Wednesday, 8 May 2019
Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 7, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:“Deposit not to exceed one month’s rent
6. Section 12 of the Principal Act (Obligations of landlords) is amended by inserting the following subsection:“(6) A deposit (howsoever described, being money payable on entering into an agreement for the tenancy of a dwelling and intended to be held as security for the performance of any obligations, and the discharge of any liabilities, of the tenant under or in connection with the tenancy)shall not in any case exceed the monthly rent (or, if the rent is not payable monthly, the amount that the tenant pays in rent as calculated pro rata on a monthly basis) set under that tenancy.”.”.
We discussed a similar amendment at length in committee. This amendment proposes that a deposit would not exceed the monthly rent. Landlords would not be allowed to charge deposits of two months' rent or even three months' rent in some cases. The deposit should be confined to the monthly rent. While that is the norm there have been recent cases, and we have all heard of such cases, where potential tenants were asked for higher deposits. That excludes people who simply cannot afford to pay an additional amount for the deposit on a tenancy. For that reason, it discriminates against people who otherwise would be eligible for the particular home and able to pay for it. We discussed this issue at length and I am interested in the Minister's response.
I support this amendment. It has posed an awful problem for many people to get back their deposits but if the deposit was set at an even higher level, that would pose a bigger problem. A deposit of a month's rent is a fair amount. We should not ask for more than that. Many people are struggling and it is proving nearly impossible for potential tenants to get additional money from a welfare officer or from another source.
I warmly support this amendment, which is timely. It is astonishing to realise that a deposit was not precisely defined in the 2004 Act or in the 2015 Act. There is an opportunity to do that in this Bill. As my colleague said, we have often found landlords have asked for two months' rent or more for a deposit, which creates an unacceptable situation.
I strongly support the amendment.
At the outset, I thank all of the Deputies for the lengthy debate and discussion we have had on this legislation and the proposals behind it up to this point, and we had a lot of discussion on Committee Stage as well. We are now on Report Stage and I hope we can conclude this quickly while also giving the due diligence we need to the amendments before us.
On this amendment, I gave a commitment to Deputy O'Sullivan on Committee Stage to look at this further. I am not against doing this. It is something we need to address in regard to a number of points around the issue of key money and the protection of deposits. Unfortunately, it is not something we have been able to progress in this legislation. It is no longer a priority area for the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, which reports on the priority areas that come before it.
In the committee session I gave a commitment to Deputy Darragh O'Brien that I would look again at the issue of the deposit retention scheme. In the next Bill we are bringing forward, the housing (residential tenancies) Bill, which will have pre-legislative scrutiny later this year, we will look at a series of issues around the deposit. Unfortunately, to accept this amendment on its own, as it is before us for this Bill, will not get to the issue at hand. While asking for two months' deposit is not the big issue that people might think it is, this amendment is also not addressing things like key money or other aspects around deposits or a deposit scheme. If someone wanted to charge a tenant extra money using a deposit, or something akin to a deposit, he or she could do it and this amendment would not protect the tenant in that way. While I acknowledge the merit of the amendment and its intention and while I believe we need to do something in this area, unfortunately, this amendment will not address it with the totality that is needed. That is why we will be proceeding with further legislation this year around the deposits that are charged and paid, how they are protected and what they are for.
The Minister may say it is not an issue for the RTB but it is certainly an issue for people who are being asked to pay one months' deposit and who, therefore, cannot secure what they otherwise might secure as a home for themselves. I am disappointed the Minister feels he cannot progress it in this legislation. There are other issues in regard to key money. In fact, I published a Private Members' Bill following reports that people were being asked for things like key money. When Deputy Darragh O'Brien raised this on Committee Stage, he pointed out there is an enabling clause in legislation that would allow for the establishment of a deposit protection scheme. I do not see why this cannot be done. It is a very simple measure which is simply forbidding a landlord to look for more than one months' deposit. This does squeeze people out. It may not be the most common case that is brought before the RTB, but for the people concerned, it is a very serious issue and one that may well deprive them of a home.
I agree with the thrust of Deputy O'Sullivan's amendment. As she rightly said, we discussed this and I agreed to withdraw our amendment at the time on the basis that we wanted to look at a more comprehensive measure that would deal with a deposit protection scheme, as the Minister noted. We did not want to delay the passage of this very important legislation now while we were looking at that other piece. I withdrew our amendment on Committee Stage on the basis that we would return to it in a more comprehensive way with the next legislation. While it is up to each Member and party to decide, I thought that was a sensible approach. I would have liked to have done it within this Bill and I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan on that. However, I accepted the bona fides of, and the argument made by, the Minister at the time on foot of him giving an assurance that we would look at it for the next legislation. I did not want to delay any of the other important parts of this Bill while we kicked that piece around, particularly in regard to student rents, where time is of the essence in the context of getting this legislation out of the Dáil, into the Seanad, passed and signed in before the new academic term starts.
I completely agree that the deposit should only be one month and no more than one month, and I do not disagree with that as a principle. My point is that while this had a certain priority a couple of years ago, it is not the priority it once was. This legislation does a huge amount. Areas that I think are a greater priority include student accommodation, as mentioned by Deputy O'Brien, but also the extension of rent pressure zones, RPZs, the closing of some perceived loopholes in RPZs, and everything else that flows from this Bill. While this legislation does a huge amount, trying to do what Deputy O'Sullivan wants to do cannot be captured in this simple amendment alone, unfortunately. It is too easy to step around it. That does not mean we are not going do something on this. There is a second piece of legislation coming later this year where we can have a more thorough approach to the issue at hand.
The Minister needs to give us a timeline for when he is going to bring forward this other legislation. I am conscious of the fact we do not want to delay this Bill because we want it to go through and we want to ensure protections are provided for people. However, I certainly would want to see some guarantee that there would be a timeline and that we would see real, strong legislation. It is quite possible we will not get too much more legislation through in the current Dáil. These issues are very important for people who are in a very precarious situation. Therefore, I am going to press the amendment.
To respond to the question on the extra legislation, we have that scheduled for pre-legislative scrutiny in the fourth quarter of this year. It is the housing (residential tenancies) Bill. It is for those areas that we wanted to address in this sector that we could not address in this Bill because of the other priorities we have. We are working on that at the moment and, in the fourth quarter of this year, we will be discussing the different elements of it.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 8, line 2, to delete “commenced” and substitute “commenced,”.
