Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (An Ceart chun Teaghaise) 2016: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]


9:40 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

It also provides the right to refer a landlord and tenant dispute or resolution to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 was passed by Dáil Eireann on 8 May and it was before the Seanad this evening. The main provisions of that Bill relate to making it a criminal offence for landlords to implement rent increases that contravene the law. It provides powers to the RTB to investigate and sanction administratively landlords who engage in improper conduct. It allows the RTB to initiate an investigation without the need for a complaint and requires the annual registration of tenancies with the RTB.

The designation of existing RPZs will be extended to the end of 2021. The exemptions from the 4% per annum rent increase restriction in RPZs have been revised so as to apply only to the first rent setting rather than to every rent setting during the period of RPZ designation in respect of a new rental property, including a property that had not been rented in the two-year period immediately prior to the commencement of a particular tenancy. Also, a definition is proposed to illustrate the type of works that qualify for the exemption from the rent increase restriction in respect of a substantial change in the nature of the rental property. Again, we have all heard the evidence around this issue and we are trying to deal with that too. Revisions are also proposed in respect of the average rent qualifying criterion for RPZ designation. Outside of RPZs, the requirement for biannual rent review cycles rather annual reviews will continue to the end of 2021.

The new RTB sanctioning regime will apply to improper conduct by a landlord who contravenes the tenancy termination provisions. Landlords will be required to copy a tenancy termination notice to the RTB. Where a landlord terminates a tenancy because he or she intends to sell the property, he or she must enter into a contract for sale within nine months of the termination date or else offer to relet to a former tenant who provides his or her contact details. There are more changes provided for in that legislation, of which those who took time to attend the debate on it will be aware. These key measures and reforms are designed to enhance enforcement powers for the RTB, to provide greater security of tenure for tenants and greater rights, and to underpin further the operation of the RPZ arrangements, with some further targeted priority measures.

In regard to the Sinn Féin Bill, it is important to note that, as stated, the general concept of potential inclusion of a right to housing in the Constitution is not intended to be opposed outright. I have said that I do not have an issue with the proposal, but there is a process to go through to get there. Any such step should be taken with the appropriate level of scrutiny and with due regard to the complexities that arise in proposing such an amendment to the Constitution. This matter was referred to a committee. Members of the relevant committee should try to have it brought forward for discussion. In the case of this Bill, it is not immediately clear what the effect of the proposed amendment would be. Given the potential for unintended consequential policy, legal and financial effects and the complexity of the issues raised by the eight convention report, it is appropriate that the Government should oppose this Bill and instead follow the process agreed, namely, referral of the eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. I hope that it will go through that journey also.

On a practical level, it is unclear what tangible effect the proposed constitutional amendment would have in terms of solving our current housing problems. I am not convinced this would provide us with additional houses. I have raised that question many times, but nobody has shown me how it would help us deliver more houses. I cannot see it. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is of that view also. This debate can continue, but it does not help or hinder us in any way in terms of what we are trying to do, which is to rebuild our social housing stock.

The social housing building programme has started. Money has been ring-fenced for the next ten years under Project 2040 to deliver that programme. I reiterate that nobody has challenged me on this. The ambition is to deliver 12,000 social houses per annum every year to 2028. I have read most of Sinn Féin's policies and seen no commitment therein to that level of social housing build year on year.


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