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Anti-Evictions Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 976 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy] In 2021, we will move away from an over-reliance on HAP - I accept there is an over-reliance - to having people accommodated in the stock of social housing. That is right and it is part of our Rebuilding Ireland plan.

The Government opposes the Bill. We support a number of measures in it and are progressing them. Other measures go too far and the Taoiseach was right to say that they are too extreme. Our rental market is not like that of other European countries yet. It is true that we do not have a mature rental sector. We are trying to reform it to make it into one, but we are doing so in a time of under-supply, which makes it more challenging. We do not have a cost rental market. In other countries, it is at 20% to 25%, but we are trying to build one. We do not have an independent regulator for tenants and landlords but we are trying to turn the RTB into one at the moment. We do not have enough supply and we do not have the professional landlord sector that they have in other European countries because they are more mature. We are losing landlords. It is a fact we cannot run away from. The majority of our landlords, 85%, own only one or two properties. I refer to an elderly couple making a small investment, someone perhaps inheriting a property that they did not think they would inherit, or people who never intended to own a second property. Some became accidental landlords through the crash because their family became larger and they wanted to move on. It is wrong to demonise these people, because they are providing homes to others whether they meant to or not. Buy-to-lets are being sold today and they are not being bought by other landlords. We are losing landlords and rental homes. We have to take that very seriously. Any new measure that comes into this House needs to be weighed against the risk of losing landlords and making things worse for people who are in the rental sector.

Unfortunately, there are always going to be grounds for evictions. Even people in the voluntary sector will tell us that. Evictions are not the main source for people entering into emergency accommodation and language here does matter. Deputy Boyd Barrett held up a newspaper advertisement recently of loans that had been owned by NAMA and that have now been sold. He called it public housing but it is not public housing. Language matters.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I did not. I said it could have been public housing.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Deputy said it was and it is not. We have to make a distinction between evictions and notices of termination. Even when we look at notices of termination, given the make-up of the rental sector that we have today we have to be careful in interfering more than we are at the moment. We have to make sure we are not placing extra burdens on small landlords and we have to make sure that we are not prohibiting someone from selling a property that they own; they might need to sell it for perfectly legitimate reasons in their own lives and may not have the money to compensate the person who is living in the property at that point in time. This Bill risks further undermining the rental sector. We need a strong, mature rental sector. We need landlords to be a part of that. I know the intentions might be noble here in trying to protect and help people like Elaine; I understand that. However, we have to think of the unintended consequences. We have to make sure we do not risk doing more harm than good.

As a Government, we believe we can bring about greater protections for renters without undermining the supply of homes for rent. The new residential tenancies Bill does that. It does not do everything but I believe it brings forward priority areas that I hope we all can agree on. I hope we can get that Bill through the House quickly in January and that we will have it as our first cause when we come back after the recess. It is going to do some good. I understand the Threshold report because I was at the launch of the report. We all believe it is right to support organisations such as Threshold that support people who find themselves in these difficulties. In the Bill we are bringing forward, we meet a number of the concerns that organisations such as Threshold and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, whose representatives I met earlier, believe we should progress as reforms.

It is important to spell out the main provisions of that forthcoming Government Bill in order that people understand what we are talking about. If someone breaches the rent caps that are in place at the moment, we will make it a criminal offence. We will have new RTB data tomorrow on what has happened in quarter 3 in the rental sector and that will underline the need to bring this through quickly in terms of making it a criminal offence to contravene the RPZs. The Bill will bring in new powers for the RTB to investigate and sanction landlords for non-compliance with RPZs. It will allow the RTB to act independently, which is important because the burden at the moment falls on tenants. That puts them in an unfair position because they do not want to risk losing their tenancy and do not want to kick up a fuss. It needs to be possible for the RTB to act independently. We are providing power to the board to do that in law as well as the resources that are provided in the budget for next year. We will extend the notice period for tenancy terminations, which is important. We are doubling it, in effect, beyond six months, which will give people more time when notice is served to find a new property. We are also making other amendments, for example, establishing a rent register and having rent transparency so people can see what is fair and can see automatically whether someone is trying to gouge them on the rent. Our Bill also provides to extend rent protections to student accommodation where we can.