I propose to take amendments Nos. 2 to 10, inclusive, together. Amendment No. 2 is a technical amendment to insert a comma at the end of the substitute paragraph (a) of the section 19(5) of the Act of 2004. Amendment No. 3 is also a technical amendment to put the new text of section 19(5B)(2) of the Act of 2004 in better English.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 6 are consequential technical amendments which relate to the Government's amendment No. 5, which introduces a further alternative description of works that constitute a substantial change in the nature of accommodation provided under a tenancy for the purpose of qualifying for the exemption from the rent increase restriction in RPZs. Deputies will remember that, on Committee Stage, we went through the changes that had been proposed at that stage by the Government to the initial draft of the legislation, and there is a further change here, reflecting the discussions we had. The effect of the proposed amendment is that if the works improve the building energy rating, BER, of the dwelling by seven or more ratings, then the dwelling will qualify for the exemption. I am proposing the addition of this provision in recognition of the fact that works that very substantially improve a dwelling's BER are desirable from the perspective of reducing emissions. The benefit for tenants in terms of cost reductions and increased levels of comfort are also desirable. To qualify under this exemption, a dwelling at the lowest energy rating of G will have to be improved to at least a C2 rating. Before this, we had the square footage of 25 sq. m or three or four conditions, but we will now also have this as an additional improvement of seven BER ratings.
Amendment No. 7 is a technical amendment relating to this group of amendments. Amendment No. 8 amends the existing BER related provision that is one of the three provisions of the four in the Bill that provide the BER improvement of two ratings as an option and one of the three works outcomes required to qualify for substantial change. Arising from the Committee Stage debate, we have considered this again. The amendment on Report Stage requires a greater improvement in the BER where the dwelling to be improved is starting from a lower BER base. Accordingly, amendment No. 8 requires an improvement in the BER by three ratings where the original BER was D1 or lower, and an improvement of two ratings where the energy rating was C3 or higher. It is just recognising that it is much easier to get a two-level BER improvement where the BER is already very low and to take out that opportunity.
I cannot accept Fianna Fáil's amendment No. 9. We had a discussion on Committee Stage with regard to a rules-based versus a principles-based approach. Unfortunately, given the amendment that has been proposed, I have concerns that stipulating an amount per square foot would be problematic to verify.
It would also require further amendment, which would have to happen in the Seanad, after which the Bill would have to come back to the Dáil, so I cannot accept the amendment.
Opposition amendment No. 10 concerns inspection. The landlord is already required under the new section 19(5B) of the 2004 Act to serve a notice in the prescribed form, together with all the relevant supporting information, to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, setting out the reasons why, in the landlord's opinion, the annual rent increase restriction under section 19(4) does not apply to his or her dwelling. The new section 19(6B) of the Act provides:
A person, who in purported compliance with subsection (5B), furnishes information to the Board which is false or misleading in a material respect knowing it to be so false or misleading or being reckless as to whether it is so false or misleading shall be guilty of an offence.
The RTB now has the power to make inspections on the basis of its own decisions without the need for it to be reported. Those new measures in the Bill are sufficient to address what is intended by that amendment. As such I unfortunately cannot accept amendment No. 10.
I understand that amendment No. 9 is problematic. It was discussed on Committee Stage. It was put down to deal with older dwellings which may be refurbished for specific reasons, for example for the use of people with disabilities or special needs. I used the example of converting a bathroom to a wet room. This may have been another option to allow for substantial refurbishment. I understand there are difficulties with implementing that and I do not want this to allow people to use a refurbishment as an excuse to move a tenant on. That is something we all want tightened up. Amendment No. 8 makes a lot of sense. It makes the law more onerous but sets down a very strict threshold for improvements in energy and heat efficiency. A lot of the older buildings in many of our cities, such as the Georgian buildings in all parts of Dublin, require substantial refurbishment. I will withdraw amendment No. 9 when the time comes.
I have listened to the Minister's response but I still do not see why it would not be sensible to take the extra step and allow for some kind of verification process. The Minister has indicated how sending misinformation to the RTB can be a criminal offence and outlined the requirement for works to be documented. However, there is still no provision for verification. Many of us met when the heads of the Bill were published and in the run-up to its passage. We have been talking about some of these issues for decades, even since the aftermath of the 2004 Act. I thank Mr. Gavin Elliot and Ms Ann-Marie O'Reilly from Threshold who met with me and my parliamentary assistant at the end of January. They provided a lengthy analysis of the heads of the Bill and of the Bill itself. Several of those concerns were taken on board but verification was not among them. This was raised in very recent contact with Threshold and other housing advocacy agencies. There seems to be no requirement for the RTB to verify substantial works that are carried out. The criminal offence is provided for, but the people working on the front line say there should be a requirement for the RTB to verify the work being undertaken. I have tried to provide that in amendment No. 10.
As the Minister knows, we were trying to amend section 19 of the 2004 Act, relating to rent reviews. We have had lots of discussions about how to address the massive loopholes and lacunae in the 2004 Act and the 2015 Act. There is a clear wish for more stringent regulations among tenants and indeed many landlords. To the extent that the Minister has brought such regulations forward I certainly welcome that. I know that section 19(5B) creates the requirement for landlords to inform the RTB when seeking an exemption from rent pressure zone restrictions. However, the lacuna here is the lack of requirement of verification for the reasons for an exemption. Again the RTB will rely solely on the landlord's evidence. In the past that has not been good enough.
In this House we have a very acute knowledge of the suffering of tenants. We have come across so many people who have been involved in outrageous evictions in which the system has been used to put people on the streets. We are trying to address that week in, week out. That is why we want a much more dynamic housing construction policy. A verification process would supplement the work of the RTB and reduce the likelihood of landlords applying for exemptions and not carrying out the work to which they commit.
Verification is important because the current crisis has shown us that there are rogue landlords out there who take advantage of the massive shortage of supply, the lack of inspections and enforcement and the loopholes in the system. We welcome this Bill in general terms because it gives us a platform to address that. The changes concerning the building energy rating, BER, standards are welcome. Again, some system to give powers of verification to the RTB is necessary. I urge the Minister to accept amendment No. 10.
Deputy Broughan makes a good point. Can the Minister clarify what he said about the means of ensuring verification? It is essential. We do have a problem with landlords saying they are going to do things which in the end they do not do. We need to ensure that they do it.
I welcome the progress we have made on the BER issue through the Minister's amendments. Some of the BER standards for homes in the private rental sector are very low. This creates an issue around energy poverty, with people living in those homes spending a lot of money on heating them. It is important that significant improvements are made to properties covered under this legislation. These amendments represent an improvement on the original Bill. That is to be welcomed. Deputy Broughan's point is that we want to make absolutely sure that the work is actually done and the improvements are actually made. Perhaps the Minister can clarify how he believes that this can happen if he does not accept Deputy Broughan's amendment.
