Wednesday, 12 December 2018
Anti-Evictions Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Last week, Threshold published its annual report 2017. The report revealed that 32% of the 75,000 calls it received last year were in regard to eviction notices. The previous year, 2016, eviction notices accounted for 14% of calls to Threshold. Calls regarding eviction notices have more than doubled in one year. According to Threshold in Ireland, and in Europe generally, the private rental sector is the leading source of homelessness through evictions, legal and illegal. According to Focus Ireland, 69% of homeless people report that their last stable home was in the private rental sector. It is sheer insanity in the midst of the greatest housing crisis in the history of this State to allow the flow of evictions from the private rental sector to continue without a serious attempt to stem the flow. This Bill represents a serious attempt to stem the flow.
The 2017 report also reveals that the most common type of eviction notice references sale of property as the grounds for eviction and that there has been an increase in the number of eviction notices reported to Threshold in 2017 which reference renovation of property as the grounds for eviction. Half of all eviction notices dealt with by Threshold in 2017 were evictions on the grounds of renovation or sale of property. If this Bill were passed it would prevent all of these evictions. During Leaders' Question today the Taoiseach said the Bill we are discussing tonight is too extreme.
However, a ban on the sale of property as grounds for eviction is not uncommon in continental Europe. It is legal in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. I do not see landlords doing a runner out of Sweden or the Netherlands because a ban on evictions on the grounds of sale of property is the law of the land. There is a great deal of scaremongering on that issue. It is not these governments that are extreme on this issue but the Government of which the Minister is a part and which is presided over by the Taoiseach. It is extreme in allowing evictions to continue at this rate at a time of record homelessness.
Last night, I visited tenants at 539 North Circular Road. As explained by my colleague, Deputy Paul Murphy, on Leaders' Questions earlier, tenants in this 16-apartment building were issued with notices to quit at the end of October and face eviction at the beginning of January. The landlord, a Mr. James Anderson, has been a director or shareholder of no less than seven current or former companies with share capital of up to €1 million in one case.
It is inappropriate to name somebody who is not in the House or in a position to defend himself. I am not aware if this person has been named in the media. If he has, that is one matter.
I visited the property last night in order to see it for myself. This landlord is trying to evict families with children at Christmas on the grounds of renovation. Who is extreme? Is it the parties in the Dáil that would ban this practice or the parties that allow it to happen under the law?
I will list some of the key changes provided for in the Bill and comment briefly on some of them, aside from the two changes I have already outlined. The Bill would, first, ban the sale of property as a ground for eviction and, second, ban renovation as a ground for eviction. Third, in the case of a landlord wishing to evict to move a family member into the property, the Bill requires the landlord to compensate the tenant by way of six months back rent. Fourth, the Bill unambiguously extends tenant rights to students and affords them full tenant rights under the law. Fifth, in the event of a bank or receiver taking over a property with a tenant in situthe bank or receiver shall have full landlord responsibilities and the tenant will retain full tenant rights. Sixth, the Bill affords tenants full tenant rights after two months, as opposed to the current requirement of six months. Seventh, the Bill would remove the danger zone for tenants which allows evictions when a tenancy expires by rolling over Part 4 tenancies into a new tenancy arrangement.
With regard to the family member issue, 52% of such cases appealed to the RTB last year were found to be invalid. The provision in the Bill is an attempt to weed out bogus and illegal evictions of this type. The provision relating to banks and receivers will be of particular interest to tenants in the 12,732 buy-to-let properties identified by the Central Bank as being in long-term mortgage arrears of two years or more. As regards students being accorded tenant rights, this will apply to both privately-owned and publicly-owned student accommodation and will end the situation where public authorities such as State funded universities have been excluded under the legislation.
Earlier, the Taoiseach took issue with Solidarity's call for landlords to recuse themselves from voting on this issue. Some 15 Fianna Fáil Deputies, 14 Fine Gael Deputies, four members of the Cabinet and five Ministers of State are declared landlords. In society in general, 5% of the population are landlords. The proportion of landlords in the Dáil is far greater, particularly among the ranks of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties. The Taoiseach stated that those Deputies would not be guided by their vested interests in how they vote. I will not comment on that. The commitment of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to the capitalist market is probably a greater factor than the individual property interests of their Deputies. However, two years ago, in January 2017, the Dáil voted on Solidarity's anti-eviction Bill of 2016. The vote was tied - I believe it was 51 for and 51 against - and the Bill was defeated with the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle. It is a fact that if Deputies who are landlords had recused themselves from that division the Bill would have passed Second Stage. It is also a fact that if the Bill had passed all five Stages in 2017 a large number of the evictions carried out in the interim would have been illegal, most of them would have been prevented and the number of homeless people would be far lower than it is today. We make no apology for repeating our call for Deputies who are landlords not to vote on this Bill on Thursday.
The Taoiseach stated on "The Late Late Show" that the housing crisis keeps him awake at night, and the Government tells us it plans to bring forward legislation on these issues. It will introduce a rent register, extend eviction notice periods, provide a legal definition of substantial refurbishment and give increased powers to the RTB. I welcome any change the Government makes that improves the lot of tenants by one iota, whether it is under pressure from the emerging housing protest movement or from public opinion. However, these changes do not ban evictions or strike at the root of evictions. They will not stop many of them either. If Members wish to stop evictions, they will vote to ban them. As a result, they must vote for this Bill.
I will start by referring to what the Taoiseach stated earlier and the use of the term "extreme". This has become a familiar trope of the Taoiseach when referring to the socialist left and our policies. It is part of a wider, quite worrying, narrative that is taking hold in the mainstream political establishment across Europe, which says there are extremists on the right and extremists on the left and then the nice, sensible, pragmatic centre. An issue such as this tests that narrative in a concrete way and refutes it in the strongest terms.
For Elaine, who I have mentioned here previously but whose case is still on my desk, the situation is extreme. It is now past the date when she must leave her house. The landlord is evicting her and her four children on the ground of sale. She is now overholding. Although she did not have legal grounds to appeal she appealed just to delay the process because she had nowhere to go. Now, days before Christmas, she is faced with having to overhold or put herself and her four children into homelessness. It is worth pointing out what homelessness will mean for Elaine. She has been pleading with the local authority and the various agencies and bodies to try to find a solution. She does not want to overhold or to be in a confrontation with her landlord, who has told her he is going to the District Court to take out a summons to evict her.
In 2021, we will move away from an over-reliance on HAP - I accept there is an over-reliance - to having people accommodated in the stock of social housing. That is right and it is part of our Rebuilding Ireland plan.
The Government opposes the Bill. We support a number of measures in it and are progressing them. Other measures go too far and the Taoiseach was right to say that they are too extreme. Our rental market is not like that of other European countries yet. It is true that we do not have a mature rental sector. We are trying to reform it to make it into one, but we are doing so in a time of under-supply, which makes it more challenging. We do not have a cost rental market. In other countries, it is at 20% to 25%, but we are trying to build one. We do not have an independent regulator for tenants and landlords but we are trying to turn the RTB into one at the moment. We do not have enough supply and we do not have the professional landlord sector that they have in other European countries because they are more mature. We are losing landlords. It is a fact we cannot run away from. The majority of our landlords, 85%, own only one or two properties. I refer to an elderly couple making a small investment, someone perhaps inheriting a property that they did not think they would inherit, or people who never intended to own a second property. Some became accidental landlords through the crash because their family became larger and they wanted to move on. It is wrong to demonise these people, because they are providing homes to others whether they meant to or not. Buy-to-lets are being sold today and they are not being bought by other landlords. We are losing landlords and rental homes. We have to take that very seriously. Any new measure that comes into this House needs to be weighed against the risk of losing landlords and making things worse for people who are in the rental sector.
Unfortunately, there are always going to be grounds for evictions. Even people in the voluntary sector will tell us that. Evictions are not the main source for people entering into emergency accommodation and language here does matter. Deputy Boyd Barrett held up a newspaper advertisement recently of loans that had been owned by NAMA and that have now been sold. He called it public housing but it is not public housing. Language matters.
The Deputy said it was and it is not. We have to make a distinction between evictions and notices of termination. Even when we look at notices of termination, given the make-up of the rental sector that we have today we have to be careful in interfering more than we are at the moment. We have to make sure we are not placing extra burdens on small landlords and we have to make sure that we are not prohibiting someone from selling a property that they own; they might need to sell it for perfectly legitimate reasons in their own lives and may not have the money to compensate the person who is living in the property at that point in time. This Bill risks further undermining the rental sector. We need a strong, mature rental sector. We need landlords to be a part of that. I know the intentions might be noble here in trying to protect and help people like Elaine; I understand that. However, we have to think of the unintended consequences. We have to make sure we do not risk doing more harm than good.
