Dáil debates

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Residential Tenancies (Tenants' Rights) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


10:00 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I will share my time with Deputies Kelly and Duncan Smith. I will take ten minutes and they will take five each, with the agreement of the House. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to introduce this important Bill which the Labour Party has drafted with particular input from our Seanad colleague and housing spokesperson, Senator Moynihan. I pay particular tribute to the Senator for her immense work and for her commitment to ensuring a strengthening of rights and protection for renters in this jurisdiction. This Bill is essentially about addressing what we and most reasonable people see as an existing power imbalance between landlords and renters. We want to address years of housing policy under this Government and the preceding Government which has favoured landlords and emphasised the use of rental properties as investments rather than as homes. We want to tackle that head on with this important legislation. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome the news this morning that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is not opposing the Bill. We are glad to hear that and look forward to working constructively with the Government to ensure that the Bill's provisions are accepted and brought into law.

This Bill represents a commitment I made during the by-election for the Dublin Bay South constituency earlier this year. During that campaign, I and all those canvassing with me heard from many people across the constituency who were experiencing difficulties and traumas as renters. I refer to really serious problems regarding security of tenure and fear of evictions, to unaffordable rents and deposits, fear of further increases and to poor quality of life and, in some cases, really poor conditions in rented accommodation. That is unacceptable in 2021. During that by-election campaign, I made a commitment that the first Private Members' Bill I would introduce would be a Bill to ensure greater protections for renters. I am glad to be able to abide by that commitment with my party colleagues and with the great assistance and support of Senator Moynihan. We want to tackle these issues not just for those in Dublin Bay South, but for those across the country. I am conscious that this is a particularly pressing issue in my own constituency of Dublin Bay South. The proportion of households who are in private rental accommodation is double the average. They represent a very significant proportion of those living in the constituency. Despite this, the problems and traumas those renting in Dublin Bay South face are replicated across the country. My colleagues and I will speak about some of the testimony we have heard from our own constituents.

This important Bill addresses three important issues in a range of constructive and positive ways. We look forward to working with the Government and with those of all parties and none to ensure that these provisions are accepted. The issues we are going to address and which I will outline were also identified in a recent report on housing published just last week by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in conjunction with the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI. That study highlighted the disadvantage experienced by many groups within the housing system and particular difficulties regarding the rented sector and the lack of rights and protections for renters. The stark findings of that report really emphasised the need to pass this important legislation.

As I have said, we are looking at three particular areas. The first thing we wish to do with this Bill is to strengthen protections against eviction for those who are renting. The legislation would remove so-called no-fault evictions. Importantly, it would provide for tenancies of indefinite duration. It would remove the ground allowing landlords to terminate tenancies on the basis that they intend to sell the property within three months and puts curbs on evictions for the purposes of refurbishment or passing the property on to family members. These are very important measures which would protect against eviction and which would provide significant additional protections for those renting.

We have heard from Focus Ireland - and I will speak further on this - about its concern, based on figures from the Residential Tenancies Board, that the main reason given in eviction notices currently being served is landlords declaring an intent to sell. Focus Ireland tells us that this is the primary cause of families entering homelessness. That clearly has a significant knock-on effect not only for those families, who face severe distress and trauma, but for us as a society. These are important measures which would have a knock-on effect in reducing homelessness.

The second challenge we seek to address in the Bill is that of unaffordable rents and deposits. Despite the introduction of rent pressure zones in 2016, rents have increased by almost 40% in Dublin and by 20% elsewhere. In other words, rental costs have risen at a faster pace than mean earnings. Just yesterday, I heard from a constituent of mine who said that they have become a renter for life because they will never afford to get a mortgage. This person estimates that, after 26 years of renting in Dublin, they have paid more than €341,000 in rent. This person cannot save for a deposit and is therefore caught in this position. We are therefore really concerned about unaffordable rents and deposits. We have previously called for a three-year rent freeze. That is essential, particularly given the recent increase in inflation. There was a good deal of news about that yesterday. It is simply not enough to link rents to the consumer price index, although we supported the Government in doing that. It is not sufficient. We now need a much more effective curb on rent increases. I have spoken to constituents who tell me that their landlords are increasing rents by 4% because they can. That is a real concern. Our Bill would also declare the entire State a rent pressure zone and would cap deposits at just one month's rent, among other measures. As I have said, we also see a three-year rent freeze as an essential policy measure, although this is not provided for specifically in the Bill.