I thank Deputy O'Brien for withdrawing his amendment at two separate occasions on Committee Stage. There was a formal Committee Stage and an informal committee debate. We went back and forth on the issue so everyone involved is well versed on the different aspects and why we cannot go forward with the amendment at this stage, although there is merit in it.
In response to Deputy O'Sullivan, this is a good example of how we can use housing policy to tackle things like energy poverty as well as emissions and climate change. It is so important that we get a firm grasp on that in our approach to the built environment and everything that we do.
In response to Deputy Broughan I note that Threshold is doing a fantastic job. I meet with Threshold on occasion and I go through the various issues its representatives raise with me. The Government is very happy to fund Threshold. I am very happy to include many of the things it is looking for in this Bill but we cannot include everything.
This is not about "renovictions". We should be clear on that. This is about using the excuse of renovation to get around rent controls. It happens in circumstances where it should not. People make bogus claims about renovation, or the supposed renovation is not renovation but a lick of paint. That has to stop and with this legislation it will stop. Verification will come through the documentation supplied by the RTB, which is expert in this area and will be able to get a good handle on what is adequate documentation and what is not. It is not easy to fake BER rating improvements or step around them.
People are using that excuse, for example, or a change to the size of the floor space, or any of the other reasons or clauses for those who are making a significant investment to be able to increase the rent above 4%. That is a serious offence. The RTB is now getting new powers under this legislation to investigate landlords in a thorough way who step out of line. A new sanctioning regime has been introduced in the legislation. It has both new criminal offences and a new administrative sanctioning regime. It will be up to the RTB, whose staff are the experts in this area, to decide whether it needs to carry out an inspection based on the documentation it receives. We are giving a lot of new powers to the RTB. We are giving it new resources as well. It is important not to overburden it at this time and to allow it to build up the new resources and to start to use its new powers to explore whether it needs further powers in a given area or if its powers need to be better clarified in legislation. I have no doubt that in future Bills we might need to tighten up certain measures or to look again at other issues but for the time being, it will be the judgment call of the RTB as to whether an inspection is necessary. It would be an undue burden on the RTB to make inspections mandatory in cases where the documentation is more than clear as to what is happening.
We all welcome the introduction of Part 7A of the 2004 Act, which, at long last, sets out a process of invigilation that has been badly needed. I do not see why the Minister should not meet all of the reasonable requests for improvement of landlord and tenancy legislation from the advocacy sector. We met some of the approved housing bodies again this morning, namely, Co-operative Housing Ireland, Oaklee Housing and others when they made a presentation across the road from Leinster House on the improvements they seek. They want a system whereby they would be able to launch their own affordable housing programmes, which I hope the Minister will be in a position to support.
I do not see why we should not have verification by the RTB. Many of those present have dealt with issues arising from the RTB and the appalling way many long-standing tenants have been treated, even to the extent of getting awards of compensation for the manner in which they were evicted. There have been cases of landlords simply disappearing. In the Bill we have addressed some of the outrageous cowboy practices but verification is fair enough and I hope the Minister would go the extra couple of metres and make sure we do not have to return to the issue in the future.
It is important to note when one looks through every section of the Bill that it is composed of new measures to help and protect tenants. Some of the big criticisms of the Bill have come from landlords who say it is all pro-tenant and there is nothing in it for them. Big changes are coming in terms of new qualifying criteria for rent pressure zones and the Bill closes some of the perceived loopholes for those entities that have been stepping out of rent pressure zones, furthering the notice-to-quit periods, which is important in terms of housing security and all the other measures that are contained in the Bill.
There are a number of different advocates in the housing space and they do not always agree. That is why the role of the Minister is to make a judgment call. In this instance Threshold might say one thing and another group might be concerned as to whether a measure is necessary or if the burden could be managed immediately by a body or the RTB. I weigh up those issues and I make the decision. My view is that verification is here in terms of the documentation that needs to be provided and the very detailed undertakings that a landlord would have to go through in order to even apply for an exemption, and when he or she does that the RTB now has a power to undertake its own independent inspection where it feels that a landlord may be in breach, and if that is the case, there are significant penalties that did not exist previously if a landlord has breached or knowingly misled the RTB. That is a significant change in terms of what was there beforehand. The power is there for the RTB to make an inspection but to make it mandatory in every single instance where that is sought to be invoked is too much of a burden on the RTB, given the extra powers and resources we are giving to it. In cases where it is not necessary, moreover, it adds an unnecessary workload on the RTB. Its time and resources would be better spent chasing landlords it knows to be in breach not just of the law pertaining to renting out a property but in some instances in breach of human rights law in terms of overcrowding or accommodation that is not habitable in any sense but which they are trying to rent out and make money from. For those reasons I cannot accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:“(ii) in the case of a dwelling to which the European Union (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 243 of 2012) apply, result in the BER (within the meaning of those Regulations) being improved by not less than 7 building energy ratings, or”.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 8, to delete lines 25 to 29 and substitute the following:“(IV) in the case of a dwelling to which the European Union (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 243 of 2012) apply and that has a BER of D1 or lower, the BER (within the meaning of those Regulations) being improved by not less than 3 building energy ratings; or
(V) in the case of a dwelling to which the European Union (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 243 of 2012) apply and that has a BER of C3 or higher, the BER (within the meaning of those Regulations) being improved by not less than 2 building energy ratings,”.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 9, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:“(3) The Residential Tenancies Board shall verify that works required to effect a substantial change to the dwelling were undertaken.”.
Richard Boyd Barrett, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Martin Kenny, Denise Mitchell, Paul Murphy, Jonathan O'Brien, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Brendan Ryan, Róisín Shortall.
Bobby Aylward, Maria Bailey, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Seán Canney, Joe Carey, Michael Creed, John Curran, Jim Daly, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Seán Kyne, John Lahart, Josepha Madigan, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Kate O'Connell, Fergus O'Dowd, Kevin O'Keeffe, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, Eamon Scanlon, David Stanton, Katherine Zappone.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 12, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:“Grounds for termination by landlord
13. Section 34 (Grounds for termination by landlord) of the Act of 2004 is amended—(a) by deleting paragraph (b), and
(b) in the Table—(i) by deleting paragraph 3, and
(ii) in paragraph 5, by substituting “, no reasonable measures can be taken to maintain the dwelling fit for human habitation during the refurbishment or renovation” for “in a way which requires the dwelling to be vacated for that purpose”.”.
In a situation where a landlord proposes to terminate a tenancy because he or she intends to renovate the dwelling, the criterion is that it is a level of substantial refurbishment that requires the tenant to vacate the dwelling. The criterion I am proposing in the amendment is that the dwelling would not be fit for human habitation during the refurbishment and therefore the tenant would have to be removed. I acknowledge that the Minister strengthened the original grounds in amendments we debated on Committee Stage, but I believe this is a good way to determine whether the tenant genuinely needs to be moved out of the accommodation for the work to be done.