As a Government, we believe we can bring about greater protections for renters without undermining the supply of homes for rent. The new residential tenancies Bill does that. It does not do everything but I believe it brings forward priority areas that I hope we all can agree on. I hope we can get that Bill through the House quickly in January and that we will have it as our first cause when we come back after the recess. It is going to do some good. I understand the Threshold report because I was at the launch of the report. We all believe it is right to support organisations such as Threshold that support people who find themselves in these difficulties. In the Bill we are bringing forward, we meet a number of the concerns that organisations such as Threshold and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, whose representatives I met earlier, believe we should progress as reforms.
It is important to spell out the main provisions of that forthcoming Government Bill in order that people understand what we are talking about. If someone breaches the rent caps that are in place at the moment, we will make it a criminal offence. We will have new RTB data tomorrow on what has happened in quarter 3 in the rental sector and that will underline the need to bring this through quickly in terms of making it a criminal offence to contravene the RPZs. The Bill will bring in new powers for the RTB to investigate and sanction landlords for non-compliance with RPZs. It will allow the RTB to act independently, which is important because the burden at the moment falls on tenants. That puts them in an unfair position because they do not want to risk losing their tenancy and do not want to kick up a fuss. It needs to be possible for the RTB to act independently. We are providing power to the board to do that in law as well as the resources that are provided in the budget for next year. We will extend the notice period for tenancy terminations, which is important. We are doubling it, in effect, beyond six months, which will give people more time when notice is served to find a new property. We are also making other amendments, for example, establishing a rent register and having rent transparency so people can see what is fair and can see automatically whether someone is trying to gouge them on the rent. Our Bill also provides to extend rent protections to student accommodation where we can.
In the future, we need to make sure we are protecting tenants' rights in receiverships and we will do that in a second Bill but it is more complex. We can allow for tenancies of indefinite duration, which are necessary for having a mature rental sector with long-term leases, and also for helping those landlords who have been providing below-market rents for so many years for their tenants and who got caught in the RPZs and find themselves in a position where they cannot increase the rent to cover the cost of maintaining the property. These areas are more complex and they will be addressed in future legislation.
The priority legislation that was published this week and that we can debate in the Dáil in January on the first day the Business Committee allows us will enable us to bring in important protections. As for the sanctions regime, we will put in place new resources for the RTB so we can have these inspections. A landlord could be found to be in breach in a number of ways, including not co-operating with an inspection in the first instance; not adhering to rent caps; not registering a tenancy; where they are making a substantial change, not doing so within the new law which we are defining; not notifying the RTB when they have invoked that exemption because they are doing a substantial renovation; or giving false information. All of these new measures are going to allow the RTB to protect tenants more, to have a more robust approach and to have its own independent inspections. Then, depending on the gravity of the situation, the RTB will be able to go down the criminal path or go down the new administrative path whereby it can levy a significant fine on a landlord of up to €15,000 and additionally another €15,000 to cover the RTB's own costs. It is very important that we give the RTB those powers and that administrative and criminal sanctions are available to it.
Student accommodation is an important area which we have debated as well. Currently student accommodation that is let under a tenancy agreement is covered by rent caps while purpose-built student accommodation under a licence or public authorities that license student accommodation are not. A piece of work is being done between myself and the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to try to bring that rental accommodation into the RPZs and into the definition of rent caps without doing other things that would adversely impact upon the supply of new student accommodation. We will bring that forward on Committee Stage and I hope to have everyone's support. We need to make sure we can do it in law so that it is not challenged because of having sufficient evidence and that piece of work is ongoing.
If this Bill were passed, it might result in a number of landlords moving to serve notices immediately. While the Deputies think it would move to help the situation, it could make it far worse, far more quickly, by making homelessness worse, putting more pressure on people, and creating greater insecurity of tenancies, resulting in more people entering into emergency accommodation. That is not what any of us want to achieve. We believe our Bill moves forward in the right way in terms of bringing greater protections to tenants and bringing greater balance as we try to make a more mature rental sector. We have to think of the risks in everything we do and of the unintended consequences. That is important in the approach we are taking. That is why the Government is not supporting this Bill. We are progressing some measures in it. We have other measures of our own which are a priority for us. We think that some of the fundamental measures in the Bill would make the situation worse and that is not what any of us want.
That is fair enough.
I am not a landlord but even if I were, as a Deputy I would be able to look at a Bill or proposal that comes forward on its merits. The idea that other colleagues cannot do so is somewhat unfortunate. It might grab a few headlines but it is an unfair charge. I am not a landlord. I was previously an accidental landlord, if Deputy Barry wishes to know, as many other people are. I was left with a property that I lived in, which my wife and I purchased at the height of the market and sold at a substantial loss and which I am still paying off. There are lots of people like me who are in that boat. If Deputies want to demonise the 90% of landlords who own one or two properties, many of whom were left in that position, that is fine.
I am interested in solutions. I read the Bill and I agree wholeheartedly, as we did previously, with how receivers and lenders who have taken possession of properties should be dealt with. They should be included in the definition of a landlord. Fianna Fáil tabled an amendment to the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 to allow that to happen. We discussed it with Government at the time and we are still committed to doing it. I hope we will see this happen in the Government's proposed residential tenancies (amendment) Bill.
I want to pass legislation that makes a difference. We can be very simplistic about it if we wish and I believe Deputy Barry knows he is being simplistic with elements of the Bill. Every day unfortunately I deal with people who are homeless or under threat of homelessness. If I thought for one minute that passing this Bill and particularly the element of completely disallowing the reason of sale for the issuing of an eviction notice, I would vote for it. However, Deputy Barry and his colleagues need to convince us that it is constitutional and would stand up to challenge. Unfortunately, having looked at it we do not believe it would. There may be an unintended consequence. If this is something they really wanted to do and they did not to just want to grab headlines and try to sell a simplistic solution that they know will not work, they should point out how this could actually be done in law. I do not believe that could be done. Do they not accept that bringing in this blunt measure would result in a flight of many other individual landlords, many of whom are good people and have had tenants for years? I want to see increase in supply and stable housing. As the Minister knows, I have been highly critical of the overdependence on housing assistance payments. We need to work towards the implementation of cost-rental models.
I say this with all due respect to Deputy Boyd Barrett because many of us are dealing with cases such as that of Elaine, Seamus and Michael all over the country. If we pass this Bill now it will not stop future evictions or solve this crisis. Even on a temporary basis I do not see how it would. While elements of it are well meaning, it is simplistic in the extreme.
I absolutely agree with the receivership amendment. Where homes are handed over and sold, tenants should not be affected. I do not see the reason for it. When the Minister responds he should outline the status of that. We have said Fianna Fáil will introduce legislation in this regard if that is not done.
My party and I have been very disappointed with the delay in publishing the residential tenancies (amendment) Bill. I hope that when it is finally published that we can move on with the elements of it that we agree on. I have worked with Deputy Ó Broin and Sinn Féin, and have worked with the Minister in trying to strengthen tenants' rights, and look at purpose-built student accommodation and other elements. The legality around tenancies, licence to reside and this whole market is not simple. It is incumbent on the elected Members of this House to ensure that anything we pass is constitutional, stands up to legal challenge and can actually be done, as opposed to just publishing an anti-evictions Bill and claiming it is the panacea for all our ills. It is not and everyone knows it. The proposers of the Bill know it contains elements that are deeply flawed.
With all due respect to Deputy Coppinger I do not see much difference between this Bill and the one presented previously. I absolutely agree with the inclusion of receivers and lenders. The blanket prohibition of sale of property as grounds for terminating a tenancy may lead to more people leaving the market and actually exacerbating the problem and driving up rents. That is not what my party wants to do and we could not support legislation that does that. However, we would absolutely support the receivership element of the Bill.
As we are in the Christmas season it is appropriate that we once again seek solutions that are practical and worthy of implementation. Bills put before this House should not just be ideological statements of principle. Our housing crisis is far too serious for that. Our national housing crisis deserves solutions that have a chance of being implemented and would provide help to those experiencing homelessness due to unaffordable rents and the sale of rental properties.