The third issue addressed by this Bill, which again mirrors a finding in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission report, is that of the quality of accommodation and conditions for renters. Currently, renters in Ireland face a whole range of different restrictive measures in their leases that prevent them from seeing their rented homes as permanent and that contribute to the enormous demand for buying houses and apartments. Many people want to get on the property ladder because they face poor quality accommodation as well as the fear of eviction and rent hikes. In other European countries, it is common for renters to be able to keep pets in their home and to request an unfurnished property so that they can move their own furniture and belongings in. Renting is therefore seen culturally as a more reliable, long-term and sustainable option for individuals and families. We have never had that approach in Ireland. It is time to change things. Our Bill provides for protections for renters and the right to rent properties unfurnished, and would also rule against an absolute prohibition on keeping pets in apartments and houses, among other things. It also provides for model tenancy agreements and for greater rights with regard to information and transparency for renters. For example, it provides for a public register to be put in place which would set out the number and length of previous tenancies and the rent paid and previously paid. It would also list the refurbishment and renovation works that purportedly led to eviction. All of these measures are essential if we seek to redress the current imbalance between renters and landlords.

Again, to speak about my constituent's experience and the survey carried out for the Labour Party, we have heard from renters who describe experiences renting in Dublin and elsewhere as soul-destroying and terrible. Just yesterday, another constituent told me of a direct experience of leases containing a condition that tenants must pay a professional cleaner to have their rental properties cleaned before they can get their deposits back. In essence, this is an additional cost and will result, in many cases, in tenants paying hundreds of euros to get apartments professionally cleaned. I hear this is now a standard clause in many rental contracts. It is very frustrating for renters and a clear example of the serious power imbalance that prevails between landlords and tenants and that we are seeking to address in this Bill.

The Government's measures to date have not been sufficient to address the specific concerns and fears of renters. As I said, we know from reports yesterday that with the rise in inflation, a three-year rent freeze is now essential as a specific Government policy measure. We also know, however, that the provisions in this Bill will provide essential protections for renters because, currently, they face a stark context. That is apparent not just to those renting but to everyone, from the parents whose adult children are living in bedrooms and boxrooms in the family home well into their 20s, and often their 30s, to those who are, as we say, couch-surfing and who are not officially registered as homeless but simply cannot afford a place of their own, even though their incomes are too high for them to be on a housing list.

We need to ensure that renting becomes a long-term, viable and sustainable option for people in Ireland. We also need to ensure we have a cultural shift to move away from this vision of renting as always being in terms of a landlord's investment and income. We should instead skew our policy, rightly, somewhat back towards renters and the need to see rental properties as homes.

10:10 am

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I thank Deputy Bacik and our housing spokesperson, Senator Rebecca Moynihan, for their work on this Bill. This is a critical issue that came up for Deputy Bacik during the Dublin Bay South by-election, and we committed to bringing forward this Bill on foot of that. We have honoured our commitment in this regard because during the by-election campaign it certainly came across to us how important this matter is since the constituency has one of the highest numbers of people living in rented accommodation. Deputy Bacik is delivering on her mandate.

Renters deserve improved rights. It is beyond time for them to have security of tenure and the ability to make their leased apartment or house their actual home. There is a significant difference between having a property you live in and calling it a home. Renters need to be treated fairly, they need to be treated with respect and they need a new deal. Simple things that many of us often take for granted, such as the right to have a household pet or to opt for an unfurnished property, need to be allowed under the law. We also need to bring in a three-year rent freeze; it is imperative that we do so. I have heard some comments from members of the Government at times that this is not constitutional. It absolutely is constitutional. I 100% know that it is because I brought in a rent freeze when I was in government. Those lines are old and should be thrown in the dustbin.

For many years, we have tried to change the law by introducing Bills and amendments to give renters a real break, especially on the issue of rent increases and the grounds for eviction. Since 2016, renters have borne the brunt of record increases and still do not have basic protections that are taken for granted in many other jurisdictions. In December 2016, my colleague, former Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, tabled a Social and Affordable Housing Bill that sought to link rents to inflation and to remove as grounds for eviction the intention of landlords to sell their properties. If that Bill had been adopted, renters would have saved thousands and thousands of euros by now and families would have been saved from homelessness and much more. As rents continued to rise and the homelessness crisis escalated, we again tried to change the law in 2018 with the Residential Tenancies (Greater Security of Tenure and Rent Certainty) Bill. We sought to radically restrict the grounds for eviction and the Government again failed to take on board the proposals. We are hoping the Minister of State will change tack. Again, we sought to link rents to inflation but nothing changed. The Minister at the time did not oppose it, but he also did not take any of it on board. It was basically an exercise in paying lip service.