I will also speak on amendment No. 14 as it is included in this group. We are all aware that many loopholes are used by landlords who wish to get rid of tenants. One of them is that a family member is moving into the dwelling. That is fair enough if the landlord needs the home for a close relative such as a spouse, civil partner or a child, including a stepchild, foster child or adopted child, of the landlord. The definition of relative that is used is quite broad, however, and I am seeking to narrow it in the amendment to the immediate family members of the landlord.
I will speak on amendments Nos. 13 to 15, inclusive. If the change proposed in amendment No. 13 was implemented, it would unravel the structure of the 2004 Act, which is built around the concept of the security of tenure protection applying only for the six-year duration of the Part 4 or the further Part 4 tenancy cycles. It is the Government's policy to move towards tenancies of indefinite duration. How that can happen has to be worked out carefully from a legal perspective with the Attorney General. This work will have to take place in the context of the second rental Bill which I spoke about earlier. That Bill will go to pre-legislative scrutiny in the fourth quarter of this year. That is how we intend to deal with the matter. This amendment, unfortunately, will not deal with it in the way that is required.
Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 seek to remove the intention to sell the dwelling as a tenancy termination ground, to amend the vacant possession requirement for substantial refurbishment works as a termination ground, and to limit the termination ground relating to the need for occupation by a family member to spouses, civil partners and children of the landlord. The amendments to the table in section 34 of the 2004 Act, which are in this Bill, which make it more difficult to cite falsely any of the grounds in that table and include any such invalid citation as improper conduct for the purposes of the new Part 7A, which we discussed on Committee Stage and that is being inserted by this Bill, and which measures empower the RTB in this way to sanction the landlord and to undertake the new process we have, will achieve the policy objectives we want to achieve and in a way that will have a meaningful impact for tenants who might be at risk of some of those citations being made on false grounds. I therefore cannot accept the amendments before us.
Amendment No. 15 is a further change to what the Government proposed on Committee Stage. What we are proposing here is different. It requires the copying of termination notices to the RTB for the purposes of its functions with regard to its new sanctioning provisions under Part 7A in respect of improper conduct on the part of landlords. The amendment inserted on Committee Stage required the termination notice to be copied to the RTB in advance of the expiry of the notice period, but the RTB has since indicated that it would be more effective and manageable for it to be copied with notice of tenancy terminations after the notice period has expired. In this way the RTB can use such notices for the purposes of identifying improper conduct for sanctioning. We discussed the notice being sent when the notice was served by the landlord to the tenant. Now the RTB thinks it will be more effective in terms of doing the work it needs to do regarding landlords who are improperly using this ground if it were the case that, after the tenant has vacated or not vacated, depending on the circumstances, the RTB would have to be notified and then could conduct an inspection if it thought it was necessary.
Amendments Nos. 16 to 20, inclusive, relate to amending the new subsection (2)(a) of section 66 of the 2004 Act. That section provides for the period of notice where sections 67 and 68 of the 2004 Act are not applicable. Section 67 provides for the period of notice for termination by landlord where the tenant is in default, and section 68 provides for a period of notice for termination by tenant where the landlord is in default. Subsection (2)(a) sets out provisions for notice periods following an adjudication or tribunal and the serving of the remedial notice. Subsection (2)(a) in the Bill before us would give just 28 days' notice in a remedial notice, meaning that tenants could go through the process of making a complaint about a notice of termination, an adjudication or tribunal, and then may be issued with a remedial notice which would give just 28 days' notice. The housing advocacy bodies have raised concerns that the shortened timeframe on a remedial notice would act as a deterrent to tenants who question the validity of notices of termination in the first place.
The Minister is familiar with section 66. Amendment No. 16 proposes to delete "28 days" and substitute "90 days". Amendment No. 17 proposes to delete "28 days" in line 7 and substitute "90 days". Amendment No. 18 also proposes to delete "28 days" and substitute "90 days". Amendment No. 19 proposes to delete "28 days" and substitute "60 days". Amendment No. 20 proposes to delete line 34 in page 15 and substitute that where it is less than six months it would be 60 days. Subsection (2)(a) in the legislation before us sets out the circumstances for the notices, but as I said earlier, I tabled the amendments because the 28 days' notice is not sufficient in the current rental crisis. Nobody could possibly source alternative, affordable accommodation in the location they require within 28 days of being given a remedial notice of termination.
Threshold's original analysis of this Bill raised serious concerns about this section. It said:
The Bill, if enacted, would provide that a tenant who challenged a notice of termination could have only 28 days to vacate their home and find another property despite the notice having been found to be invalid, and the tenant having been vindicated by the RTB adjudicator. Clearly in the current rental market 28 days is a very short length of time to source another property, and this is especially true for tenants in receipt of HAP.
That is if they can get HAP in the first place. According to Threshold and other housing bodies, the overall effect of these provisions will be to discourage tenants from challenging these notices and may lead to an increase in people presenting as homeless, having failed to secure alternative accommodation in the period allowed.
I note that Deputy Ó Broin suggested substituting 90 days for 28 days in the table. I can understand the logic behind that suggestion. Regarding the reference to student accommodation, which is that students must be given no less than 28 days, under the amendments relating to students, some provisions of the Act do not apply to them so they will not be covered by everything, for example, Part 4. Consequently, it makes sense for some of the provisions not to apply to them given the short-term nature of these tenancies, which generally are term-time tenancies. However, people feel that 28 days is a very short period. Even 40 or 45 days would have been beneficial but in the current rental climate, as I mentioned earlier to the Minister, 28 days is simply not sufficient.
I want to speak in support of amendment No. 13 and the other progressive amendments from the Labour Party and Deputy Broughan in this grouping. Even in the media in recent weeks it is clear that we are seeing an avalanche of evictions. Some of those are threatened in The Exchange Hall in Tallaght in my constituency, an issue I have raised a number of times with the Minister. They are due before the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, next week. A series of other evictions are also taking place. These are a reflection of the complete imbalance of power that exists between the landlords, effectively housing capital in this State, and tenants, that is, ordinary working-class people struggling to make ends meet and being asked to pay extraordinary and extortionate rents.