Unfortunately, this Bill does not do that. While it is titled as an anti-eviction Bill and I accept the genuine intentions of those behind it, the reality is that the Bill if enacted would certainly be contested in the courts. Between now and the judgment on the constitutionality of the Bill, there would be a massive market reaction. Owners of rental properties would immediately leave the market in large numbers. An anti-eviction Bill would in the real world outside this Chamber become an eviction Bill. Thousands of families would find themselves being issued notice to quit because of this Bill.
However, I have great sympathy for the intentions behind this Bill. There is abuse of the sale-of-property reason to get rid of tenants. This is contributing to homelessness and we need to be resolute in ensuring that rental properties are affordable and available for those who need them.
The introduction of six months’ rent in compensation is an unprecedented burden on all landlords, 86% of whom have two properties or less and many of whom are working their way out of negative equity. This proposal, therefore, would in many cases be unjustified and unaffordable. In reality it would substantially reduce the number of rental homes available just when we need every single rental home we can get.
We in Fianna Fáil are working on a solution to reduce the use of the sale-of-property reason to end viable tenancies. We need to be smart in our solutions. We need to introduce radical measures, but they need to be capable of working in the real world where property owners have rights enshrined in law.
Earlier my party leader outlined his responsible role in these crisis-ridden times to ensure the stability of Government for the coming year because of Brexit. Earlier the politics-as-usual brigade began its negative spinning about this principled decision that puts our nation before short-term political gain. The people are rightly angered at the Government's tardy response to the housing crisis. Everyone in this Chamber is committed to ensuring that we act as opposed to just commenting on the housing crisis. Having an election and the reality of coalition or minority Government talks would only serve to delay the introduction of solutions to our housing and rental crisis.
All the Members of this House were elected in the full knowledge that we have a national housing crisis. I ask them to act accordingly and in the spirit of our times to act collectively in the national interest with practical and radical measures to address our housing crisis. That would be public service worthy of the name. Unfortunately, this Bill, while worthy, is simply not a public service that will work.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to discuss these very important topics. A number of the measures are similar to measures Sinn Féin and others have proposed, but unfortunately have not been passed over the past two and a half years.
I disagree with the Minister and Taoiseach, who have described the Bill as too radical. While this is no criticism of the authors of the Bill, in fact it contains nothing radical at all. These are eminently sensible and reasonable proposals in the main, many of which would have a very significant benefit, not just for the individual families they would protect, but also for the stability of our rental market.
I listened to the Minister talk about the risks of introducing the Bill. Those same arguments will be used against the Minister's Bill by sections of the landlord representative organisation, which in my view often very poorly represents landlords in arguing why we should not support Government legislation when it is published and we come to debate it early next year.
I concur with Deputy Barry's point that vacant possession notices to quit are the single biggest cause of family homelessness at present. The Residential Tenancies Board and Focus Ireland have confirmed that. Most of us do not understand why the Government has not taken some action to stop the flow of families into homelessness as a result of vacant possession notices to quit. The loss of landlords is not necessarily a problem, depending on what happens to the properties involved. The Minister is correct in saying that we have lost 9,000 properties from our rental stock in the last year and a half, the first time this has happened in over two decades. The Government presents its policies as stabilising the rental sector when, in fact, it is in free fall. This has nothing to with protections, either existing or proposed, for tenants but is because of the financial situation of many of the owners of rental properties. Large numbers of people bought second homes, incentivised by the Government at the height of the boom with buy-to-let mortgage tax breaks. Subsequently, they got into significant mortgage distress and now that the property market has turned, they are under enormous pressure from their lenders to voluntarily sell. Nothing in this Bill, if it is passed, will change that. Furthermore, nothing in the Minister's forthcoming Bill, which I hope to be in a position to support early next year, will change it either. We must accept that we have a much bigger problem in our rental market in terms of landlords and properties exiting the rental sector and take some action.
What is lacking in Rebuilding Ireland is a long-term strategy for the stabilisation and professionalisation of our rental market. I am a rental tenant. I choose to live in the rental sector but it is still a very precarious and uncertain place to be in the context of security of tenure, rent levels and so on. While many improvements have been made in recent years with the Residential Tenancies Act and the Residential Tenancies Board, we still have a long way to go. Sinn Féin strongly believes that we need a well regulated, professional private rental sector that meets the needs of tenants and gives people who provide accommodation a reasonable rate of return, with security and affordability at its heart. We must find a way to stop the flow of properties from the rental sector into primary residences, as is currently the case.
On the Bill itself, the provision to include receivers and financial institutions in the definition of landlord is eminently sensible. Despite the fact that the Minister cannot support this Bill now, I ask that he includes such a provision in his own legislation. This is something that should be done as a matter of urgency. A reduction of the probation period from six to two months is also eminently sensible. Most landlords will know what a tenant is like after a couple of months and there is no reason not to do this. Regarding tenancies of indefinite duration, Sinn Féin is already on record as having proposed and strongly advocated same. The abolition of sale as grounds for notice to quit has real merit although it would need to be teased out on Committee Stage in terms of its full application. It is certainly a worthwhile proposal.
There is one part of the Bill about which I am less sure. I am not against it and am open to discussing further the section relating to compensation for termination. If we had, for example, new tenancies of indefinite duration and for some reason people were seeking to exit those, a case could be made for compensation. Whether that would work now in the context of some of the current rental scenarios is unclear but I am more than open to being convinced of it on Committee Stage and would certainly not object to the Bill on that basis.
The Bill provides for a significant tightening of the definition of refurbishment which, again, is eminently sensible. I would fully support all of the provisions relating to extensions of the notice to quit period with the exception of the last. I am not saying that I am against the last one which refers to 365 but I would need to be convinced of that particular length. Certainly, it is something that should be discussed.
The key issue is that the Government is not taking enough action to tackle the issue of evictions and vacant possession notices to quit. Until the Minister comes up with better proposals, my party is more than happy to support the Bill put forward by People Before Profit and Solidarity tonight.
I am glad to speak on this Bill tonight and to support it. The key focus is on notices to quit and the sale of properties. There are numerous instances all over the country of people who have been renting properties for a lengthy period who are receiving notices to quit in the post because the property is being sold, often to a vulture fund. They are given one month's notice but cannot find anywhere else to go. That is happening all over the place and we are all aware of it. We are meeting people every day who are in such situations and this Bill is a clear attempt to deal with the issue in the absence of any Government attempt to address it.
I would have some reservations about the provisions around compensation but they can be teased out further. Renovation as a grounds for termination is being used by many landlords as a means of getting rid of tenants who are paying rent at levels that were acceptable four or five years ago. I came across a case recently involving a couple in Dublin who were renting a one bedroom apartment for just over €1,200 per month. They were told that the apartment was being renovated and that they would have to move out. Within a week the apartment was back on the market for €1,650 per month. That is happening all over the country and is having a very negative effect on so many peoples' lives.
The housing assistance payment, HAP, has also been mentioned here. The rates under the HAP scheme are highly problematic. In County Leitrim, for example, a couple with two children or a couple with six children seeking to rent a home will get no more than €500 per month but in Carrick-on-Shannon one will not rent a three or four bedroom house for less than €700 per month. This must be addressed. Many landlords are evicting people because they have the opportunity to get much higher rents from tenants who are not in receipt of HAP payments.
A lot of the housing stock that is being built and provided, particularly in Dublin city, is for high flyers who can afford high rents. Properties are being provided for the people who are working in Google, Facebook and Apple and not for those who need housing at an affordable price. I commend the Bill and recommend it to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, parts of which are a no-brainer. Many people in this country are receiving notice to quit letters from banks which are moving to sell buy-to-let properties. We need to introduce a law in this country so that this does not continue to happen. In my opinion, many of the banks involved are scum. Yesterday in County Roscommon a group of 20 or 30 men with dogs came from the North, aided and abetted by An Garda Síochána who blocked off two roads. The group of men pegged three people, two of whom were elderly, out of a house and left them on the side of the road. They were aided and abetted by An Garda Síochána, which is disgraceful. Irish people need to wake up, especially if people are coming from the North. We must take them on and stop what is happening.
Regarding the mortgage to rent scheme, I have previously highlighted the fact that county councils are refusing applications because the properties involved are "too rural". Housing agencies are writing to local authorities seeking approval for mortgage to rent applications and being refused. The Department needs to tidy this up because it suggests that people in rural Ireland do not deserve to have a house or to qualify for the mortgage to rent scheme. That is the message from councils and the Department to people who are in mortgage distress at the moment.