As figures from the Residential Tenancies Board show, more than half of the notices to quit issued since 2019 were because the landlord involved intended to sell the property. In many countries, the sale of a rental property cannot be used as grounds for terminating a tenancy agreement. That is what we need here. It is a right that commercial tenants in Ireland have but not one enjoyed by those living in their own homes. Another 24% of tenancy terminations are because the landlord involved wanted the property for a family member. Our Bill severely limits those grounds because, in many cases, these are spurious and are just used as an excuse. With Covid restrictions on evictions now lifted, the number of homeless families is increasing again. More protections are needed. As inflation rises, we also need, as already stated, a three-year rent freeze.

At the heart of this crisis are people and the impact the housing crisis has had on them. The stories that have been shared with us are heartbreaking. People are afraid, demoralised and left with no alternatives. In a survey, one renter said that there is no stability in living, that they are in constant fear of eviction, that there is nothing better to rent locally, that they never a furnish a home because they do not know how long they are going to be there and that the whole system is shambolic and suits neither decent tenants nor decent landlords. Another said that they have been renting since 2009 and that the rent has risen from €350 to €850 per month in that period. In the meantime, the rent has now nearly doubled. Although this person earns a good salary, after the rent is paid and bills, grocery shopping, health insurance, travel, etc., are taken into account, it is incredibly difficult to survive. Another person said that the impact of this cannot be overstated because a home can be pulled out from under a renter at any moment under the current conditions that apply. How can the person in question consider starting a family when they might not be able to put a roof over that family's head?

These are some very important changes and they have been given lip service over the past few years. I am hoping the Minister of State will change tack and state that he will take this Bill on board.

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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Like any Deputy or public representative who operates a clinic or an office service, I know, because I do eight of them a week, that the vast majority of people who come in are those at the very sharp end of the housing crisis. Once woman I met more than a year ago rang me seven weeks ago today to tell me that her beloved dog died peacefully in her arms that morning. While she was devastated and crying on the phone, she said to me during the conversation that it might now be easier for her to find another house or apartment because she is currently the victim of what we call no-fault eviction. I know it was seven weeks today because, coincidentally, she rang me at 9.15 this morning to say that she got the ashes of her dog yesterday and will now be able to bring those ashes of what was a beloved pet to her next home, which we will, hopefully, find for her very shortly.

That story illustrates just how important people's pets are to them. They are members of their families and they love them dearly. For many people who have to jump the many hurdles out there in terms of high rents, supply and finding a landlord or rental agency that will return a phone call and give you an interview or viewing, who say, "Well look, I have a pet, I have it for 10, 11 years, or six months, I love it", to then hear "Sorry, not happening", is a very real impediment and heartbreak for thousands of people and tenants out there. This Bill will provide practical solutions to that impediment.

It is similar to the issue of being able to dry clothes outside on a balcony. We all know what is at the root of this issue for prospective landlords; it is downright snobbery and classism at its very worst. Whether you have a long or short balcony you should be able to dry your clothes on it. What are we going to do? Are we going to try to encourage people to get tumble dryers? Not only is that climate hostile, they are expensive to use and in increasingly smaller apartment spaces, people do not have the room for them. People should be able to dry their clothes outside in the fresh air and not have to dry them inside on clothes horses with damp crawling down the walls and damp on children's school bags, as was stated in the House last night during a separate debate. Again, this Bill provides a solution to what is a very real impediment. That one really hurts because it is rooted in old-fashioned class snobbery that has to go.

I am happy that this Bill will be accepted. I hope these elements will be included and will not go into the netherworld of Opposition Bills that go out there and float somewhere around these Houses, never to be seen again.

We have to remove no-fault evictions and we need to do so straight away. If Housing for All is to work as the Government wants, this needs to be done straight away. The housing crisis, as we have learned over recent years, is in essence a tenancy crisis. The vast majority of people who find themselves homeless have been transitioned out of the rental market through no-fault evictions, rents they cannot afford or whatever flimsy excuse bad landlords are using to profit from their property, such as by putting it back on the market for a much higher rent or selling it on to an investment fund in a red-hot selling market.