These amendments go some way towards addressing that imbalance of power. Unfortunately, the Government is not likely to agree to any of the substantial amendments to redress that. I will speak in a second about why we need to do that but I also make the point strongly that from previous experience, we know the Government will not listen to ordinary people and that it represents the interests of the landlords and developers. Therefore, the only way any change will be forced on this issue is by a movement from below. The elections in two and a half weeks' time present an opportunity for an expression of that but a week before then, on 18 May, a national demonstration under the banner of Raise the Roof will be held at 1 p.m. at Parnell Square in Dublin. It is vital that we bring thousands of people on the streets on that date to say no to any more evictions, to call for an increase in the rights of tenants and rent controls and to fight for the building of public homes on public land.
I will deal with some of the specifics of the amendments. We know that the most common reason given in eviction notices is sale of property. According to Threshold's annual report, it is used in 38% of the eviction notices with which it dealt - almost 2,000 eviction notices. We support the amendment that would remove that as grounds for sale. Our own anti-evictions Bill, which aims to do that, passed Second Stage. I have never heard the Minister or Government come back with a substantial reason as to why they cannot do that apart from the idea that it would discourage landlords from being in the market. Big landlords are not being discouraged from being in the market, as we see from front page stories about cuckoo funds. They are being incentivised with tax incentives and the highest rental yields in the EU. We know that a series of European countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, have such a ban on sale as grounds for eviction, meaning that if a property is to be sold, it must be sold with the tenant in situ. It is key that this be removed. It is utterly unacceptable that the Government continues to refuse to agree to it.
The second point I would make concerns the amendment relating to refurbishment or what are being called "renovictions", which is when landlords say they are going to do substantial refurbishment. We saw the case of Leeside Apartments in Cork when that was used as a pretext for evictions to hike up rents afterwards. We aim effectively to ban that. This amendment comes reasonably close to that in the sense of ruling it out as grounds unless it is necessary to maintain the dwelling for human habitation. In the majority of cases, the refurbishments that landlords are talking about can be done without any need for the tenant to move out. We know that 12% of the eviction queries received by Threshold in 2017 related to refurbishment or renovation.
The final point is key and involves the idea of giving indefinite tenancies. At the moment, landlords are able to evict with no reason at the end of a four or six-year Part 4 tenancy. Long-term good tenants enter into a danger zone where they can be forced out of their home with no reason given. It is vital to remove that by giving indefinite tenancies to tenants.
Obviously, we will speak and vote for these amendments, but we know the likely result. Perhaps we will hear what Fianna Fáil will do on these important amendments.
We will see whether Fianna Fáil has changed its position on any of these matters or whether it will take another protest movement to put it under pressure. I suspect it will take a protest movement and, therefore, I encourage people to come out on 18 May.
There is ample evidence to say that 90 days' notice is sufficient. Certainly 28 days' notice after six months is not good enough. We have heard of people dragging three, four or five children across the city looking for places under HAP. People are being pushed onto HAP and there are no places to be found. It has proved impossible for people who have been served an eviction notice to find a place within 28 days. It has proved impossible to find a place within 90 days, so that is a major problem. This should be extended. We have said that up to 90 days is sufficient to do this. The housing crisis is not improving and is getting worse. The figures have shown that the numbers are rising. We are saying that people can be put out after six months, even though some of them have entered into contracts for a longer period. It is not good enough. What we have proposed here is a reasonable demand.
I am also speaking in favour of the amendments from Deputies Jan O'Sullivan and Broughan. The point I would make very simply to the Minister is that while this Bill improves the position of tenants in the private rented sector somewhat, there is an incredible disconnect between the ambition of the measures in the Bill and the horror of the housing and homelessness crisis and the extreme hardship, anxiety, suffering and despair being felt by families who are being pushed into homelessness from the private rented sector because their landlords say they are selling up the property or because of efforts by landlords to claim that they need to carry out substantial refurbishment and that people must leave for that reason.
There is no sense of emergency in this Bill or from the Government. There is no sense of the absolute necessity to stop pushing more families and, in particular, children into these intolerable and unacceptable situations. It is as if the Government's approach is that it will make small incremental changes that will slowly and slightly improve the balance for the tenant. What is necessary is an emergency response to an emergency situation. We have to stop the flow into homelessness. We are at a situation in most areas where there is not even enough room in the hubs. It is intolerable as it is that we have people and families in hubs, often for months and sometimes for years. It is a form of child abuse to have children in those circumstances. First, we have to get those people out of that situation. Second, we have to stop anyone else going into that situation. There is no sense of that emergency with the Bill. As a consequence, people will continue to flow into homelessness and this is simply going to continue. We will continue to facilitate a fly-by-night, profit-driven private rental sector.
I am keen to emphasise one point because I have met some people who have said that they are decent landlords but that people like me are always speaking out against the landlords. I know there are decent landlords. I know some are not putting up the rent as much as they could and I know there are people who do everything they can to avoid eviction. There are also, however, some really greedy unscrupulous people who would do anything, and this Bill does not deal with them. That is the problem. We need to stop them in their tracks from evicting people on the grounds of sale.
If people are in the business of being landlords, then they should understand that they have an obligation to tenants. That is it. People in the private rented sector should have a right to security over the long term for themselves and for their children. If landlords do not understand that or do not like it, then they should not be in the business of being landlords. It is as simple as that. It needs to be established clearly by Government that if a landlord goes into the business of renting out property in the private sector, then the landlord is in a serious business and has obligations to tenants. It must be clear that those people are human beings and their children are human beings. It must be clear that they have the right to have a secure future and the right not to have to face anxiety and fear if, all of a sudden, the landlord decides to sell and the tenant is then gone. Worse still, the tenant might only have 28 days to get alternative accommodation. This is when everyone knows there are queues out the door. As soon as people see advertisements on daft.ie, they race down to get the property but there are queues out the door. Bidding goes on to get in on properties that are vastly overpriced. This has to stop but there is no ambition or sense of urgency in this legislation.
At least these amendments try to close the loopholes and the situations in which landlords can evict people. They aim to give people a little more time to secure alternative accommodation, although, God knows, unless we provide affordable and public housing on scale and with urgency, none of this will make any difference at all. That is why I am repeating the call of Deputy Paul Murphy for people to support the Raise the Roof protests. The protests are supported by all the major housing NGOs and trade unions in this country as well as most of the Opposition political parties. The idea is to get people out on the street and put on enough pressure to make it irresistible for the Government to bring in the sort of radical measures to address the homelessness and housing emergency. Such measures are necessary to stem the tide of people into homelessness and emergency situations and, more important, to provide a long-term solution to the housing and homelessness crisis for all affected by it.
We debate housing in this House every week, as we should. We have had the Second Stage debate on this Bill. We have had two Committee Stage debates and we are now on Report Stage. We do not want any further delays to this legislation because it is so important. That is why I call on Deputies to refrain from making Second Stage speeches on Report Stage.