Certainly there are elements of this Bill about which I would have concerns. However, as with all other legislation, the Bill can proceed to Committee Stage and be amended and improved. No Bill is perfect on day one and all legislation must be teased out in committee. Deputies will be concerned with different elements of the Bill but everyone in the House agrees that problems arise when the banks move in on buy-to-let properties. We must make it tough on the banks in particular because they are getting ruthless at this stage. What will happen when the next set of statistics is published? We will see that more and more people are without a home and more properties are vacant. These issues have been aired in this House for two or more years but the Government has done nothing about them.
I welcome the Bill coming before the Dáil once again. However, it is a pity that we must hold the debate again because the Bill was defeated last year as a result of Fianna Fáil abstaining and the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle going with the Government. We have a chance to correct that wrong. Those who voted against the Bill or who abstained last year have had 12 months to reflect on the continuing crisis that is homelessness and on the stress caused to those in insecure private tenancies. I hope they will now be prepared to support the Bill. If it had been passed in 2017, many families who find themselves in the position of being homeless would still have a roof over their heads.
People and families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads in a housing market that is not fit for purpose. People are being forced into a private rented sector that denies them basic protections. The Bill will give tenants greater protection and greater security of tenure by preventing landlords from evicting tenants on grounds of selling properties. In addition, tenants will be compensated if a landlord moves a family friend or member into the house or flat. Tenants will also be unable to be evicted on the grounds of renovating a building.
These are sensible and reasonable protections. The defeat of the Bill last year meant that an opportunity was missed. A year later, and with more people and families becoming homeless or at risk of doing so, I hope the House will not make the same mistake. I urge the Minister and Fianna Fáil to allow the Bill proceed to Committee Stage, at which point, I am sure, any changes they see fit can be considered. It is a reasonable request.
We, too, will support the Bill on Second Stage, although we would change some elements of it. Having published and presented the Residential Tenancies (Greater Security of Tenure and Rent Certainty) Bill, I note that elements of it are similar to the Bill before us. There are slightly different solutions to some of the issues but, in general, the legislation before the House is positive. We included a measure in our Bill regarding receivers and agents. It is long overdue and I agree with the proposals earlier that the Minister introduce that measure in his Bill. It has been proposed for a number of years but it has not happened. Many people in the rental sector must pay rent to agents or receivers. Such individuals need to be protected as much as others who rent. As a result, we support that proposal.
I also support the approach to the issue of eviction for sale, which is probably the most important element of the Bill. Other countries seem to have no problem maintaining the security of tenants when properties are sold. This is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed. In some cases, it is good for landlords also when they can pass on a properties in which there are secure tenants in place who have been paying rent. The Minister should consider that aspect also.
In the context of evictions on the grounds of renovation, the solution in this regard was to provide that the only circumstances in which a landlord could ask a tenant to vacate a property would be in order to make it fit for human habitation. People should not have to live in properties that are unfit for habitation.
On evictions of families, the solution put forward in the Bill is to require compensation be paid. I have some doubts about that. Our proposal was a tightening of the definition of "family" because that definition is currently quite broad. However, these are just differences in approach.
There are many Bills - including two that I brought forward - are due to go before the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. We have debated a number of Bills relating to housing in the Camber. Judging by the tone of what I have heard from the Government party and Fianna Fáil thus far, I fear that this Bill will have the same fate as many other Opposition Bills, namely, the Government will vote against it and Fianna Fáil will abstain. The Minister is bringing forward his own Bill. In that context, those of us on this side of the House should table amendments in respect of it in order that we might achieve what we have all been trying achieve. I certainly intend to do so. I welcome elements of the Minister's Bill, although we have seen only the press statement relating to it rather than the Bill itself. He stated that he will publish it this week. I hope he will accept amendments from the Opposition and incorporate many of our proposals. Substantial proposals have been made by the Opposition parties. Every day of the week we all deal with people who are faced with eviction and rents they cannot pay or who have no security in the private rented sector. In bringing forward his Bill, the Minister should take the opportunity to listen to what we have to say and incorporate it.
Although I welcome the Minister's comment to the effect that he will provide a definition of "substantial change" and the nature of accommodation provided under the tenancy, and that he will publish a rent register, he also stated that the register the subject of due diligence in the Office of the Attorney General. I worry, therefore, that it might not be the kind of rent register we need, namely, publishing rents as they are in order that a new tenant will know exactly what the rent was in a specific property, which I hope is what happens. I am also cautious about the student accommodation measure. The Minister stated that he may possibly extend the application of certain provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act following consultation with, again, the Office of the Attorney General and so on. I wait in hope that both of those measures will materialise.
We have heard much talk about regulating short-term lets, an issue which my colleague, Senator Kevin Humphreys, has raised on multiple occasions. We have not seen the specific proposals, however, and they are not ready to be implemented. Other issues include deposit protection, for which there is an enabling measure already in legislation to provide for a deposit protection scheme, but that has not been progressed by the Minister. Another matter we have raised relates to some landlords requesting deposits of more than one month's rent. That should be addressed in the Minister's Bill along with many other matters. I hope he will take the opportunity to do so.
I know the Minister intends to tighten up the rent pressure zone regulations to prevent evasion, which is not the intention of the Bill before us. I speak as a representative for the city of Limerick, which is excluded from those regulations. I have raised this point on many previous occasions and I raise it again now. There has been an increase of more than 20% in rents in Limerick city in the past year, while Waterford city has seen an increase of nearly 20%. However, those two cities are excluded from rent pressure zones. There are other areas in neighbouring counties around Dublin that are in a similar situation. It has been two years since that legislation was passed after much late-night debate and consultation. It is deeply unfair that the Government is constantly chasing the tight regulation for being included in the rent pressure zones, such as by including above-average rents in the particular local electoral area, or whatever the term is for the areas in question. In some instances, both urban and rural areas are included, leading to an unfair situation for people in the city areas who pay high rents. This matter needs to be reviewed because it is grossly unfair for the people who are excluded and who constantly chase increases in rent that they cannot afford. It is a crucial issue.
I also attended the launch of Threshold's annual report. Threshold has pleaded for many of these issues to be addressed and, being at the coalface, it knows exactly the kind of issues that are faced by tenants in the private rented sector, as do we from our work as public representatives.
We need meaningful responses that will deal with the issues people are facing. The most realistic opportunity to address these issues is in the Bill that the Minister will bring forward because he has the power to drive it forward whereas, unfortunately, Opposition Bills tend to sit and not to be enacted. That said, we welcome this Bill and will support it.
I have listened to the debate and do not accept many of the arguments put forward by the two Government parties. I welcome the Bill from Solidarity_PBP and agree with enhancing the rights of tenants. Currently, if a tenant is in situin a property for six months or longer, they automatically receive security of tenure for six years in what is known as a Part 4 tenancy. This Bill seeks to automatically create a Part 4 tenancy after a tenant has been in the property for two months or more, the idea being that this will ensure more renters receive security of tenure more quickly. The problem with this, however, is that there is no minimum limit set in law for how long a lease or tenancy agreement can last and there has been an increase in landlords creating leases of five months and 29 days to ensure that tenants do not automatically receive Part 4 rights. The two best friends of Chris, the guy in my office, have been caught by that lately. They could only get leases of five months and 29 days. I am concerned that allowing a tenant to receive Part 4 rights after two months might lead to even shorter leases. That would need to be blocked or landlords would draw up leases for one month and 29 days, which would not be illegal at the moment but should be made so.
One would not need to be a rocket scientist to know that it is a landlord's market at the moment and they will get their way unless we legislate for it. An overhaul of tenancy agreements and leases is not needed. A better way to resolve this problem would be to follow the German model, which ensures that a lease is always for an indefinite period and if landlords want to deviate from this and create a fixed period lease, they must fulfil one of the following three conditions for the tenancy: the landlord wishes to use the premises as a dwelling for himself, members of his family or his household; the landlord wishes to eliminate the premises or change or repair them so substantially that the measures would be significantly more difficult as a result of a continuation of the lease; or the landlord wishes to rent the premises to a person obliged to perform services, for an example, an employee of the landlord. The proof of indefinite leases is in the pudding as evidenced by the most recent German census in 2011, which showed that of the 41.3 million dwellings in Germany, 52% are used for rental purposes. The EU average is 29% and the Irish figure is 19%.