What Deputy Bacik said is spot on. We need to skew housing policy back towards people who are living with roofs over their heads, whether they are paying rent, a mortgage or whatever. The Tánaiste's contribution in the House yesterday laid bare how those at the very top of the Government feel about the housing crisis and where their priorities lie. It is not with tenants. I do not think that is shared by the backbenchers of the three parties and may not be shared by some in Cabinet but it was certainly clear where the Tánaiste's priorities lie. We need to skew it back, put tenants first and keep them in their homes, and to supply affordable homes to ensure that no-fault evictions, or any evictions, are ended and we can end this housing crisis.

10:20 am

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Bacik. She is an experienced parliamentarian but this is her first Bill to bring to this House, so I congratulate her on that.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I acknowledge the spirit of the Bill and its genuine attempt to improve circumstances for tenants at a time of undersupply in the residential rental sector. The Government will not oppose this Bill and commits to examining the positive ideas contained therein in the context of progressing its own rental reforms later this year. Some of the measures proposed in the Bill have been provided for in Government legislation or have been committed to under the Government's Housing for All: A new Housing Plan for Ireland. Other proposals have been considered in the context of previous Private Members' Bills and did not progress for legal and policy reasons. That said, the Government is open to considering constructive and positive ideas from all quarters. If a proposal has merit, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will do his best to progress it while respecting the legal constraints that may apply.

As Deputies will know, Housing for All: A new Housing Plan for Ireland is the Government's housing plan towards 2030. It is a multi-annual, multibillion euro plan that will improve Ireland's housing system and deliver more homes of all types for people with different housing needs. The Government's overall objective is that every citizen in the State should have access to good-quality homes to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard in the right place and offering a high quality of life.

Too many people have been caught in an unaffordable rent trap. The Government has put renewed focus on home ownership, the preferred tenure choice of most tenants, but we are also completely focused on continuing to enhance tenancy protections. The Minister has introduced five rental Bills since taking office last year and plans to progress further rental reforms later this year. The residential rental sector provides many homes and tenants will need to be better protected into the future. The supply of private and social housing is increasing and cost-rental and affordable housing is now coming on stream. We aim to scale up cost rental to a level that significantly impacts on the overall private rental market and offers competition at more affordable rent levels to help reduce the prevailing high market rents demanded of tenants.

The Government recognises that rent increases are causing significant affordability issues, particularly for those with low incomes and the more vulnerable of our citizens. The Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Act 2021 introduced measures in July to better protect tenants against affordability challenges by extending rent pressure zones, RPZs, to the end of 2024 and prohibiting any rent increase in an RPZ from exceeding general inflation as recorded by the harmonised index of consumer prices. This measure significantly reduces the level of permissible rent increases for the estimated 74% of all tenancies in RPZs. In addition, until 2025, rent reviews outside of RPZs can occur no more frequently than biannually. It remains the position that rent reviews in RPZs can occur no more frequently than annually. The forthcoming Government Bill will further enhance the security of tenure and will re-examine the operation of RPZs to ensure that rent controls are effective in areas with the highest and fastest growing rents. The most vulnerable tenants impacted by Covid-19 continue to be legally protected from rent increases and eviction.

The Government is focused on building on rental reforms introduced by the Minister in the past year and on rental reforms implemented in recent years. A number of targeted measures and initiatives are being developed to provide better security of tenure and greater rent certainty for tenants, as well as enhancing the supports and services available to both tenants and landlords, through the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, in particular, to facilitate the development of a more vibrant and sustainable rental sector. Inter alia, these initiatives include the recent extension of rent pressure zone protections to the end of 2024; the prohibition of rent increases exceeding any general inflation, as recorded by the harmonised index of consumer prices, which will be re-examined in light of the prevailing inflation rate; the bringing forward of legislation to address long-term security of tenure, including by providing for tenancies of indefinite duration, subject to legal advice; enhancing tenancy protections for those living in dwellings affected by a receivership; amending the Residential Tenancies Act to provide for default conciliation as first steps in the RTB's dispute resolution process; increasing enforcement of the registration of tenancies by the RTB; the development and publication of a standard tenancy agreement by the RTB; and reviewing the recommendations of the working group on tax and fiscal treatment of landlords, which was chaired by the Department of Finance.

The necessary legislative change will be progressed through the housing and residential tenancies Bill 2021, which is expected to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny by the end of this Dáil term. As I said, the forthcoming Government Bill will further enhance security of tenure and re-examine the operation of RPZs to ensure that rent controls are effective. I intend to take account of pre-legislative scrutiny reports by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage following its consideration of the general scheme of the Government's Bill later this year and to publish the Bill as a matter of priority. In developing legislative proposals, it is important any new legal measures avoid the risk of undermining stability and confidence in the rental sector and of negatively impacting on the existing and future supply of rented accommodation and the wider economy. We cannot undermine or damage the future capacity and attractiveness of the rental sector for tenants or landlords.