In the future, we need to make sure we are protecting tenants' rights in receiverships and we will do that in a second Bill but it is more complex. We can allow for tenancies of indefinite duration, which are necessary for having a mature rental sector with long-term leases, and also for helping those landlords who have been providing below-market rents for so many years for their tenants and who got caught in the RPZs and find themselves in a position where they cannot increase the rent to cover the cost of maintaining the property. These areas are more complex and they will be addressed in future legislation.

The priority legislation that was published this week and that we can debate in the Dáil in January on the first day the Business Committee allows us will enable us to bring in important protections. As for the sanctions regime, we will put in place new resources for the RTB so we can have these inspections. A landlord could be found to be in breach in a number of ways, including not co-operating with an inspection in the first instance; not adhering to rent caps; not registering a tenancy; where they are making a substantial change, not doing so within the new law which we are defining; not notifying the RTB when they have invoked that exemption because they are doing a substantial renovation; or giving false information. All of these new measures are going to allow the RTB to protect tenants more, to have a more robust approach and to have its own independent inspections. Then, depending on the gravity of the situation, the RTB will be able to go down the criminal path or go down the new administrative path whereby it can levy a significant fine on a landlord of up to €15,000 and additionally another €15,000 to cover the RTB's own costs. It is very important that we give the RTB those powers and that administrative and criminal sanctions are available to it.

Student accommodation is an important area which we have debated as well. Currently student accommodation that is let under a tenancy agreement is covered by rent caps while purpose-built student accommodation under a licence or public authorities that license student accommodation are not. A piece of work is being done between myself and the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to try to bring that rental accommodation into the RPZs and into the definition of rent caps without doing other things that would adversely impact upon the supply of new student accommodation. We will bring that forward on Committee Stage and I hope to have everyone's support. We need to make sure we can do it in law so that it is not challenged because of having sufficient evidence and that piece of work is ongoing.

If this Bill were passed, it might result in a number of landlords moving to serve notices immediately. While the Deputies think it would move to help the situation, it could make it far worse, far more quickly, by making homelessness worse, putting more pressure on people, and creating greater insecurity of tenancies, resulting in more people entering into emergency accommodation. That is not what any of us want to achieve. We believe our Bill moves forward in the right way in terms of bringing greater protections to tenants and bringing greater balance as we try to make a more mature rental sector. We have to think of the risks in everything we do and of the unintended consequences. That is important in the approach we are taking. That is why the Government is not supporting this Bill. We are progressing some measures in it. We have other measures of our own which are a priority for us. We think that some of the fundamental measures in the Bill would make the situation worse and that is not what any of us want.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Bogaimid ar aghaidh anois le Sinn Féin, who have eight minutes. Sorry - it is Fianna Fáil next.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy Are they not all the same now? They are all the same for another year.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Ná déan dearmad ar Fianna Fáil.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher There are 20 minutes in the Fianna Fáil slot, to be led by Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien This is effectively the same Bill as was defeated back in 2017. There are elements of it-----

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger There are lots of new provisions in it.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Perhaps if we debate it on Second Stage and if-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher If Deputies wish to have private discussions, they can have them outside. In here, they must speak through the Chair.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien That is fair enough.

I am not a landlord but even if I were, as a Deputy I would be able to look at a Bill or proposal that comes forward on its merits. The idea that other colleagues cannot do so is somewhat unfortunate. It might grab a few headlines but it is an unfair charge. I am not a landlord. I was previously an accidental landlord, if Deputy Barry wishes to know, as many other people are. I was left with a property that I lived in, which my wife and I purchased at the height of the market and sold at a substantial loss and which I am still paying off. There are lots of people like me who are in that boat. If Deputies want to demonise the 90% of landlords who own one or two properties, many of whom were left in that position, that is fine.

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