I heard the Minister complaining earlier about the fact that we are losing landlords. If we are losing them, we know why. I was glad to hear Deputy Ó Broin make the point that many people had no choice but to sell because they bought when property was too dear and had to sell. If the Government wanted to keep them as landlords, it could have helped them in some way keep their houses. The main reason the number of landlords has gone down is that the Government brought in the real estate investment trusts, REITS, which is nuts, allowing people to buy so many of these properties en bloc. I agree with increasing the extension of notice periods and with removing the sale or renovation of property as a ground for terminating a Part 4 tenancy. A new problem that has emerged in the past two years and that has contributed to rent increases is the fact that large-scale apartment blocks are being sold in bulk by developers or NAMA to institutional landlords such as REITs. It was presented to us a great idea because it was going to bring in professional landlords but it is a pity people cannot afford to pay them.
I am delighted to briefly support Solidarity-PBP's Bill. On 18 January last year, a similar Bill was almost passed by the House, when sadly and unfortunately, the Fianna Fáil Party abstained from the vote which was tied 51:51. I warmly commend Solidarity-PBP for updating and reintroducing this vitally important Bill. I note that student-specific accommodation is mentioned along with several other changes.
This Bill will provide much greater security of tenure. It will significantly extend notice periods and force landlords to pay compensation to tenants who have been evicted because family members have moved back into the accommodation and other improvements. The out of control property and rental sector has been the major contributory factor in our homelessness crisis, along with the total inaction of Government. It is laughable to hear people talking about introducing Bills when they were in government for many long years and had opportunity after opportunity to bring in this type of Bill and failed to do so.
All the important agencies in the housing area working on the ground with individuals and families confirm that a stream of people, week in week out, are entering homelessness because of eviction notices, increased and unaffordable rents, and excuses about selling or refurbishing property just for it to be re-advertised at a higher rent leading to renovictions. That is the nub of the situation in my experience every week meeting families and individuals in homelessness or facing homelessness.
I welcome many sections of the Bill, particularly section 5, which provides for the abolition of the sale of property as grounds for terminating rental of a property by amending sections 34 and 35 of the 2004 Act. Section 6 is also important regarding the termination of a tenancy on the grounds of needing the dwelling for occupation by the landlord or a member of the family and section 7 abolishes refurbishment or renovation as grounds for terminating a tenancy. The extension of the notice periods to a year for people with a tenancy of five years or more is crucial and valuable and should be approved by the House
We are a few days from Christmas and almost 4,000 of our children are still in desperate, homeless accommodation, in family hubs or hotels or they are the hidden homeless in grossly overcrowded households. The Minister of State, Deputy English and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Taoiseach are totally responsible for that.
I note that the excellent Mick Caul and the #mynameis campaign will bring their hashtag-Twitter tree to the Dáil on 19 December. We will be able to read the tweets regarding what the public thinks of child homelessness this Christmas. They are infuriated by it. That is why they would have liked a general election in the next couple of weeks. Today Fianna Fáil has decided again to prop up this Government which has been so incompetent in the housing and health areas, and which has failed to achieve anything. Under the curtain of Brexit fears, Fianna Fáil is prepared to prop up the Government-----
The party is going on with it and not serving this country. We need to give people a chance to make a decision about the housing and rental policies of this Government, a large component of which is comprised of landlords. We need to give people a chance to vote on that as soon as possible but I commend this Bill to the House.
I am pleased to contribute to the debate. Many Private Member's Bills have been brought in and this is an effort to try to deal with the savage fact that there are more than 10,000 people homeless, including 4,000 children, which is shocking. While I might not agree with aspects of the Bill because I do not believe that all landlords are bad, I acknowledge it is an effort to get the Government to move some way. There has been a lot of piecemeal work and there have been almost more Ministers in the past five or six years than houses built.
Deputy Kelly promised the world and all when he was the Minister. Ed Honohan brought forward a Bill and, while I do not want to take away from this Bill, he has the expertise as a Master of the High Court. This Bill was sponsored by Deputy McGuinness, Senator Norris and me. It had the backing of Father Peter McVerry and the Right2Homes organisation.
It was brought forward because the time for piecemeal and clearly ineffective solutions to the mortgage crisis was passed. As stated, the original Bill was sponsored by Deputy McGuinness, Senator Norris and myself. It has been significantly revamped in line with the Standing Orders of the Dáil. The problem is that it was a money Bill, but, in fairness, we looked at it again with Fr. McVerry and many others and tried to organise something. I hope the version of the Bill before the House will pass Second Stage.
We have tabled endless Private Members' Bills and motions. One of our motions on An Post was passed unanimously by the Dáil. The wording was agreed by the Minister and accepted but nothing was done about it, while post offices continue to close. The same is happening in the context of housing. We are wasting a lot of time in here. If words could build houses, we would build many of them and fewer people would be homeless. Will the Minister of State try to engage with the Opposition? The various groups have ideas and come at matters from different angles. They want to help resolve the housing crisis.
Deputy Healy also introduced a Bill recently. We are all trying to do our best but there is a savage inertia in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. County and city councils have completely lost their way in terms of building houses. They built them in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the noughties but then everything crashed and we cannot get the process restarted. We have announcements of modular schemes and other approaches but nothing is happening. The Minister of State, Deputy English, keeps making announcements and then regurgitates them a year or two later. We turned a sod recently at Glenconnor in Clonmel. That was the second time a sod was turned in two and a half years. I do not think the work there has commenced yet. The project is welcome, although it only involves a small number of houses, perhaps up to 16. We must get small builders and others involved in construction. We must deal with evictions, which are horrific. There is no place for them in modern Ireland. There was one yesterday in Roscommon where, again, thugs from outside the jurisdiction arrived on behalf of a bank. They terrorised an old woman and threw her out on the road. That is disgraceful. I call them a third force militia. They have no place on this island. We must have protections for people. That is why I support the Bill.
I fundamentally disagree with some of what has been said about landlords. We cannot demonise all landlords and state that they are bad. However, we must deal with the situation whereby people are being forced out of their homes. Let us look what has happened with Permanent TSB. A very sick man who is a soldier and whose wife is on sick leave due to stress discovered this week that their loan has been sold on. They were in an arrangement at the request of the bank and were honouring it. I heard some murmurings today that such arrangements will be honoured by the vulture funds. That will not be the case because there is no compulsion on such funds to honour them. We tried to get legislation passed to compel vulture funds to honour agreements but the Government did not accept it. When Deputy Noonan was Minister for Finance, he stated that he would bring in the vulture funds to pick over the dead carcasses. What an awful thing to say. I had respect for the then Minister but that is unbelievable. The Government is allowing vulture funds to evict people and to terrorise them. That is traumatic, even in the absence of violence.
Sheriffs are another group who must be reined in. The laws setting out the powers and functions of the sheriffs are outdated. They have been in place since the previous century. A lot of money goes to service agents and costs are added to those of already hard-pressed homeowners. People want a break. Many of the people who are in trouble tried to find homes for themselves. They did not look for homes from the State. They got loans, found sites and built houses. Now the roof over their heads is being threatened in the run-up to Christmas. While there are celebrations everywhere, people are being threatened with evictions. The thuggery that went on in Roscommon yesterday is going on in every county. It shows vulture funds and banks can do what they like and the Garda often stand idly by. I do not blame local gardaí; I blame the authorities that allow those third force people to operate. They were allowed to park in Balbriggan station one day while they threw a family out on the road. It is totally unheard of. There is no place for that in a modern democracy.
I appeal to the Minister of State to cut out all the talks, meetings, engagements and announcements. He should introduce some real legislative change and adopt Ed Honohan's Bill. However, he will not do that because he does not want to do it. He should try to engage with the Bill introduced by Solidarity-People Before Profit, but he will not do that because he does not want to do it. The Government has all the answers, yet it has no answer as we have 10,000 people on a housing list, including 4,000 children. The Government should be ashamed.
I agree with what Deputy Broughan stated about my erstwhile colleagues. We had a big announcement today when we were talking about Brexit. I understand that Brexit is very important but I do not approve of Fianna Fáil keeping the Government in power-----
-----for another year. The people want rid of Fianna Fáil because it has failed them. What will happen is that they will get rid of Fianna Fáil altogether because they are so disgusted. Fianna Fáil is a fake Opposition. Fianna Fáil was united last week when it came to abortion. Fianna Fáil can be as united as it likes. It can unite on this issue but it cannot unite and build houses for people or listen to the people who want to build houses. The way people are being treated is downright blackguarding and treachery. To think we will have to put up with Fianna Fáil for another year is an abomination to the public, to me and to many others. I agree that Brexit is most serious but it beats Banagher to give the Government another year. Confidence and supply is based on having a fake Opposition. It is totally farcical. Fianna Fáil is not delivering the goods for anybody, whether it is in housing, health, in providing decent jobs for people or supporting communities. Ní neart go chur le chéile. I do not know what is going on or what has got into the main Opposition party, as it was supposed to be, to give so long talking about it – five or six months – and to announce today that it would keep the members of the Government in their State cars for another year, and then it will see. I heard Deputy Micheál Martin state that the agreement will continue unless something interrupts it. The Government could drop the ball. Fianna Fáil could drop the ball at any time because it is afraid of the ball. They are afraid of the people and they will not face them.