That said, the Government understands and appreciates the motivation and bona fides behind the Bill. I reiterate the Government will not oppose it and will examine its positive elements in framing the Government's own rental reforms. We need to record in the House that the Private Member's Bill contains technical and practical operational shortcomings, with some provisions likely to face significant risk of a legal challenge and others highly likely to have a detrimental effect on the supply of rental property. The rationale and motivation behind the proposals tabled is appreciated and the Bill in its entirety will be examined by departmental officials. In doing so, recognition must be given to the fact that 70% of landlords have just one rental property, while 86% have just one or two properties. Recognition must also be given to the fact many landlords are leaving the market, with more than 3,500 having done so since 2019. Every action the Government takes needs to be balanced to avoid an unwanted reaction in the rental market. We need a sustainable supply of rental accommodation to meet demand and we need rental levels to become more affordable.

The Government's bona fides can be accepted when it comes to our efforts to develop and enhance the residential rental sector. It can also be accepted that developing the rental sector is an important goal for the country and doing so will be paramount to avoid unintended consequences for any new Government measures. This Government and its predecessor have not been found wanting in coming forward with necessary tenancy protections, particularly in light of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It will continue to be important to balance the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. The vast majority of small, independent landlords are good landlords; they look after their accommodation and their tenants. Less than 2% of all tenancies end up in a dispute before the RTB. The Government will continue to work to enhance the protections under the Residential Tenancies Acts and to invest in services provided by the RTB and Threshold.

I accept there is more that can be done to enhance the private rented sector.

That is why the Government will introduce the housing and residential tenancies Bill 2021 shortly to build on the progress to date. Deputies will have the opportunity to progress and discuss any new proposals or ideas in the context of the forthcoming Government Bill. The proposals outlined in this Private Members' Bill will be carefully examined in the context of the Government's forthcoming housing and residential tenancies Bill with a view to providing for any positive and legally permissible change. In this spirit, the Government will not oppose the Second Stage reading of the Bill.

10:30 am

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing this Bill. I note the Government has said there may be some legal issues inherent in the Bill and there may be challenges. Our job here is to promulgate legislation and work through it. If issues arise in the courts thereafter, then so be it, but we are the Legislature. I wish to goodness the Government would not qualify its support for the passage of a Bill by coming out with language such as that. It is a culture that has pervaded this House in latter years. We should proceed on an issue such as this in a bipartisan or non-partisan manner and seek to work through any legal issues that are always euphemistically referred to.

We strongly support giving rights to renters. That is what this is about, fundamentally. We are all inundated with calls from constituents who find themselves in challenging positions, including those living in substandard, Dickensian residences - one would not even call them "residences" - and people who are trying to get on the first rung of the housing ladder. We are making an honest attempt to promulgate legislation which would seek to give a greater balance to the renter, as my colleague, Deputy Bacik, said. It reminds me of Michael Davitt and the Land League. Some 170 years ago, Davitt spoke of fixity of tenure and fair rent. When it comes to renters and citizens we are talking about the same principles. It behoves us all to try to legislate effectively so that we shift the balance and there is a paradigm shift away from the market and towards the renter, allowing for people to live happily and affordably in their own homes if they are not owner-occupiers of properties.

The inspection regime by local authorities needs to be kick-started again. I understand it went into abeyance during lockdown for obvious reasons but there are people in receipt of the housing assistance payment, HAP, and rental accommodation scheme, RAS, payment living in accommodation supported by the State that is completely substandard and not fit for anybody to live in. That inspection regime needs to be up and running again. It is vital.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I too commend my newest Dáil colleague, Deputy Bacik, on her first legislation. This is an extremely important area and a fulfilment of her commitment.

We all know and acknowledge that solving the biggest social issue of our time, the crisis in housing provision, is complex. It requires a suite of actions and enormous resolve and resources. Like eating an elephant, we need to do it bite by bite. We know we will not make all the changes in one fell swoop. We will have the opportunity, and we are all focused on it, to critique and measure the Government's Housing for All proposals. Most of us will approach that as an honest attempt to solve once and for all this enormous social crisis that faces our communities.

Surely the first and most important action all Members of the Oireachtas must take is to stop, insofar as we can, the daily creation of homeless individuals and families. It is like somebody who is wounded: you want to treat the problems, but the first thing is to stop the haemorrhaging. That is what we seek to do in this Bill.