Deputy Boyd Barrett is right to say that we have to stop the flow of people into homelessness. However, we do not do that by losing more landlords. There are 31 sections in this Bill. I challenge Deputies to find one that does not improve the lot of tenants. That is the whole purpose of the Bill. Let us look through every section to see what we are trying to do. The Bill is greatly improving the situation for tenants through the changes we are making and because of the work that we have done across the House with this legislation to get it to this point. We have almost unanimous agreement on almost every aspect of the Bill. Of course some additional amendments have come forward at this stage, but unfortunately we cannot accept them all because we have to think about unintended consequences.
Deputy Boyd Barrett talks about evictions as a ground for sale. I have told the Deputy before that it is not constitutional. Even if it were constitutional, it would not be retrospective and so it would not stop any flow, as the Deputy thinks it would. If we could do it, the question arises on a policy basis of whether we should we do it. Let us suppose a young couple were buying a home with tenants in it. They would have to get the tenants out. Why would we put people who are trying to start a family or trying to live in a new home in that situation? They would then have to go through the process of serving the notice to quit and go through everything else. What if the tenants did not then leave? What then for that young couple who bought that home? Some Deputies think these measures would achieve certain ends that they simply will not achieve. They would actually make things far worse for many more people. These are the unintended consequences that I, as Minister, have to think about.
Reference was made to extending the notice to quit period. We are doing that. The Deputies should look at the table in the Bill. Currently, for a tenancy of six months to a year the period of notice is 35 days. That will increase to 90 days. Currently the notice period for a tenancy of between one and two years is 42 days. That will increase to 120 days. We are making these big changes to give far more time to people, when notice to quit is served on legitimate grounds, to find a new place to live. Where notice is not served on legitimate grounds, we are giving new powers to the Residential Tenancies Board to impose sanction. If it is a criminal offence, the board can go down that way. We have a new administrative sanctions regime. There is also a new offence for landlords who are not acting in accordance with the laws under Part 7 of the Act. This legislation is nothing but for the protection of tenants. I appeal to Deputies to recognise that in their contributions.
Unfortunately, I cannot support amendments Nos. 16 to 20, inclusive, for the reasons I have given on Committee Stage. The same applies to amendment No. 21 relating to the notice to quit period for less than six months.
I have acknowledged, and I do acknowledge, that there are some improvements for tenants in this Bill. Nevertheless, amendment No. 13 would make a substantial difference. It would make a difference for people who would like it to be like in other European countries where people rent for years. They believe that is an appropriate way for them to provide a home for themselves and their families. The fact of the matter is that we do not have that kind of security in Ireland if the home a person has been living in can be sold from under her and she has to depart. The same lack of security applies in respect of the issue of human habitation. As long as we do not have the security provided by contracts of indefinite duration and a tenant can be told that the place will be sold, then we will be unable to give people a sense that they can rent and believe that the dwelling is their home. People, especially those who do not qualify for social housing, will continue to believe that they have to purchase their own homes. Otherwise, what will they do if something goes wrong in the situation we have now with so few rental properties available that are affordable for most in the rental sector?
This is a particularly important amendment. Whatever about unintended consequences and the fact that it cannot be retrospective, we in Ireland have to move to a situation more like in other countries where tenants have security of tenure and control of rents. In such countries people can feel that they are not in danger of losing their homes. Many people have lost their homes and many others feel insecure in the private rental sector, especially in the context of the supply situation in Ireland. This amendment is especially important and I will be pressing it.
Richard Boyd Barrett, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Catherine Connolly, Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Martin Kenny, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Paul Murphy, Jan O'Sullivan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Brendan Ryan.
Bobby Aylward, Maria Bailey, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Seán Canney, Joe Carey, Michael Creed, John Curran, Jim Daly, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Stephen Donnelly, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Pat Gallagher, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Seán Kyne, John Lahart, Josepha Madigan, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Kate O'Connell, Fergus O'Dowd, Kevin O'Keeffe, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, Eamon Scanlon, David Stanton, Katherine Zappone.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 12, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 35 of Act of 2004
13.Section 35 (Table to section 34: interpretation and supplemental) of the Act of 2004 is amended by substituting the following for subsection (4):“(4) In paragraph 4 of the Table the reference to a member of the landlord’s family is a reference to—
(a) a spouse or civil partner of the landlord, or
(b) a child (including a stepchild, foster child or adopted child) of the landlord.”.”.
I move amendment No.15:
In page 13, to delete lines 6 to 15 and substitute the following:“ “(11) Where, in respect of a tenancy, a landlord serves on a tenant a notice of termination that cites, as a reason for the termination, a ground specified in the Table, the landlord shall give a copy of the notice of termination to the Board not later than 28 days after the expiration of the period of notice given by the notice of termination.”.”.
Amendment No. 22 in the name of Deputy Broughan arises out of Committee Stage proceedings. Amendments Nos. 22 and 23, both from Deputy Broughan, are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 16, to delete lines 25 to 29.
I will speak to amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 24. Section 19 of the Bill is to provide for the amendment of section 93 of the 2004 Act. My amendment No. 22 proposes to delete section 19 of this Bill. Amendment No. 23 is to delete section 20 which is an amendment of section 109 of the 2004 Act. These amendments relate to the proposed introduction of fees for mediation. The introduction of fees for this service would totally negate the importance of mediation for dealing with residential disputes. Barriers should not be created in the resolution of disputes and the introduction of charges may also do that. The amendment to section 93 removed the restriction on charging fees for mediation. The only reasonable logic for this is that there is an intention to charge a fee for the mediation in the future. A mediation process should be a readily accessible beneficial service to tenants and landlords alike whose grievance may not require the time and attention of an adjudication process. The application of any fee for such process has the potential to encourage applicants to opt for adjudication as any failure in the mediation process will ultimately lead to an adjudication or a tribunal. We feel with the annual registration fee for each tenancy there should not be a financial requirement for the RTB to charge a fee for mediation or to make such a fee in the future. Free mediation is highlighted on the RTB website and it states: "The aim of mediation is to give landlords and tenants a shared understanding of the issue so they can work towards reaching a mutually satisfactory outcome and agreement."
Amendment No. 24 relates to the reporting of determination orders. I discussed this earlier with the Minister. We believe the reporting should be in an anonymised format. I would like the Minister to at least agree that, "The Board shall publish, in such manner as it thinks fit, in an anonymised format". Some of the problems with the rental sector and of course the wider housing crisis have been partly due to a dearth of information, misinformation or skewing of statistics and data. A reliable, transparent and accountable system for reporting on the rental market is vital for a functioning market. I read recently about market failure in different parts of the European economy.