My parting word to the Minister of State is to get some houses built, keep people in their homes, change the legislation on evictions and give people some bit of respect.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Anti-Evictions Bill 2018. I commend Solidarity-People Before Profit on bringing it forward and confirm my support for it. This is one of a number of Bills and numerous Private Members' motions that have been before the House in recent years. Hardly a week has gone by in the past two and a half years without some housing issue being on the agenda. The Government is completely out of touch with the situation on the ground. It is supported by Fianna Fáil, which is also completely out of touch. Both the Government and Fianna Fáil are effectively supporting an emergency housing crisis. We all know that is the case.
The Government policy and that of Fianna Fáil has been a disastrous failure. The policy has been to privatise local authority housing in the first instance. That started back in the early 2000s with Fianna Fáil. I remember well when it was announced at a housing meeting when I was a member of South Tipperary County Council. Since then, many of us said that it would be a disaster, that it would not work and that the private sector would never deliver the houses that were needed. Sadly, we have the proof of the pudding now that more than 10,000 people, including 4,000 children, are homeless. The situation is disastrous for thousands of families. Fr. McVerry has said this crisis is affecting 500,000 people.
This Government and previous Administrations have produced a housing policy that is, in effect, relying on the private sector. It is relying on vulture funds, developers and landlords. That policy has failed and it has created the current emergency. The Government should listen to independent academics and to organisations involved in the housing area. Each and every one of them has said that the private rented sector is a complete and absolute disaster and that it is driving homelessness. We know that more than 50% of families who become homeless do so directly from the private rented sector. Only recently, Professor Tony Fahey from the school of social policy at UCD said exactly that.
In fact, he said that, 100 years after the Land League, when fair rent and fixity of tenure was the big issue, this issue is now back on the agenda today in the private rental sector for thousands of families who are forced to rent privately and either pay landlords directly or through the HAP scheme. Professor Fahey said 30% of families are going to suffer a lifetime of substantial rents as tenants. Professor Eoin O'Sullivan said more than 50% of families becoming homeless come from the private rented sector. He also said that unless the right to terminate tenancies, that is, the right to evict people, is stopped, the flow into homelessness will continue. Niamh Randall of Simon said there can be no effective rent control while evictions from private rented dwellings continue.
I welcome this Bill. I raised many of these issues on another Bill some weeks ago. There is no doubt this Bill is essential if anything is to be done. It will not solve the housing problem, and its movers do not suggest it will. What it will do is stop the situation getting worse. The situation is getting worse, irrespective of what the Minister of State will tell us. We know exactly what he will tell us because he told us the same thing a fortnight ago, a fortnight before that and a month before that, and for the past two and a half years, namely, Government policy is working. However, Government policy is not working. Anybody who has any bit of common sense or any bit of grey matter between their ears, or anybody who is affected by the housing crisis, knows the policy is not working and that it has to change.
The issues raised in this Bill regarding evictions and the sale of properties with vacant possession are essential matters to deal with if the situation is not to worsen. This Bill will only deal with those areas and it will mean the situation will not get worse. We need a major emergency programme of building of public housing on public land by local authorities if the housing crisis is to be tackled successfully. However, the Government has turned its face against this. It continues to rely on landlords, vulture funds and developers, rather than looking towards the local authorities and the building of large numbers of public houses on public land. I support the Bill and I commend those who moved it.
I want to start by paying tribute to the hundreds of volunteers who will spend tonight and many nights between now and Christmas in the towns and cities across this country helping homeless people, those in poverty and those living in temporary accommodation by giving them food, toys and clothes and by entertaining them. They do so because there is a void in the services being provided by the State. There is a void because the State has allowed thousands of people to live in homelessness but it has also created a void for people who are in a poverty trap and who are desperate. Let us take our hats off to those volunteers who do this work for nothing. It indicates that we have a population that cares much more about each other than the Government cares about them.
I spoke on this issue last year when this Bill was before the House in a different guise. At that time I quoted the story of Selina Hogan from Ballyfermot who was about to be evicted from private accommodation with her two children, one with special needs and a teenage daughter who was suffering from depression because of what they were facing. I was guaranteed that she would be looked after, that she would probably spend a little time in temporary accommodation and then go into a family hub for about six months, and that she would then be able to access HAP. More than a year later, having spent almost a year in a family hub and in hotel accommodation before that, Selina is still in the Ballyfermot family hub with no sign of her getting a home, her children are no better and her mental health is no better. This evening, I spoke to Darren Cuffe from lower Ballyfermot, a 44-year old man who is a diabetic on dialysis and who is going blind. The landlord has given him notice to quit. He took a case to the RTB and the landlord gave him further notice to quit, and that notice has now run out. I told Darren what Eileen Gleeson, the head of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, told me to tell people, namely, to overstay because there was nowhere for them to go. Darren would not survive ten minutes in a hostel, and that is all he would be given because he is a single man. There is also the case of Amina, her brother and her mother. The mother is in her 70s and her daughter and son are in their 40s, and they are to lose their home before Christmas. I am telling them the same thing: overstay because they have nowhere to go, their mother is not well and she will not survive in a hostel or a hotel room.
That is the situation we are faced with on a daily basis. Nothing has changed in the past year, except it has gotten worse. The Minister's predecessor argued against the Bill at the time, when he said: "the issues involved are being addressed comprehensively through the Rental Strategy ... and the associated legislative changes introduced under the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 ... which is already delivering positive outcomes for tenants.” He went on to claim the Anti-Evictions Bill 2016: “pre-empts any assessment of the positive impacts on tenants’ security that will arise from the implementation of the Strategy’s Rent Predictability measure in those areas already designated as Rent Pressures Zones”.
His colleagues in Fianna Fáil at the time raised the catch-all spectre that always bothers the rhetoric of great parliamentarians in this House - that of unintended consequences. What has happened since? What have been the intended consequences of the Government’s opposition to this Bill and the intended consequences of its housing policy? We know from Threshold's reports that it has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of calls received from tenants in danger of losing their homes because their landlords claimed they were about to sell the property. Some 32% of calls to Threshold in 2017 were from renters who were about to lose their homes, which is up 18% from 2016. Threshold received 73,500 calls from the public last year. There is an increased vulnerability in this sector. The private rented sector is the leading source of homelessness in this country through evictions, both legal and illegal. I heard the contribution from Deputy Fitzmaurice and one could only think of the recent film "Black 47" when he talked about the eviction he witnessed in Longford.
The consequences of the Minister's opposition to this Bill last year have been to increase evictions and to exacerbate the crisis and the misery facing many people. In the meantime, he continues to rely on the private market to deliver the housing. He has failed, as his predecessors, the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, and Deputy Alan Kelly did. They failed because of their subservience to the market and to profits, and their hostility to building public houses on public land. The Government has enriched a cohort of REITs, private landlords, vulture funds, estate agents, speculators, developers and builders, and it continues to do so. It has failed to limit rent increases. Average rents across the Republic reached another peak of €1,304 a month, €560 higher than they were at the trough in 2011, and more than 26% higher than their high point during the Celtic tiger. According to the quarterly rental reports from the property websites, prices across the State are €274 per month higher than they were in the 2008 peak. The capital has seen the highest average rent rises in the country at €1,936.
That is 13.4% higher than the rate in June. So much for the Government's rent pressure zones and controlling rents. This is not a mistake or an unforeseen consequence of Government policy. It is a planned result of the Government's incompetence and its class instincts. It is the instinct to weigh in with the landlord class, the very wealthy, investors, builders and developers rather than with ordinary people, as the volunteers working across the country tonight are doing. There is a war against the poor and the average working man and woman.