There are individuals and families today in rented accommodation who are being forced out of it. We know what is the single biggest driver of homelessness. It has been said again and again and looked at by a variety of researchers. Through no fault of their own, renters are losing their home. It is not a rental or investment property, but their home.

There is not a Member of this House who is not dealing today with families and individuals in despair because they face homelessness, having received a notice to quit. These are families and individuals who have paid their rent assiduously, sometimes with great struggle, sometimes paying exorbitant rents that amount to an extraordinarily large part of their income. They have received a notice to quit for a variety of reasons, most likely, in the market we are in, because the landlord, often an accidental landlord, feels the capital value of the property is something he or she wants to realise right now. Somebody's home is removed in one fell swoop and he or she looks around desperately for an alternative but there is none.

I do not represent a big urban area like Dublin, Cork or Galway but in my constituency office in Wexford today, we have six cases of families and individuals in that situation. I would say that is true for every Deputy in this House. These are people who never envisaged that they would be homeless. That is not them. They never saw that. Now they face a deadline and there is no alternative available. There is no property to rent but the landlord wants vacant possession and is legally entitled to it.

In the local government area, that could not happen. A tenant paying her or his rent and abiding by the tenancy agreement with the local authority has security of tenure permanently. We would not think of it any other way for local authority tenants. We give them a tenancy agreement and as long as they pay their rent and abide by the conditions of their tenancy, they can life there forever and their family can plan, grow and thrive there. We must act to protect renters in the private sector in exactly the same way. If we want a situation where we have private and public renters, why would we treat them so differently and leave people in the private rental sector in such a precarious position in terms of security of tenure?

It is ironic that we protect renters in the commercial sphere. A tenant buying a commercial property is protected. There is no issue with that. Why do we have this fixation with getting rid of a tenant in good standing who is paying the rent and living in a home? Why does such a tenant not have the same level of protection? Fundamentally underscoring Deputy Bacik's Bill and the work done by my colleague, Senator Moynihan, our spokeswoman in this area, is the intention to change the attitude to renting. There has been much talk about the European model of renting, whereby people, not only in Europe but in America and across the world, assume they can rent for generations. We have a different mindset here. We have created a false tension between landlords and renters that need not exist.

We need to ensure that people can rent unfurnished apartments, make them their own home, surround themselves with their own things and have their own pets in what will be their permanent home for as long as they want but that will only happen when we bring about the legislative changes that are underpinned in this legislation. It is only one of a suite of changes we need to make to address this crisis but it is a fundamental one to stop the ever-increasing tidal wave of homelessness that all Members are dealing with in our individual constituencies.

10:40 am

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I commend Deputy Bacik and Senator Moynihan on bringing forward the Bill. It is very good legislation and it has the enthusiastic support of Sinn Féin.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Before commenting on the Bill, I wish to respond to some of the comments by members of the Government yesterday and today. During a similar and related debate yesterday, the Tánaiste stated that one person's rent is another person's income and that it was important for the Government to strike a balance between the needs and rights of landlords and those of tenants, a comment echoed today by the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. That comment betrays an appalling ignorance of the reality in the rental market. The very widespread reaction to the comments of the Tánaiste yesterday and today is evidence of that. There is no balance at all between the rights of landlords and those of tenants in the current market. That is why there has been a doubling in rent across the State in recent years. It is why very large numbers of tenants continue to be evicted on spurious grounds and why there are so many rental properties that do not meet minimum standards. As local authorities are not resourced enough, they are not equipped to conduct the appropriate level of inspections to ensure all rental tenancies meet those standards.

What was also remarkable about the remarks of the Tánaiste yesterday is that he tried to present himself as the champion of the small landlords. If I were an accidental or semi-professional landlord, I would be most critical not of any member of the Opposition, but of the repeated failure of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to do anything to stop the disorderly exit of accidental and semi-professional landlords from the market in the past five years. I and other members of the Opposition have been crying out for the Government to come up with a strategy to tackle that problem but the former Ministers responsible for housing, Deputy Coveney and Eoghan Murphy, and the current Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, have all just sat on their hands. The only landlords this Government is really interested in and on the side of are the large institutional landlords. If it is seriously suggesting that the rent of a tenant in such a property should be made equivalent to the income of those institutional landlords who do not even pay any tax in the State in most cases, that speaks absolute volumes.

