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Council urged to purchase houses that are up for sale as scale of housing crisis laid bare

Laois County Council General

A Laois County Councillor has pleaded with the Council to buy up homes that are for sale in the county in a bid to step rent-paying tenants falling into homelessness.

The scale of the housing crisis in Laois was laid bare at the meeting of the Portlaoise Municipal District last week.

Fine Gael Cllr Willie Aird began the discussion by calling on Laois County Council to purchase some private rented accommodation that has gone on the market.

He made the call, he said, ‘in order to protect tenants’ who he said are being put out of their homes and left with nowhere else to go.

Cllr Aird said: “When the RAS scheme was introduced it was very good, at the time it guaranteed you would never be homeless because if it was ever sold, you’d be guaranteed to be housed by the local authority before they’d sign off on a house being sold.

“I’ve a huge amount of people on RAS scheme now and their landlords are putting the homes up for sale.

“They will be homeless. We cannot have it happening. it must be awful pain for them.

“I ask that you give tenants on HAP the same security they had in RAS. HAP doesn’t give you the comfort, if a house is for sale, to allow the person to purchase it.

“I have one woman renting for 14 years, with two children and their house is to be sold. Out she has to go. She had no problem ever paying the rent.

“We need more houses. If we don’t start delivering houses as a local authority, the whole housing section will be taken away.

“It’s terrible not to be able to tell a person that we have something for them.

“One person that has been on to me has 23 days to find somewhere to live and the Council have nothing for them.

“We are facing into an avalanche of homelessness now and it is on us as a Council to find solutions.”

The conversation then moved into why landlords are opting to sell their properties rather than continue to rent them.

Fine Gael Councillor Barry Walsh, who is a quantity surveyor by trade, explained how he is doing BER certs in houses at present and the majority are getting them in order to sell them.

He blamed the measures introduced in the budget for resulting in many landlords opting to leave the marker.

Cllr Walsh said: “I work at doing BER certs for landlords. 40 to 50% of those are for landlords selling up.

“A lot were waiting to see what was in the budget. I think it was a big mistake in the budget not encouraging landlords to stay in the market.

“A lot are selling up now because there is nothing there for them, whether it be tax exemptions or less paperwork. They are all running scared now.

“For anyone on HAP, there isn’t a house to be got in Portlaoise.”

Cllr John Joe Fennelly added: “We all allowed this problem to happen.

“I know of some landlords that were hit with HAP inspections and left with bills of €10,000.”

Cllr Thomasina Connell agreed with Cllr Walsh about the impact of the budget.

She said: “We as the seven Portlaoise councillors have an obligation to our constituents. Who’s going to fight for the landlords?

“Someone who bought at the wrong time, who has to maintain it, buy the washing machines, pay the mortgage, pay the full whack of tax on their rental income.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that no little twist to reduce rent was in the budget. They are paying half to revenue, then paying the banks as well and doing tax returns.”

Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley and Cllr Noel Tuohy had more sympathy for tenants than the landlords.

Cllr Dwane Stanley said: “Some people have choices, others don’t. The whole area of housing is absolutely disfunctional.

“We are getting that backlog now from where local authorities stopped building.”

Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald said: “Years ago we had single people battling homelessness, now it is all families.

“We need an urgent meeting with the housing section on this to try find a solution.”

Her request was agreed to and a meeting will be held.

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Stradbally native Alan Hartnett is a graduate of Knockbeg College who has worked in the local and national media since 2008. Alan has a BA in Economics, Politics and Law and an MA in Journalism from DCU. His happiest moment was when Jody Dillon scored THAT goal in the Laois senior football final in 2016.