The housing situation here represents a total failure of the market vis-à-visa very significant number of our citizens. The concern, which I am trying to reflect in my amendment but with which the Minister does not agree, is that the publication of details of a determination order could potentially be used to blacklist tenants who have exercised their rights as per the Residential Tenancies Act. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that tenants are often afraid to report breakages or the need for repairs to their landlords for fear of seeming like a nuisance. There are also reports of tenants being fearful of being seen as trouble makers by merely asserting their rights as tenants, of having eviction notices served on them and having to find somewhere else to live, perhaps without a landlord's reference. While I welcome the mandatory reporting of determination orders, I tabled this amendment in order to protect tenants. I believe it is important that the data is presented in an anonymised format.
I thank Deputy Broughan for his amendments. Unfortunately, I cannot accept them because the intention of sections 19 and 20 of the Bill is to provide the RTB with the power to charge a fee for its mediation service, although I understand that the RTB does not plan to use this new power in the short or medium term. I agree that there is merit in continuing to encourage the use of the free RTB mediation service. As I said on Committee Stage, this encouragement will continue into the medium term, as the RTB is not planning to introduce a mediation fee.
Regarding amendment No. 24, the Deputy made the point that the market has failed and he is right. That is why the State is making such a significant intervention in the housing sector now. In terms of the anonymisation of data in the context of publishing determination orders, we are including the names in order to deter inappropriate behaviour on the part of landlords. The aim is to publish a list similar to the list published of those who have not met their tax obligations. We will publish a list of those landlords - and in some cases, tenants - against whom orders have been made by the RTB. As the Deputy knows, in terms of the determinations made by the RTB, the vast majority are cases where the landlord has been found to be in breach of his or her obligations. Were we to anonymise that data, we would remove the deterrent that we believe is necessary. We want to be able to hold landlords to account robustly and to deter other landlords who might think about breaching the law.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 16, lines 34 and 35, to delete all words from and including “Section 123” in line 34 down to and including line 35 and substitute the following:
“Section 123 of the Act of 2004 is amended by the substitution of the following for subsection
(7):“(7) The Board shall publish, in such manner as it thinks fit, in an
anonymised format—(a) a determination order issued by it (including such an order as it stands varied by it under subsection (5)),
(b) notice of the cancellation of such an order under subsection (5) or section 125.”.”.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 16, after line 35, to insert the following:“Private residential tenancies register: publication of certain details
22. Section 128 of the Act of 2004 is amended by substituting the following for subsection (4):“(4) The published register—(a) shall not contain any information, as respects a particular dwelling, that discloses or could reasonably lead to the disclosure of the identity of the landlord or the tenant of the dwelling,
(b) shall disclose, as respects every dwelling, the amount of the rent payable under the tenancy of that dwelling.”.”.
This amendment provides for the publication of a rent register, with the proviso that it would not contain any information that would disclose or could reasonably lead to the disclosure of the identity of the landlord or the tenant in order to protect the anonymity of the individuals concerned. The aim is to ensure that tenants who are taking on a new tenancy will know what the rent was previously so that they will know if they are being charged more than they should be if the property is in a rent pressure zone. The objective is to provide transparency for subsequent tenants so that the rules of rent pressure zones are not broken.
I know that the Minister has tabled amendments that are related but they are not very strong. His amendments provide that a report will be published "not earlier than 12 months" after commencement and refer to "prevailing rent levels" in the rented sector. That is not what I understand as a rent register, which would provide transparent and useful information to new tenants to ensure that they were not being overcharged.
Deputy O'Sullivan has alluded to the Minister's amendment No. 35 and we discussed at length the need for a rent register on Committee Stage. I hope that 12 months from the passing of this Bill a report will be published and work will be done on how to introduce such a register. Rent transparency is very important, particularly around price. Legal issues were mentioned on Committee Stage and I accept that such issues arise but for the moment, I am happy to support the Government's amendment No. 35.
Most of us as public representatives are aware of situations where people have been evicted and later discovered that the reason given for their eviction was not genuine and all that has happened is that the rent on the property has been increased substantially. What Deputy O' Sullivan is proposing is an eminently sensible and practical measure to give some protection to renters against that kind of abuse by landlords. I do not see why the Minister would reject her amendment.
I thank Deputy O' Sullivan for her amendment. As I said on Committee Stage, I wanted to do this. I wanted to have a rent register to provide rent transparency on individual properties. I had a very robust back and forth discussion with the Attorney General's office on this. The strong advice that came back was that I could not do this, that it would not be legally sound for me to pursue it. Therefore, what we will try to do by way of amendment No. 35 is to provide information at the street level to give people a better idea. Of course, if we go for the street level data, there is no point in producing that one month after the annual rent registration comes into effect, which is January of next year because not everyone will have registered in the first month. We need a 12 month period to allow the annual registration law to bed down. Then I will make a request of the RTB to give me street-level or area-level data or whatever makes most sense depending on the particular location, in order to provide a greater level of transparency. We have no transparency currently but the strong advice I received is that we cannot do it at individual property level. That is why I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment. However, amendments Nos. 33 to 35 get us very close to where we want to be, in tandem with the annual registration of rents, which will come into force on the passing of this Bill.
I had hoped that we would get a rent register and the Minister, on publication of the Bill, said he wanted same. My understanding of a rent register is that one would know exactly what the rent was on each individual property. What the Minister is proposing is a very watered down version of that. Assuming we do get street-level data, as per the Minister's proposal, could individual tenants use that general information if they felt they were being overcharged?
Yes, I did want it by individual property but after a number of engagements with the Attorney General, I cannot proceed down that path. Deputy Daragh O'Brien is right that we need to allow the annual rent registration process to come into force and then see how we can best use that data to give as much transparency to tenants as possible. Once that data is collected and that becomes the new norm, I will be able to go to the RTB and ask it to provide as much information as a tenant might require. While street-level data is not ideal, it is a lot better than not knowing at all or trying to rely on what is being advertised on a website like daft.iein order to figure out the prevailing rent. Tenants will then be able to use that data as a basis to challenge the rents that they are being charged for a property they hope to move into or when a rent review is taking place. They can determine whether the rent being charged is in line with the rent caps that are in place.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 17, line 7, after “tenancy” to insert “with the exception of tenancies under an approved housing body”.
We discussed this at length on Committee Stage.
