Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Healthy Homes Bill 2019: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 to provide for the establishment of thermal efficiency standards for rented accommodation, for the testing of rented accommodation for radon, for the remediation of rented accommodation with high concentrations of radon; and to provide for related matters.
The Green Party's Healthy Homes Bill 2019 is vital step to ensure homes are safer and warmer for those who rent. The Bill proposes to require the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to make regulations to require private landlords to test their properties for the presence of radon and remediate them if necessary. It proposes also to require the Minister to make regulations to impose thermal comfort and efficiency standards such as a minimum building energy rating. Currently, there is no obligation on landlords to take either of these steps, and as the measures only benefit the tenant, there is little incentive for them to undertake the work either.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which is colourless and odourless and can only be detected using specialised equipment. It is linked to between 280 and 300 lung cancer cases in Ireland every year. That represents 10% of lung cancer cases. Testing for radon costs just €50 and involves simply leaving a monitoring device in a home for three months before returning it to a laboratory. Remediation, where necessary, generally costs under €1,000. In many of the areas in which radon levels are high, the rental market is such that €1,000 is no more than one month's rent. All that happens at the moment is that local authorities ask landlords whether they have tested for radon. Fingal County Council, for example, reported that in the previous five years in respect of 559 properties, not one landlord replied to say radon levels had been tested. Quentin Crowley of Trinity College Dublin estimates that more than 30% of the national building stock is in high radon risk areas and that more than 460,000 people, or 10% of the population, may be living in homes with high radon gas concentrations. The Bill seeks to oblige the Minister to implement an action which the Government itself adopted in the national radon control strategy of 2014 but failed to include when reviewing standards for rented houses in 2017. This is a vital measure to strengthen the right of tenants to live in safe homes.
The second aspect of the Bill will ensure that tenants can live in warm, energy-efficient homes. Everyone agrees that we need to upgrade the vast proportion of our housing stock to improve living conditions, save on fuel bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While Government policies include some measure of State-sponsored retrofit of social housing and incentives for homeowners to insulate their houses, there has been almost no retrofitting of private rented accommodation. This is due to the split incentive whereby the landlord would pay for the installation but the tenant would be the person to benefit. If we do not introduce minimum standards, many households and tenants will continue to live in substandard accommodation and some will end up in fuel poverty due to the energy inefficiency of their houses and apartments.
The Bill requires the Minister to create regulations by the end of this year, but as the cost of retrofitting can vary greatly from property to property, we envisage a transition period prior to the minimum thermal efficiency standards becoming applicable to all rental properties. These are two issues we need to start tackling as soon as possible, and I urge everyone to support the Bill in order that we can guarantee safer and warmer homes for renters.