How many people can you fit in a two-story rental property in Crumlin, a blue collar suburb of ordinary houses in Dublin?  More than 60 was the answer provided by an RTE television investigation which was broadcast last week and has ongoing caused outrage here.  

The RTE Investigates program was the result of months of undercover filming in a number of houses, a jumble of bunk beds, damp walls, dodgy electrics, dirty kitchens and shared bathrooms (two for all the inhabitants of that grotesquely overcrowded property in Crumlin).  Nor is this just happening in working class areas.

Other overcrowded houses featured on TV and in the papers recently have been in more upmarket areas, in Rathmines (23 tenants with one shower and two toilets) and in Cabinteely (five original bedrooms subdivided into 15 small rooms sleeping up to 70 tenants).   

How do you spot the houses where this is going on?  You can't see in from the outside because usually the windows have curtains permanently drawn and tenants are warned not to talk to callers.

The giveaway is the number of bins outside -- if you see 10 or more bins you know it's the modern day equivalent of the tenements in the inner city in the early decades of the last century, made famous in Sean O'Casey plays.  

Many of the tenants involved are immigrants, sleeping six or eight to a room in bunk beds and paying €250-€300 each a month for the privilege.  Even a regular suburban house with one bathroom and three or four bedrooms can produce €10,000 to €15,000 a month in rent when the two living rooms on the ground floor are also used for beds.  And good luck with trying to cook your dinner in the crammed kitchen!  

You can't blame the tenants, some Irish but more often low wage workers from Eastern Europe, South America, Asia, etc.  They arrive here, sometimes on student visas, and then set about finding a job and establishing their lives in Dublin.  These days they are immediately faced with the housing crisis which means that finding somewhere to live is almost impossible and always expensive.   

For them it's a choice between sleeping on the streets or taking a bunk bed in a badly overcrowded house.  They know they are being exploited, but what's the alternative?     

The outcry last week after the TV exposé was intense, with several landlords named and shamed and politicians and city officials trying to outdo each other in outrage and calling for criminal prosecutions and tougher legislation.   

We're great at the old moral outrage here.  We're not so good at following up, enforcing rules and regulations, and providing solutions.  

The reality is that what was exposed in last week's TV program is not something that can be solved by extra legislation.  It's a result of the severe housing shortage in Dublin and it's likely to continue in one form or another until that is solved.

What we were shown on TV last week were extreme examples of overcrowding in some rental properties here.  But the problem is more general than that, with many rental houses in Dublin now being occupied by more people than is ideal for health and safety. In the majority of cases the overcrowding is less concentrated, usually with an extra bed or mattress shoved into bedrooms. But it's still overcrowding.  

It would also be a mistake to assume that it's always the fault of the landlord.  In many cases it's the tenants themselves (often students or young workers) who organize the extra occupants, advertising through social media for more people to share the rent.

It's the only way they can afford a roof over their heads.  In many cases the property owner is not even aware of what is going on.  

And it's not that we're short of rules and regulations, backed up by law.   All rental properties here have to be registered with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) which was set up in 2004 to regulate the sector.  

It's now grown into a classic quango with several dozen employees in a nice office where they seem to spend most of their time making life as difficult as possible for private landlords but not doing much else. If you look at their website (RTB.ie) you will see the mind numbing tangle of red tape, rules and restrictions that face landlords here, all backed up by the RTB's legal powers. 

The result of this -- and heavy taxation of the sector by the state -- is that more of the small landlords with one or two properties are selling up than are entering the business, in spite of today's high rents.  For them it's no longer worth the hassle.  

And in spite of the arrival of the international property companies (a/k/a the vulture funds) who bought up big property portfolios here on the cheap after the crash and now rent hundreds of apartments in Dublin at very high prices, it is these mom and pop operations that still provide most of the rental accommodation here.

In most of these cases they are ordinary people who bought a second property as a pension investment; they treat their tenants fairly and with respect and are usually very slow in putting up rents to anything like the headline figures we see in the media. Without them, the present accommodation crisis would be far worse than it is.  Yet they get a raw deal from the state, which seems to regard them with as an unnecessary evil and penalizes them with heavy taxation.   

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I'm a landlord myself, having bought a small second house around 25 years ago so our then child minder and her partner would have somewhere to live that was close to us.  The kids have grown up and the child minder has moved on and over the years since then the house has been rented, always to a family and always at an affordable rent.  