What do we need? What does the Bill seek to do and what does the Opposition continue to call for? We want a stable private rental sector. We want a private rental sector where tenants have security, affordability and proper standards and where landlords can make a reasonable return for the service they provide. That is what everybody on this side of the Chamber has been calling for since Rebuilding Ireland was first published but none of that is in place at present. Until the Government realises the need for the kind of fundamental reforms that many Opposition Deputies are calling for, as Deputy Bacik doing today, then this problem will continue.

As regards the Bill, the security of tenure provisions are very welcome, particularly the provision ending the use of sale of the property as a grounds for a notice to quit. If I were to encourage Deputy Bacik to go one step further, all I would say is that although section 11 is good, 24% of notices to quit are currently grounded on use by a family member and the fact that this ground is not removed completely by the Bill gives me a concern that landlords who today might use vacant possession on sale to justify a notice to quit could in the future try to use what is provided for in the Bill. We may discuss that further if the Government ever allows us to get the Bill to Committee Stage.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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However, the proposition the Deputy has made is sound. It is really positive that the Bill deals with issues of adequacy and standards. Deputy Bacik is absolutely right to reference the report by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, on housing adequacy and particularly looking at the groups of people systemically disadvantaged as a result of both poor access to housing and of the very poor standard of housing when they do access it. I and other Opposition Deputies have called for a Dáil debate on that report and I hope that gets the support of the Business Committee tomorrow.

Crucially, there is the issue of affordability. Nothing in what the Government has done with its five items of legislation has improved affordability. In fact, most of those five Bills that the Minister of State mentioned actually stripped tenants of the Covid-19 protections that the former Minister, Eoghan Murphy, put in place. Tenants are in as precarious a position now as they were in pre-Covid times and, with inflation continuing to rise, have no greater protection under the rent pressure zones than when those zones were originally conceived.

The final comment I wish to make is on the issue of landlords leaving the market. We have lost more than 20,000 rental tenancies in the past four years. That is a direct result of Government policy and it is also driving family homelessness, as Deputies Howlin and Bacik mentioned, with 50% of notices to quit being on those grounds. We need a strategy. Many Deputies have ideas on how to deal with that and stop that disorderly exit but until the Government decides it is going to do something about it, that exit is going to continue. What is the consequence of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party housing policy for the rental sector now? It is rising rents and falling supply. Until the Government listens to the Opposition, that will continue.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to register my support for the Bill and commend the Labour Party on bringing it forward. On the ground in County Kerry, there has been a crisis in housing going back to 2011 when the decisions were made to stop building social housing and to abolish town councils, which exacerbated a difficult situation. I welcome in particular the provisions of the Bill relating to security and standards. It is a sound Bill overall and it is worthy of support.

Tenants and renters in County Kerry have experienced a significant degree of vulnerability in recent years. Every week or two, I meet people whose rent has been increased. They are put into panic because they anticipate that they will get a notice or they have received a notice, although, in fairness, the notice is usually in compliance with the standards as outlined. However if one is, like a man I met during the week, a separated man of 72 years of age looking for a place to live, maybe for the rest of one's days, and one has received a notice, it can make one's life come crumbling down. In 2020, Kerry experienced the largest rent increases in the country for that calendar year. According to the latest Daft.ie report, a 16.5% year-on-year increase occurred in the second quarter of this year. Rather than deflating the market, Covid-19 has stoked it.

This has not been helped by the Government's recent plan, which has seen rents increase as the Minister's plan lacks credibility. A chronic shortage of housing, combined with a large number of second homes and holiday homes, particularly in County Kerry, has given rise to this situation. The market is pitched heavily towards landlords and there is a need to rebalance and address that discrepancy through the law. The Bill will tighten the grounds for evicting current tenants under the exemptions offered for family members. In reality, this has been shoddily enforced. Major institutional landlords have used it, farcically listing their own company name as being in need of a property for a relative. For those reasons alone, I support the Bill.

Photo of Violet-Anne WynneViolet-Anne Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein)
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In broad terms, I too stand in firm support of the provisions of the Bill which intends to rectify the power imbalance between renters and landlords that plagues the private rental sector, where acute pressure exists. The sector increased by 109% between 2002 and 2016, accounting for almost one fifth of households. Pressures in the sector are driven by rising demand, a lack of supply and the high cost that indebted landlords face in servicing their loans. Security of tenure and rent certainty are principles that my party advocates for very strongly. It has done so for decades. Sinn Féin brought forward two Bills similar to Deputy Bacik's Bill during the previous Dáil, calling for a host of protections for renters and seeking to legislate for the break they clearly deserve.

