County Council, which found a number of issues. It wrote to the landlord and issued a prohibition notice. There was also an RTB finding that the landlord was in breach of his obligations. What happened after this? 

In terms of council correspondence, the story goes quiet. Hana, the tenant, claims she contacted the council numerous times during this period. In June 2019, then-Deputy and Fianna Fáil TD John Brassil contacted the council to raise Hana’s concerns. Following this, the council conducted another inspection which found the apartment was deficient in a number of areas: damp mould patches in the kitchen; no carbon monoxide alarm outside the bedroom; no emergency evacuation plan in the property; shower controls needing repair; an electrical inspection report was needed; no internal fire alarm system; and damp patches in the sitting room.

These inspection reports also rate the property in a number of categories. Can you give some detail on this?

A few questions were answered in the report.

  • How does the tenant maintain the property – rated good
  • How does the landlord maintain the property – rated poor
  • Does the building meet the minimum letting standards – marked no

The landlord was given six weeks to address the issues from October 1st, 2019. However, in the preceding month, the following was said in correspondence between council officials:

“A lot of the works are still not completed. The landlord is slow getting some of the works done. I had a conference call with the landlord and agent this morning to discuss the remaining issues and how they can be solved […] The landlord with get a further six weeks to complete the works”.

There was a second follow-up in December 2019, which noted a number of issues remained outstanding.

To summarise at this stage, the end of 2019. It had been four years and four months since the first inspection found the property deficient. There had been three inspections, during one of which 12 items of non-compliance were forwarded to the letting agent, requesting the issues be sorted. By the end of 2019, works were still outstanding. What happened next?

 

We’ll move onto February 2020 to when ProPlan emailed Kerry County Council. The company said the following:

“My client, the owner of this property, intends to put the property up for sale. As I have already outlined to you, the reason for this decision is solely due to the persistent pursuit by a Kerry County Council Inspector, […] who has continually raised various “concerns” with regard to this property. It appears that the inspector is trying to enforce minimum standards on the common areas of the apartment complex at Pembroke Court of which my client has no authorisation, control or remit […]

To the issue of overzealous inspection… this is leading to a large amount [sic] of landlords opting to exit the private rental market… this trend will undoubtedly continue due to over-regulation of the rental market.”

This is in relation to an apartment which frequently has 70% humidity, had water leaking onto electrical fixings, has mould growing on the walls and has a washing machine next to the shower in the bathroom. Did the original contract between the council, landlord and tenant have any obligations set out in relation to the landlord’s upkeep of the apartment and communal areas? 

The RAS contract from March 2014 includes, among others, the following conditions:

  • The landlord shall keep and maintain all communal areas associated with the property.
  • The property must be compliant with the fire standards as set out in the Fire Services Act. The landlord must regularly maintain and service the fire alarm, emergency lighting and portable fire equipment.

I understand there was a delay with the fire safety certificate or evacuation plan?

Council documents note the landlord’s agent had not provided a fire safety certificate or emergency evacuation plan for a number of years. We’ve documents that show the council asked for these within six weeks to “ensure continuation of rental payments.” This happened in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In December 2019, KCC again asked the letting agent for a copy of a current fire safety certificate.

Did you contact Kerry County Council, the letting agent or the landlord on this?

Yes, Kerry County Council said it’s not in a position to comment in this case as it has a strict policy of not discussing or commenting on such individual cases out of respect for the individual’s privacy.

However, I followed up with more general questions, such as:

  • What measures does KCC take when it’s reported by a tenant that they believe a property they’ve been given under the RAS isn’t fit for purpose or breaching terms set out in the contract for the property, due to alleged defects with the property?
  • Can KCC serve improvement notices on the landlord following an inspection?
  • How can these improvement notices be lifted?
  • What are the possible penalties or sanctions available should a landlord not adhere to the council’s request? i.e. what happens when an improvement notice expires?
  • Has KCC ever terminated a RAS contract with a landlord due to issues with defects on the property?

Kerry County Council has not replied to these queries yet. I asked these questions three weeks ago.

I also sent a letter to Proplan – the letting agent – offering them the chance to comment. They said:

Proplan Property Management cannot comment to third parties on matters pertaining to any of our client landlords or their tenants. All issues concerning any properties managed by Proplan Property Management are handled professionally and through the appropriate forum, and not on the airwaves.

What is the current situation with the tenant and the apartment now?

I spoke to the tenant yesterday. She’s still residing in the apartment, which is part of the council’s Rental Accommodation Scheme. She was told in March that the property would be put up for sale.

It’s been nearly five years since the letting agent was first made aware of the issues.

Here is a video of the apartment from 2019 and 2020.

[KGVID]https://www.radiokerry.ie/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/Apartment-Video-1.mp4[/KGVID]

These photos were taken in February 2020.

 

Eamonn Hickson – July 2020