Thursday, 30 July 2020
Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Richard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
It is just seeing as we were discussing procedure.
This is one law for the poor and one law for the rich. There are a number of examples, which I have cited regularly, of vulture funds using loopholes in the Residential Tenancies Act which were designed or left - I do not know - by the previous Government, and the Government before that, to facilitate vulture funds and unscrupulous landlords in evicting people.
Tenants in these situations have successfully challenged and exposed the dishonesty of the vulture funds, as has happened on two or three occasions in the St. Helen's Court complex that I have told the Minister about. It was clear that the claim for refurbishment the vulture fund was using to evict people was completely bogus. It did not need to evict people to do the refurbishments. In fact, when one looked at the apartments being refurbished it was clear they did not need to be refurbish them at all, or the refurbishments were so minor that eviction was certainly not required.
Most people in the block were tenants of the vulture fund but one or two were private owners and, strangely enough, the electrical works the fund claimed justified evicting people would have required the entire complex, including the privately-owned apartments, to have been vacated if it fund was telling the truth to the RTB. Of course, ourselves, Threshold and the tenants pointed out to the RTB that the vulture fund was lying. The board agreed in that case and the effort to mass evict those tenants fell on that ground. This was the second time the vulture fund tried to evict them and then there was a third attempt. It ground down half of the tenants who left and said they could take it anymore, even though it was clear the vulture fund was lying to the tenants and the RTB. All it wanted to do was get the tenants out, get vacant possession and maximise the value of the property or dramatically increase the rent and get around the rent caps.
I talked to the Minister about intervening and buying that block. There is a possibility the vulture fund is lying about planning to sell it. We should test it out and I hope the Minister will. There is a possibility that the company is a shell company operating on behalf of other people. A lot of funny stuff is going on but these people will not be criminalised, yet somebody who tries to prevent themselves and their family from being evicted into homelessness, particularly, during a public health pandemic, will be. I would do anything from my family. Would the Minister not do anything to stop his family being put out on the street, by a landlord he knew was evicting him to make money, if he knew that was the alternative? We are talking about people who are driven by money wanting to maximise the profit they can make out of a property and are willing to put families and children out on street, particularly, in the midst of a pandemic. If I was in that situation, I would do anything to protect my children. The Minister wants to criminalise them, which is shocking.
Fianna Fáil is a republican party. What does he think small peasant farmers did when faced with British landlords trying to throw them off the land? Would he say they might have been a bit dishonest with the landlords who were trying to evict them for whatever reason? They might have been, but we would mostly sympathise with them in trying to resist those evictions. It really is shocking that while these greed-driven vulture funds and unscrupulous landlords will be allowed to do whatever they want to do to get people out for money, they will not be criminalised if they happen to be dishonest in their efforts to do that.
However, a household that is doing nothing more than trying to ensure they are not made homeless in the middle of a pandemic will be criminalised. The Minister should accept our amendment and recognise that this represents gross double standards. It is applying different standards to the rich and powerful as against the standards being applied to vulnerable people trying to keep a roof over their head.