I do not believe that approved housing bodies, AHBs, should have to register long-term tenants every single year. It is too onerous a process. When we debated it, the Minister said that AHBs should have the resources and that it was not too onerous. I have heard quite serious concerns from the Irish Council for Social Housing on this measure, particularly as we have not seen how the system and portal for updating tenancies will work. The Minister and officials said on Committee Stage that this will not be too onerous and that the ICT will be in situto deal with it. We have many AHBs in the country doing good work. Most of us want them to expand. That is my big concern regarding this measure. I will not rehash what I said when we went through this in detail on Committee Stage, but I am still not convinced and that is why I suggest in amendment No. 26 that "with the exception of tenancies under an approved housing body" be inserted after "tenancy".
I made this point on Committee Stage but it is important. The AHBs do not have the capacity to do what the Government wants them to do. Unless they are given the sort of resources that local authorities have, they will not be able to do this kind of thing or, more generally, play the sort of role which local authorities are able to. This is something on which they have given evidence on a number of occasions at various committees. While they play an important role, I worry that, in addition to the retreat from the direct provision of housing by local authorities which I perceive and the well discussed and debated over-reliance on the private sector, there is an over-reliance on the AHB sector, which does not have the resources to cope at a number of levels including estate management and dealing with problems that arise in tenancies. They just do not have the resources and now the Minister is going to add an extra burden. All tenancies should be registered regularly, but the resources have to be provided. If these bodies are asked to do things which they do not have the resources to do, an excessive burden is being put on them. I want to flag the more general concern I have, which is that the AHBs are going to be put under pressures which they simply do not have the capacity to cope with, even as it stands.
That fact leads into something else, which is that we now have a whole range of tiers of social housing. There is premium social housing, which is a council house. Here there are many supports, maintenance and welfare services. Then there is AHB housing, which is the next tier down. This is better than being in the private rented sector but it is significantly under-resourced. Then there is the tier of the housing assistance payment, where one is a third-class social housing tenant. Social housing should be social housing. Everybody who is in social housing should have the same supports, backup, rights, securities and so on, but the Government is creating a tiered, hierarchical social housing system which is completely unfair and which discriminates against the people who do not get the premium housing. It is wrong.
Deputy Darragh O'Brien makes a good point. We discussed keeping it as simple as possible and that it would just be a matter of clicking a few buttons. I am not too sure if that will turn out to be the case. The Minister has told us he is going to bring forward more legislation in the autumn. I ask him to keep this measure under review. I suppose it will depend on when it is introduced. If it does not turn out to be a simple procedure and if it turns out to be over-onerous on that sector, it should be looked at again. The point being made by Deputy O'Brien is fair.
One interesting point made by the AHB group, the Housing Alliance, in its presentation this morning was that many young housing professionals tend to choose to work for AHBs rather than for the councils. That is a very interesting point. Staff in the council tend to be generalists whereas people who specialised in housing administration during their education tend to work for the AHBs. The other thing about the AHBs is that some of them are now incredibly large. It is very striking when one looks at an organisation like Clúid Housing or Co-operative Housing Ireland. These bodies may have 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 tenancies. This means that they are bigger than, for example, Fingal County Council, one of the county councils in the area I represent. They have huge estates. The big lacuna in the Minister's administration over the last two years is that he has not brought forward the long-promised legislation to encompass and fully regulate the AHBs. We are still waiting on that. We were told that there were issues with the Charities Regulator and so forth, but we are still waiting. We have been promised this legislation for a long time. Even going back to a time when we had Fianna Fáil Ministers we were promised legislation specific to AHBs, which still has not been put in place. However, I generally believe that all tenancies should be registered, including by all organisations providing social housing. The thrust of the Bill is right in this case.
It is interesting to note the completely contradictory views of two Deputies on the role of the AHBs, on their size, and on the ability of AHBs to meet some of the demands that have been placed on them. In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, there is no tiering of social housing in this country.
Local authorities are building more homes than housing bodies using Government money. It is interesting that many people who are housed by such housing bodies would say that they are better at managing local estates than local authorities. We have to be careful about drawing conclusions from the views the Deputy has expressed, which are anecdotal rather than based on evidence. That is the point I am making.
On this particular measure, because we are moving to the annual registration of tenancies there will be an administrative burden on AHBs in the first year. That burden will significantly lessen in subsequent years because tenancies in AHBs tend to be of a much longer duration than those in the private rental sector. Even in respect of the small housing bodies which may only have ten, 11 or 12 tenants, we are talking about a fee of €8.50 per tenant. That is not too much of a burden to place on the AHB sector.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 17, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:“(iv) the insertion, in paragraph (b), of “and one to which subsection (1A) of section 3 applies that commences after the period of 3 months from the commencement of section 3 of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019” after “passing of this Act”,”.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 23, line 7, to delete “section 148S(17);” and substitute “section 148S(19);”.
This amendment provides a minor technical correction to referencing in the proposed new section 148R, which provides definition to the new Part 7A of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 as inserted by section 28 of the Bill which provides for the Residential Tenancies Board sanctioning regime.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 35, to delete lines 35 and 36 and substitute the following:“29. Section 151 of the Act of 2004 is amended—
(a) in subsection (1), by the insertion of the following paragraph:”.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 35, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:“(b) by the insertion of the following subsection:“(2A) (a) The Minister shall, not earlier than 12 months and not later than 15 months after the commencement of section 22 of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019, request the Board to provide him or her with such information in relation to prevailing rent levels in the rented sector (other than lettings referred to in paragraph (b) of the definition of that term) as he or she may specify by such date (which shall be a date that falls not later than 3 months after the date of the request concerned) as he or she may specify.
(b) The Board shall comply with a request under paragraph (a).
(c) The Minister shall, not later than 3 months after the date specified under paragraph (a) in respect of the request concerned—(i) prepare a report in relation to prevailing rent levels in the rented sector (other than lettings referred to in paragraph (b) of the definition of that term), and
(ii) lay a copy of that report before each House of the Oireachtas.”.”.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 40, lines 31 and 32, to delete all words from and including “by the licensee” in line 31 down to and including line 32 and substitute the following:“to the licensor by any person (whether or not the licensee) in consideration of the licence concerned; and”.
Amendments Nos. 36 to 38, inclusive, are technical in nature and relate to student-specific accommodation.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 41, to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following:“(a) given by the owner (in this section referred to as the “licensor”) of student accommodation to a student (in this section referred to as the “licensee”), and
(b) created not earlier than one month after the commencement of this section, permitting the licensee to enter and reside in a residential unit (whether or not self-contained) within that student accommodation in consideration of the making by any person (whether or not the licensee) of a payment or payments to the licensor;”.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 42, lines 13 to 15, to delete all words from and including “and includes” in line 13 down to and including line 15 and substitute the following:“and includes a licence that permits the licensee to enter and reside in the house or part thereof for any such period in consideration of the making by any person (whether or not the licensee) of a payment or payments to the licensor.”.”.