The Minister of State has directed his energies only towards the creation of new methods of counting the homeless which he can use to pretend his policy is working. He is the great pretender. He pretends that housing output is greater than it is and that social housing builds are greater than they are. The Minister of State is pretending that homelessness and rough sleeping rates are falling and that rents are stabilising. His policies are working in one sense. They work for landlords, investors, hedge funds, REITs and, in the Minister of State's world of pretend, the Government. Incentives and funds have been thrown at builders and developers. The Government has moved heaven and earth to attract vulture funds and investment REITs. However, it has not done the one thing that might help to end the misery for thousands of people. It has failed to change the law to redress the imbalance of power between landlord and tenant. It has not tried to ensure citizens and tenants have security of tenure and fair rents and it has not even considered doing what the country managed to do when it was vastly poorer and had far fewer resources, namely, build public houses on public lands at the scale required. The Government does not appear to be capable of doing the same and it certainly does not appear to have the political will to try.
My penultimate word is directed to those landlords who occupy seats in the House, of whom there are at least 40 but probably more if one counts Independents. I do not begrudge them having an extra earner on the side, but I do begrudge the conflict of interest where landlords vote on a Bill like this. This is a Bill which proposes to prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for the purposes of the sale or renovation of the property. Darren Cuffe was told his property needed to be renovated and Amina was told her property was to be sold. There is a conflict of interest for any Member who votes on this Bill and who is also a landlord. I call on Members to use their consciences and do the decent thing. Even if it minimises the voting power in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to a large degree, it is the decent thing to do. If it is not done, Members are being utterly indecent in their approach to the Bill.
My final word is directed to Fianna Fáil. The last time around, it abstained from voting on the Bill. However, I am hearing more utterances of opposition tonight for some reason than I did on the previous occasion. Fianna Fáil Deputies must also do the decent thing and abstain this time around. If they do, we may have a chance to prick the conscience of the Ceann Comhairle who, unfortunately and almost tragically for many families, used his casting vote to throw out this Bill.
I accept his statement that I did not hear. I say to anyone with a modicum of decency in the House that we must change what we are doing and share the wealth for the benefit of the majority, not hog it in the hands of a tiny few.
Every time we have a debate in the House, I have to remind Members that there is a social housing building programme under way. Deputy Healy and others claimed again tonight that the Government is doing nothing.
Through the Chair, the accusation that there is no social housing building programme is made every week. I accept that it is not the delivery we all want, but it is wrong to continue to come to the House and claim there is no social housing programme. It is not the truth.
The Government is committed to a social housing building programme and, what is more, taxpayers are committed to it too. There is €6 billion on the table to fund it and more as well. Under Rebuilding Ireland 2040, money has been set aside to deliver up to 12,000 social houses every year to 2027 and 2028. What happens after that will be for another Government to decide but this one has put in place a process to deliver over 10,000 social houses next year and 12,000 every year thereafter. The money is behind it. As such, I ask Members not to come to the House week after week to state that there is no commitment. It is not true.
I have no problem with Members stating that it is not enough or that they want more. That is fine. We can all agree with that, but I ask them not to continue to say it is not happening. We have to be very clear about that. The accusation is also made that the Government is relying solely on the private sector but that is not true either. What is true is that in the early stages of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government was the first to accept we had to work with the private sector because we wanted houses last year, this year and next year. While we build our new houses, we are working with the private sector and will buy houses from it under turn-key and build-to-order and we will rent houses through HAP because people need homes now. If we had the philosophy of the Members opposite, people in need of houses today would not be allowed to have a housing assistance payment and would be left sitting on the side of the road waiting for them to build all of the houses. No matter who builds them, it is not possible to build 50,000 or 60,000 in one week or one year. It takes a couple of years to do it. If we did not work with the private sector, people would not have homes.
We all agree that the number of families in emergency accommodation is far too high. Nobody - not the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the Department or me - wants that. No one wants to see people living in emergency accommodation, whether it is a hotel, bed and breakfast or family hub. Those are not places to be. However, if we failed to engage with the private sector in some form, there would be thousands more in emergency accommodation, which none of us wants. We are committed to social housing and have a greater vision in that regard than any other party here. Most people call for just 10,000 houses but we are going beyond that to 12,000 social houses a year, and rightly so given that we are behind where it should be.
Our ambition on behalf of the State is greater than that of most people here. However, we must use HAP and other schemes in the short term to provide housing solutions. I do not apologise for that. I wish we had enough social housing stock to avoid it, but we do not because other Governments did not build it. We are committed to correcting that and I hope future Governments continue the work we started in the building of social houses. I agree with everyone that we should have a proper supply of social housing and do not but that is being addressed. We will address the matter as quickly as we can and do more as we go along.
Deputy Bríd Smith mentioned a family who were in a hub for a year but she did not say whether they were offered a housing solution. I gather from her that they were not offered a permanent social housing solution but I do not know if they were offered a HAP house.
I am just saying that I am not aware of the case the Deputy mentioned. She said they were in a family hub for a year. The majority of people are not in family hubs for a year, they are there for less than six months and move on.
Through the Chair, if someone is in a family hub for over a year, we will check it out. I have asked whether the family was offered a housing solution and I get the impression they might have been, albeit not the permanent housing solution but perhaps a HAP solution. I have been to a lot of family hubs and I note that a lot of people move through them quite quickly and rightly so. It is not the intention that people will spend a year or two in a family hub. The hope is that they will be in and out in under six months, as happens in the majority, albeit not all, cases. We are trying to address that. The Deputy mentioned a family's case and we will check it out to see where matters stand.
Again I want to get back to this Bill. The residential sector is an essential component of the housing sector. Its vital role needs to be recognised and planned for. The sector has gone through considerable change in the past ten to 15 years. It has doubled in size and provides long-term homes for many more than it used to. Growth in the sector has been driven by a range of factors including a reducing reliance on home ownership as a tenure of choice in some cases. People's employment has changed. Very often they are on different types of contracts which bring them around the country and into different jobs so they are no longer tied to a base for their whole life. Other factors include demographic factors, including inward migration from the EU, decreasing household size, and increasing rates of new household information. Some people are also unable to buy their own houses because of the issues of supply and affordability or because of their chances of raising finance. There is a range of reasons for the growth in the rental sector.
The rental sector in Ireland still needs to develop and mature in order to provide a viable, sustainable, and attractive alternative to home ownership rather than serving as a temporary refuge or staging post on the route to home ownership. Someone backed up the Bill's proposals by saying they happen in other European countries, but some of the European countries used as examples have very mature rental sectors which we envy and would like to have ourselves. We are on a journey to that. We have a rental strategy and we had a rental plan, which was set aside, and it is to be hoped we will get to have a rental sector such as those common in other European countries through these. People will be able to have that choice and rents will be in a proper price range, but that is a journey we are on. Again it cannot happen overnight. It is down to supply.
We want to have a professional rental sector because we do not have one in this country. Some 86% of our landlords are not professional landlords. They are people who have a second home. Some are reluctant, some are not-----
-----but they are not professional landlords. That is something we want to change. We will change it over time if we can. From what I have heard in this evening's contributions, it is safe to say there is a clear need to ensure the residential sector is both an attractive option for tenants and a secure and viable investment choice for investors. The State cannot be the only landlord. There has to be other landlords as well. Ireland has to be a place in which it is viable to invest. I am not talking about people making exorbitant profits, but about investment being viable and it being possible to make a business case for it. Without a doubt tenants have to feel comfortable and safe in that environment. They have to feel they have security of tenure, quality service and a quality home. That is what we want to achieve through our rental sector plans.
Tenants need security of tenure. As long as they have paid their rent and met their obligations they need to be as sure as possible that they will be able to stay in their homes. The flip side of this is that landlords have constitutionally protected property rights that can be delimited only in a proportionate manner to achieve a legally justifiable social common good. In recent years we have improved security of tenure for tenants while maintaining the property rights of landlords as much as possible. I spoke before about trying to get that balance. We are trying to balance the rights of tenants with the property rights of landlords in all legislation. It is not easy to achieve. We would say the Deputies' Bill is a little extreme and goes too far but we do want to achieve the same things, though perhaps in different ways. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, is bringing forward the Bill which was published this week and another in the new year which we think will help to achieve this balance and give tenants more security and durability of tenure.
Turning to the specifics of the Deputies' Bill tonight, it is clear to me that there can be no consideration of the issues relating to security of tenure without an acknowledgement of the problems that can be caused by the appointment of receivers to rented dwellings. However, the interplay between receivership law and the Residential Tenancies Act is complex. It is imperative that we do not make any amendments which either make matters worse or lead to legal uncertainty. Nevertheless, there is no question that action needs to be taken in this area, but any action taken must be well informed, considered and legally sound. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, has again flagged that this is something he will address and bring more clarity to in the Bill coming forward in the new year.
