independent

Saturday 21 September 2019

House acquired by council lying idle for two years and costing thousands

Cllr George Lawlor outside the house in Wexford.
Cllr George Lawlor outside the house in Wexford.

David Looby

A house acquired on a ten-year lease by Wexford County Council has been lying idle for the past two years and has cost the council thousands of euro in lost rent.

To make it habitable the council will have to spent €30,000: €10,000 on the repositioning of the stairs, the installation of alarms and the creation of a protected corridor on the top floor, €7,000 on the installation of a storage heating system, €6,000 on replacing a bathroom and €3,000 on redecoration, all plus VAT.

The works would take around three months to complete.

Labour councillor George Lawlor got detail of the sums required to make the house habitable to local authority standards through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, having been denied information by going through a housing official.

Cllr Lawlor said: 'I have raised leasing difficulties in the past where tenants have been allocated squalid houses.

'In one there were four to five full bins in the back garden, with overgrown grass outside and mould, dirt and filth inside the house and the tenant was told it was his responsibility.

'I contacted [housing officer] Pádraig O'Gorman and he acted straight away.'

In December Cllr Lawlor received information from the council following a FOI request concerning the RÁS house. 'A long term ten-year lease was signed on April 20, 2017. The agreement was €550 for the house from 2014. It remains unoccupied.'

All maintenance costs associated with the house lie with the local authority, he said. 'The RECI Cert in April 2017 was two years out of date. On February 13, 2018, the engineer gave a conservative estimate of what it would cost to make the house habitable and was told it would cost €26,000 plus VAT. That was the conservative house to make the house habitable for a tenant. It was allocated to a tenant I have been working with.'

The house has been changed from a two-bed into a one-bed. 'The chief fire officer pointed out a myriad of issues with the house in 2017. We have to abide by this lease since April 2017. When the engineers lifted the timbres they were hiding a mess. I can't understand for the life of me how we as a council take on board all that landlords are handing over to us. To do anything with these houses is costing thousands and it's all falling into our lap.'

Cllr Lawlor said around €11,000 has already been paid to the landlord, with tens of thousands more due over the coming eight and a quarter years.

'To me this is unacceptable and it's indicative of some of the properties that are being leased out by this council. The information was given to me through an FOI because I couldn't get answers.'

Mr O'Gorman said there are only a small number of similar properties leased by the council from landlords. 'We are trying to deal with these problems.'

Cllr Lawlor said: 'This is indicative of a problem. I, as a director of this council, am not going to stand over this. We come here every year and we are asked to stand over our budget and then we come across a situation like this. Are there many more properties like this on our books?'

Mr O'Gorman said the council has 750 rental properties and he is satisfied that the overwhelming majority satisfy the standards of the local authority. 'There are a single number of houses which we will try to rectify.'

Cllr Lawlor said: 'If there are twenty of them it would cost a million.'

The lease on the property in question cannot be broken until 2021.

Cllr Davy Hynes said: 'We are relying on the private market too much to try and solve this housing problem. They want to use us to put up the rent and people are ending up being evicted. We are being hog-tied. The landlord has all the rights and neither us or the tenants have any rights.'

Cllr Johnny Mythen said there is no security with HAP houses. 'There was an all-party motion last year saying RÁS is not the answer. Private landlords are not the answer. We are creating a system that is not working for people. People are being moved from school to school. It has happened to one family seven times. We have got to build more public housing,' he said.

Cllr John Hegarty praised housing staff for the progress they have made over recent months in allocating people with houses and apartments.

'Less than a year ago everyone was up in arms here because housing in Wexford was a disaster. We said we have a plan, give us time and will you see action. Now everyone here says we are making progress.'

Supporting Cllr Lawlor's call for an investigation into bad leases by the council, he said: 'We are here as public representatives. The flip-side of that is the that the other half of our job we represent the council back to the people.

'It shouldn't be the case where a councillor needs to FOI because he can't get an answer.

'Mistakes are made; it's not a perfect system and there will be human error. It shouldn't get to a point where we are having to fight with the organisation we represent to get answers for the people we represent. We need to sort this out over the next six months.'

Wexford People

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