Over the past eight years it has been occupied by the same family that is now leaving to buy their own home.  In the next few years the house will be given to one of my own kids (although to do so will cost me one-third of the value in capital gains tax).   

I'm what is called an accidental landlord and have only one rental property.  I know there are many others like me who have never exploited their tenants.   

Demonizing landlords (now even more hated than lawyers or bankers) has become a popular media sport here.  But the kind of extreme cases shown on television last week are the exception rather than the norm.

Concentrating on such greedy, unscrupulous examples without any reference to the thousands of decent landlords that exist here does not help.  And it certainly does nothing to increase the supply of rental accommodation.  

Of course we need standards and safety regulations for rental property.  But it is well to remember that all these rules on paper aimed at creating a very high ideal standard for rental property do not provide a single extra bed.  

We're in a housing crisis, not an ideal situation.  Instead of endlessly penalizing decent landlords it would be better to encourage them.

In that regard the RTB is particularly useless.  In theory it gives rights and responsibilities to both tenants and landlords, but the emphasis always seems to be on tenant rights.  In cases of dispute between the two sides the RTB holds hearings and makes a judgment.  

In theory this sounds good but in practice it can be a nightmare for landlords if they are faced with a tenant who knows how to play the system.  I know one pensioner who has one rented house and was unfortunate enough to get a bad tenant who stopped paying rent a few months after moving in. After a year of excuses and refusal to answer the door, the landlord managed to confront the tenant one day.  The tenant called the gardai and claimed intimidation.

The landlord was advised by the gardai to stay away from the house and take the case to the RTB.  Months later an RTB hearing was held at which the tenant failed to appear.  A second date was set and the tenant again failed to show up, sending in more excuses.  

It took two years and a court case to evict the tenant (who left without paying anything, but did leave a badly damaged bathroom behind him).  No doubt he is now making life miserable for another landlord somewhere else, protected by the rules and rights set up under the RTB.  

As we have said already, the only thing that will solve the overcrowding problem in some rental properties in Dublin is more homes being available.  No one will move into an overcrowded house if there is better accommodation available at a reasonable rent.  It's that simple.  

In the meantime, in the wake of last week's TV exposé, there is now pressure for much greater inspection of rental properties here.  There are around 325,000 rental properties registered with the RTB but responsibility for inspecting them rests not with the RTB (too much real work!) but with local councils. The councils don't have the staff, and last year only four percent of rental properties in the country were inspected.  Of those that were inspected, two-thirds failed to comply with regulations, although this may be a result of the idealistic standards set by the RTB than evidence that so many tenants are living in squalor.   

All of this reminds me of the time two summers back when I stayed a night with one of my kids who was in New York for a year on a graduate visa and was sharing a top floor two-bedroom walk-up in a Brooklyn brownstone.  The ramshackle building was falling apart, the electrics and the gas cooker in her apartment looked dodgy and the shower in the tiny bathroom dripped all night.  

Plus the rent was higher than Dublin now.  It was enough to give the RTB people here a breakdown.   

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Irish government announced that it will discuss the overcrowding issue at a Cabinet meeting this week at which Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy will propose new legislative powers for the RTB. These powers will force landlords themselves to certify annually that a property is compliant with all regulations.   Failure to provide this self-certification will be a criminal offense, with very heavy fines.   

This may catch some of the non-compliant landlords.   But once again the solution is to load extra red tape and cost on to all the landlords who provide decent accommodation.  

It will mean an expanded (and therefore more costly) role for the RTB which is already funded by a levy on all landlords.   And it will do nothing to provide even one extra bed.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Irish government announced that it will discuss the overcrowding issue at a Cabinet meeting this week at which Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy will propose new legislative powers for the RTB. These powers will force landlords themselves to certify annually that a property is compliant with all regulations.   Failure to provide this self-certification will be a criminal offense, with very heavy fines.   

This may catch some of the non-compliant landlords.   But once again the solution is to load extra red tape and cost on to all the landlords who provide decent accommodation.  

It will mean an expanded (and therefore more costly) role for the RTB which is already funded by a levy on all landlords.   And it will do nothing to provide even one extra bed. 

Bunkbeds in an overcrowded house in Dublin.RTE