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 Header Item Student Grant Scheme Administration (Continued)
 Header Item Local Authority Housing Evictions

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 835 No. 1

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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn] My intention is that the students will not be at a disadvantage. Having been told in good faith that they were getting the grant, they in turn made the necessary commitments and arrangements and they are now out of pocket.

Local Authority Housing Evictions

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis Tenants in this State are not protected adequately from summary eviction or eviction with no justification, while local authorities can legally evict without due process. Section 62 of the Housing Act 1962 allowed local authorities to adopt a summary procedure for evicting local authority tenants without a requirement to justify the decision before the District Court or an independent tribunal. This section was deemed by the Supreme Court in 2012 to have been in direct contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. Specifically, it was found in two cases to be in contravention of Articles 6 and 8 - the right to a fair trial and the right to respect for a person's private and family life, home and correspondence.

In April 2013 the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, said a Bill to repeal section 62 would be before the Dáil in the same year. As the one-year anniversary of the statement approaches, we still have not seen the Bill. Currently, despite the ruling of the courts, there is legislative backing in the State for a local authority to summarily evict tenants without any real justification and in some cases in direct opposition to the public good and the rights of the individual and his or her family. The inaction of the Government on this issue is particularly troublesome, while a number of cases in recent times show that councils in some cases still evict people without a proper and fair hearing and without justification.

Even if section 62 were repealed, there is a need for legislative protection from eviction for tenants, given the devastating effect it can have on people and its potential to put them out on the street. In Kerry in November 2013 a pregnant woman who was unemployed and had problems with alcohol was evicted by the council and forced to find shelter in emergency homeless accommodation. That was despite the securing of a District Court order. The action was in violation of the UN bill of rights, which states that evictions must be a reasonable and proportionate response, subject to due process and fair procedures, and subject to a further state obligation to take all appropriate measures to ensure that evicted individuals are not rendered homeless.

This month, Sinn Féin councillor John Brady received an eviction notice from Bray Town Council. His family now has just under a month to vacate their home. They have lived there for 13 years without issue and are an important part of their community. The reason given was that they had done work to their home more than ten years ago when the council told them it did not have the funds to carry out the work. The eviction notice comes after a prolonged period of campaigning by Councillor Brady for the rights of local authority tenants in the area, which saw him undertake an occupation of the town council offices with two women who had been made homeless with their children.

Another case is that of Patrick Collopy of Limerick city. The 26-year-old, who is living in Bishop Street, has been told by Limerick City Council that he will be kicked out of the home he shared with his mother Rita until her death last year. After her sad death, aged just 50, Patrick received a phone call from the council telling him that he must vacate the house on the grounds of the two-year tenancy rule. He has been up to date with his rent and has never been in trouble with the law.

In those cases the evictions were not fair or reasonable and they were not in the interests of the wider public good. That is why we need protections for tenants and why section 62 must be repealed. The Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, should be given a remit to work with council tenants as a residential tenancies board.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I thank Deputy Ellis for raising this matter. I found the issues he raised most interesting. Each housing authority is responsible, under section 58 of the Housing Act 1966, for the management and maintenance of its own housing stock. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on management issues relating to particular dwellings, as I have no function in individual cases and under the Local Government Act 2001 local authorities are, subject to law, independent in the performance of their statutory functions. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the two specific cases raised by Deputy Ellis.

I wish to set out the position on the law under which local authorities repossess their dwellings following termination of tenancies. Section 62 of the Housing Act 1966 currently sets out a summary court procedure for repossession. The procedure withstood constitutional challenges over the years but the enactment of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 resulted in further challenges. The Supreme Court declared in February 2012 that section 62 was incompatible with the State's obligations under Article 8 of the convention by reason of the absence of procedural safeguards where there is a factual dispute as to whether a tenancy has been properly terminated for breach of the tenancy agreement. Section 5 of the 2003 Act provides that a declaration of incompatibility does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the statutory provision in respect of which it is made.

Nonetheless, I have reviewed section 62 of the 1966 Act in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and housing authorities and the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill currently being drafted provides for a revised procedure for repossessing local authority dwellings. The new procedure will involve an independent hearing on the merits of the proposed repossession where there is a dispute about the basis for terminating the tenancy, which is often the case where anti-social behaviour is involved. The housing Bill, which also provides for the new housing assistance payment and a new tenant purchase scheme for local authority housing along incremental purchase lines, will be published in the coming months with a view to being enacted by the summer. Deputies will therefore have an opportunity in the near future to debate fully the new procedure for recovering possession of local authority dwellings. The Bill will also include measures to strengthen the powers of housing authorities and approved housing bodies to secure court orders to exclude from their dwellings and estates individuals engaged in anti-social behaviour.

The legislation currently going through the Oireachtas will bring tenants of approved housing bodies under the remit of the PRTB. In future, we wish to bring local authority tenants under the same remit. While we have not been able to do everything in the one go, in principle we agree that it is the next step in the process.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis I thank the Minister of State. She is aware that there is an urgent need for the District Court or an independent authority to judge each case on its merits and to be able to question the reason an eviction is being sought and not to merely give such decisions a rubber stamp, as was the case previously.

While we accept that evictions might take place for good reasons, such as anti-social behaviour, it is imperative that such mechanisms go through a robust legal process and are judged on that basis. The previous system was most unfair in that the decision was processed through the courts and could not be challenged, and there was no input from residents or tenants. No mechanism existed to scrutinise each case and examine it on its merits.

I agree with the recent Constitutional Convention recommendation that housing should be a right. We must have a proper procedure in place in the case of families being evicted. We must put in place a mechanism to deal with that and to follow up with families in such circumstances. Being evicted should not mean a person or family will end up homeless, and we must deal with such families in a proper way. That is the crux of the issue. Like others, I have experience of neighbours who cause major trouble in their areas and whom local authorities have sought to evict. I do not want a system that involves a rubber stamp; I want a proper, legal mechanism to deal with such situations. It is extremely important that such a system be above reproach and not involve hearsay.

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