Under section 5 of the strategy for the rental sector, my Department established a working group with representatives from the Departments of Justice and Equality, Finance, and Business, Enterprise and Innovation to examine the scope for amending legislation to provide for greater protection of tenants' rights during the receivership process. The objective was to protect the rights of tenants during the receivership process by ensuring that persons appointed as receivers would be required to fulfil the key obligations of a landlord. To inform its work, the working group sought legal opinion on the feasibility of amending legislation to provide greater protection of tenants' rights during the receivership process. We will deal with that in the Bill ahead. The application of any landlord obligations onto a receiver is legally complex and needs to be carefully considered. Arising from consideration of the working group's report by the Minister, Deputy Murphy, legislative change will likely form part of the considerations in framing further amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act in 2019.
The Government recognises that rent increases in certain student-specific accommodation are also giving rise to significant concern and that it is important that the Government actively address barriers to educations and any limit to the choice of educational course pursued. I am conscious that my time is up but I was interrupted slightly so I might take a few more seconds to finish this point. My Department is working with the Department of Education and Skills and with the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to examine the wide range of student accommodation types and auxiliary services available with a view to considering the issue of pricing including, if appropriate, new regulatory or legislative proposals. There is a commitment to do that in the Bill coming forward. The Department is engaged with the Office of the Attorney General to scope out, with the benefit of information provided by the Department of Education and Skills and the purpose-built student accommodation sector, the legal feasibility of introducing some related amendments in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018 as it passes through the legislative process in the House. That probably will be also dealt with on Committee Stage of the next Bill.
There is more I want to say but I will say it at a later stage.
I am sharing time with Deputy Coppinger.
It was very revealing how, in the debate and at Leader's Questions earlier, the conflict of interest facing landlords in the Dáil exercised the establishment parties so much. Why is that? It is because it exposes not only the naked personal interest, but the class interest, which lies behind the Government's policies on the housing crisis, which are supported by Fianna Fáil. The answers of those who say it is ridiculous that we would call on landlord Deputies not to vote on this Bill are extremely revealing. They say it is the same as us voting on taxation as we are taxpayers. The defence behind which they hide is section 5(ii) of the code of conduct for Members of Dáil Éireann other than office holders. It states, "A conflict of interest does not exist where the Member or other person benefits only as a member of the general public or a broad class of persons." Therefore, the defence of those who say there is no conflict of interest which would exclude them from voting is that they are part of a broad class of persons, that is the landlord class. We agree. They are part of the landlord class. They represent the landlord class. Even those among the establishment parties who do not own properties represent the landlord class through the policies they pursue and the neoliberal ideology they defend.
It was exposed extremely well in the statement by the Minister, Deputy Murphy, earlier when he spoke about not interfering too much. He did not say exactly in what we were not meant to interfere too much but it was clear he was talking about not interfering with the capitalist market, the free market which allows wealth to flood upwards to the landlords, the bosses and the bankers rather than trickling down to ordinary people, as it is supposedly meant to. This free market has allowed rents in the property market to increase by 30% since this Government came to power and has allowed the amount of wealth going to landlords in this country annually to double in the past six or seven years.
This was added to a new idea, which I believe is also something to do with the free market. This is the idea that we are a young rental market and that we would like to be a mature rental market in which we can have all of these kinds of decent tenancy protections and rights but that we are on a journey to that mature rental sector, which will take a while, and that we cannot pre-empt it with any legislation which would give tenants significant rights. The Minister of State should tell the children living in 539 North Circular Road about the journey to a mature rental sector. He has a choice tomorrow to defend those children and to defend others facing eviction or to allow the market, the landlords and big corporate landlords in particular to continue to ride roughshod over their rights.
I have a termination notice here which sums up just how bad the crisis has got. It is a termination notice for 21 December, four days before Christmas, addressed to some people who are currently in transitional housing from homelessness in Tallaght Cross. Their 18 months of transitional housing is up and they are not able to find alternative accommodation. They have therefore formally been given notice to quit. It is a sign of how horrific the crisis is when homeless people are being evicted or threatened with eviction back into homelessness. The Minister has said that the notice will not be carried out and that they will not be evicted, but they are awaiting written confirmation from Túath and from the Government that this is the case and that they will not be evicted. They are organised and are prepared to resist any attempt at eviction. I met with a number of them on Monday. That is exactly what we need. We have to face the reality. There is no convincing the Government. One quarter of its members are landlords and they all represent the landlord class. They are not going to pass legislation which significantly interferes with landlords' right to profit. The only conclusion, therefore, is that we need a movement.
The Minister of State can see what is happening with the yellow vest protest in France, a revolt from below of the oppressed against the president of the rich, Macron, forcing him back and forcing concessions, some of them which have been given but which are inadequate and which are rightly seen by people as being crumbs. The movement continues and has the potential to force him out of office. We need a movement like the yellow vests here on the issue of housing, with young people and students to the fore. We have raised the idea of a national students' strike, occupations of campuses, and raising the struggle nationally on a higher plain. There is also the question of regional and national demonstrations in the new year and, crucially, the role of the trade unions and ICTU in putting their full weight behind those demonstrations, not only in mobilising people but in building for industrial action, perhaps starting with the idea of lunchtime action or half-day action and moving to a one-day general strike on the issue of housing to show the Government the power of working class people who want action on the housing crisis.
Every time we put forward proposals that would give security to those who are renting the usual two arguments are thrown out, one of which is that landlords will exit the sector, which I want to address first. There has been a 75% increase in the number of landlords in this country since 2008 and a 1.5% decrease in their number in recent years mainly because of obsolescence and the fact that nothing is being built. As for the idea that we are short of landlords, where would these landlords go? Would they leave the country carrying the houses on their backs? No, they would either leave them vacant and thereby not get any income from them or they would sell them in which case the house would be an addition to the market in dealing with the shortage of supply. I do not understand that argument.
The other argument is that this is unconstitutional. The Government would not let us insert the right to housing in the Constitution when we introduced a Bill only a short time ago. It would not accept any threat to private property rights. The case of the Tyrrelstown tenants was said to be unconstitutional but suddenly it was constitutional and the Government came around to the introduction of RPZs. The point is that enough pressure needs to put on the Government to bring in the type of legislation that is necessary. This proposal has been put forward by Focus Ireland, which is hardly a revolutionary socialist organisation, and many others.
This is the brutal logic of capitalism now. Landlords must retain their divine right to evict families over any other consideration, despite a housing emergency. Profit is the only law that matters This is ideological on the Minister of State's part. We have the public land. Mel Reynolds told us that NAMA and the councils have enough land to build 114,000 public houses. We certainly have the resources and the money. I can give countless examples to support that. The richest 18 people in this country have €60 billion net worth. We could build 400,000 houses with that alone. We know the Government found €1 billion in the corporate tax take that it did not know it was going to get. There is a great deal of money for this.
The Minister has talked about undersupply. He is bringing in two big investment companies to Cherrywood to build 3,000 housing units for rent. They will be unaffordable for families and tenants who need them. The State will end up putting people in them and paying HAP, RAS, and a rake of other corporate welfare payments. Why would the State not build those? That is what the State used to do.
The State now builds virtually nothing. It built 351 local authority houses in the first six months of this year and 150 for housing agencies, which amounts to 500 houses. That is not a programme; that is a housing estate.
I live in a housing estate of 700. The idea that that is a programme is a joke. What is at the root of this? Public lands should be 100% public housing to rent or to buy. If the construction industry was taken under State control and we set up a State building agency, we could build affordable housing. Deputy Barry wrote a pamphlet on housing and capitalism. For example, the CSI survey in 2015 indicates the following increases, namely, in the price of land, 17%; developer profit, 11%; bank profit, 6%, and tax, 16%. Some 50% of the cost involved could be cut out immediately if the State was building on its own lands. A €330,000 house could be €165,000. That is the reality if we knocked out the profit interests. We could build thousands of houses each year for the next five years on public lands and end this crisis for once and for all. We could also acquire vacant properties and renovate them if needed, take over buy-to-let properties from reluctant landlords and take them out of the their misery. The State could take those over. We could build student accommodation, Traveller- specific accommodation and elderly independent living-type accommodation.
We need a housing movement, as has been said, to force the Government on a path that it does not want to go, which is down the public housing route. As we did in the case of water charges and the repeal of the eighth amendment, we need students' unions, trade unions and organisations of working class people and middle income people who are now being affected by this to become involved in, for example, a national stoppage protest to force the Government to build public homes on public land because that is the only solution to this housing emergency. Clearly, the Government is not interested in taking any measures right now. It would seem Fianna Fáil is not interested either in this issue..