Dáil debates

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

 

4:00 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)

I support Social Democrats' amendment, but I also wish to speak to amendments Nos. 9, 11 to 13, inclusive, 37 and 38, all of which are mine. This cluster of amendments does something very similar to the amendment moved by Deputy O'Callaghan, albeit in a slightly more elaborate way. While the first amendment is probably the simplest amendment that I have tabled to this Bill, what it seeks to do is very profound, which is to widen the scope of the protections in this legislation to all tenants in the private rented sector.

5 o’clock

One argument the Minister has used both on Second Stage and today is that he wants legislation to be legally and constitutionally sound, arguing that the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, which we passed on 27 March, would not have stood that test. I would have no difficulty if the Minister had come to the House with a robust and legally and constitutionally sound Bill to do precisely that, but he has not done so and that is the fundamental problem.

A key provision of the emergency legislation was to prevent the spread of the virus. That was one of the legal underpinnings for the constraining of property rights that was rightfully supported by the House on 27 March. Vacant possession notices to quit have been the single largest cause of family homelessness in recent years. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, and Focus Ireland, through detailed research, have confirmed that to us on a number of occasions. More importantly, according to data from the DRHE for March and April, it witnessed a 56% drop in the number of presentations of families who had received vacant possession notices to quit moving into emergency accommodation, and the measures led to the lowest number of families with children in emergency accommodation in three years. I have spoken to front-line workers in homelessness services in the NGO and local government sector. They have said that more than any other measure, the ban the House agreed to, among others, on vacant possession notices to quit in March was the single greatest contributory factor in that trend.

The reason we should extend that provision is not just that we do not want these families to become homeless, but if they do become homeless, at a time when there is still a significant threat of spread of the virus, they will go into emergency accommodation and congregated residential settings, and the risk of the spread of the virus for those people and anybody they are in contact with will greatly increase. Given that the end of the ban will coincide with the reopening of schools and given that large numbers of children who are currently, or could in the future end up, in emergency accommodation will be going back to school, that risk of spread will be even greater. While I do not want to create alarm or panic, the whole purpose of restricting the flow of families with children into emergency accommodation was public health led. I firmly believe that the original provisions in the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, as passed on 27 March, continue to apply, particularly to those at risk of homelessness or of entering emergency accommodation.

My amendments, Nos. 11 and 12, will do something similar. The former seeks to extend the protections of the Bill to those who have received notices to quit from their landlords and are likely to result in homelessness, and there is a similar provision in amendment No. 12.

Amendment No. 13 is slightly different. In media debates and meetings with landlords in which I have taken part, many of them have rightly raised a concern. It is important that landlords hear that those of us who want to strengthen tenants' rights are not against good landlords who abide by the law and provide a decent service by providing affordable and secure accommodation. Many of us would, of course, much prefer if there were a far greater reliance on the public sector to deliver public housing, but insofar as there is a private rented sector where landlords abide by the rules and give their tenants good service, they should be supported in doing that.

Amendment No. 13 will create a number of very narrow exceptions to the general protections of what I and others in opposition would like to see in the Bill. If, for example, there is a tenant with a good job who simply decides to abuse these protections and not pay the rent, even though he or she clearly and demonstrably has a capacity to do so, the landlord should be entitled to take such a case to the Residential Tenancies Board during the emergency period, with the RTB to make a decision on the matter.

Likewise, where, for example, a tenant is engaged in the wilful, anti-social destruction of the property - I do not mean someone who might have complex issues in his or her life and needs support and assistance - he or she should not have the protection of the provisions I propose. Again, the RTB should be able to adjudicate in such cases. There may even be a tiny number of cases of accidental landlords - not professional or commercial landlords or people who turn a profit - for whom their inability to get access to the property could result in their becoming homeless, and that should be something that the RTB would at least be allowed to consider. Amendment No. 13 will allow the RTB to hear, mediate and adjudicate on such cases.

My final amendments in this grouping, Nos. 35 and 36, again simply seek to make the point, one that has been well made by others during the debate, that these protections should apply to all renters other than those in the narrowly defined circumstances I have outlined. On that basis, I urge Deputies to support the amendments.

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