Thursday, 30 July 2020
Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Eoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, lines 6 to 8, to delete all words from and including “serves” in line 6 down to and including line 8 and substitute “in the opinion of the Board—”.
Section 4 of the Bill is the section that seeks to substantially narrow the scope of protections for tenants from the existing emergency provisions to those who have had their income reduced as a result of the impact of Covid-19 and who have rent arrears and, therefore, face a significant risk of losing their tenancy. The amendments to which I want to speak, amendments Nos. 2 and 3, deal with one specific provision of the section which relates to the requirement for tenants who fall into this category to write a declaration and submit it to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and to their landlord. These amendments also deal with section 4(1)(b), where in writing the statement tenants have to demonstrate that they are at "significant risk" of losing their tenancy.
During the Second Stage debate, several of us in the Opposition highlighted that requiring tenants, particularly vulnerable ones, to submit a written declaration causes major problems. Many tenants in the private rental sector, particularly at the lower end, have significant capacity issues. They could have mental health or addiction problems or language or literacy issues. While the Minister was right to state that some of those tenants can access the very good services available from the Citizen Information Board, Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, or the constituency clinics of many Teachtaí, not all those tenants can do that. We know that from the record. Requiring tenants to declare, therefore, is putting all the responsibility and onus on the tenants. Threshold recently produced research by Dr. Michael Byrne of UCD which made a compelling case that protection systems requiring tenants to declare, rather than giving them automatic protections, are always substantially weaker.
My amendment No. 2 simply removes the requirement to have such written declarations and allows the Residential Tenancies Board to make that decision based on the information it has before it, as it would ordinarily do. Amendment No.3 seeks to remove the word "significant" from the section concerning the risk to a tenancy. There is no legal definition of "significant risk" in this Bill, so nobody knows what that term means. It should be a simple case of if there is a risk to someone's tenancy, whether for rent arrears or for any other reason other than significant anti-social behaviour or wilful non-payment of rent, then the RTB should be able to grant all the protections that heretofore have been available during the emergency period, namely, a ban on evictions, notices to quit and rent increases.
I know the Minister is not going to accept these amendments, but those of us who want to maintain a strong, broad set of protections for renters at this crucial time of economic and health emergency should support these amendments.