The Bill proposes a range of amendments, including to extend rent pressure zones across the country, but that is too little, too late, as we are already in the situation where individual earnings have not risen in line with the 8.9% national average of rent inflation in the past year. We in Sinn Féin would alternatively enforce a ban on rent increases, which is different from a rent freeze as it allows rent to decrease. In terms of safeguarding against evictions, I was informed by Threshold advocates in Galway, for example, that almost half of the termination of tenancy notices they investigated in 2020 were illegitimate. Sinn Féin believes the Bill could go further and provide more definitive protection for renters. We would remove the use of a family member as a ground for eviction altogether, for example.

I support the Bill, but excuse me for having doubts. In Clare, for example, renters are particularly exposed. Rents have increased by approximately 15% over the past year. The fact that the private rental market is dysfunctional has much to do with limited supply. Limited supply is directly related to the over-reliance on HAP and RAS social housing supports, which are often not long-term in nature and distort the actual social housing needs of the population. In Clare, there appears to be a conveyor belt of people threatened with homelessness. Yes, there is progress with families and people successfully stepping down from emergency accommodation, but there are always more entering. It is a constant cycle, and evidence of a deeply broken housing sector.

There are suitable sustainable solutions. Our party supports increased investment in and development of cost-rental units at scale, which is an approach given scant attention by the Government because it would destabilise the landlord class. This Bill will be helpful but may not deliver the radical system change that is necessary.

10:50 am

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I thank Deputy Bacik for bringing this legislative measure forward. We are dealing with "renovictions". In that context, protections are needed for people who are losing their tenancies. I agree that the accidental landlords require a professionalising of the system so they are also protected where there are cases of good landlords and tenants with extra difficulties, etc. We also need to consider extra supports for the councils to deal with such situations.

Rent pressure zones have not worked. Linking rents to inflation as inflation goes from 3% and up is not going to cut the mustard. I am fed up talking in this House about rents in Dundalk, with people being very lucky to be able to get rent of €1,000 and others having to pay up to €1,800 per month. That is absolutely ridiculous and unsustainable. It is not going to be resolved until the supply issue is dealt with. It is as simple as that.

I am going to pursue something with the Minister of State and I expect him and his Department to revert to me on it. I am hearing about difficulties in Louth County Council that relate not only to income thresholds in respect of the housing list that need to be reviewed and increased but also the change in how assessments are dealt with, which is creating a greater level of difficulty for those carrying out the assessments and resulting in a huge number of people failing who previously would not. I will come back to the Minister of State with details in that regard. It is an absolute disaster. It is part of the poverty trap that we need to address if we are serious in any way.

Louth County Council has a massive amount of old stock. Dundalk has very old stock. We need a huge amount of money. There is insufficient money to deal with a proper programme of maintenance, particularly for windows and doors. The retrofit programme is welcome, but we are talking about less than 40 houses this year. Unless this is going to be ramped up over the next number of years, it will not cut the mustard. This is absolutely necessary.

I also refer to the planning process. We are dealing with the development plan at present and we must have a system that works. We need the Office of the Planning Regulator, the council and the Department to have real conversations and to deliver solutions that will provide supply. That is also accepting that the Government must step up to the mark. We need delivery of affordable housing, council housing, affordable mortgages and affordable rental.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is a particularly grim time to be a renter in Cork or elsewhere. I do not believe there has ever been a good time to be a renter. Historically, the protections available to renters in this State have been very poor compared with those in other jurisdictions. This legislation, which I welcome, would go some distance towards rectifying that. However, the inequality that exists between the tenant and the owner of the property is profound. I will outline the situation in which people find themselves. Like other Deputies, I talk to many individuals, particularly young people, who are in rented accommodation. The choices they face are heartbreaking and, frankly, many of them find them very depressing. Effectively, many of them have a choice between living independently and being able to put together money to get a permanent home. That is the choice they face, especially when there is a situation in which one's rent and ability to pay the rent cannot be taken into account for a mortgage.

Rents in Cork city are now an average of almost €1,600 per month. Two years ago, they were approximately €1,400. It is not that long ago that they were €1,100. The figure is skyrocketing. It is out of control. Many individuals and families are at the pin of their collars. In addition, it is very difficult to find anything and there are queues when a house becomes available to view. There was a report last week on the challenges single parents have when they are competing for rental properties. It is completely dysfunctional and is causing profound hardship. Supply is the key part of resolving this and it must be ramped up urgently. Additional protections must also be provided.

I wish to raise a final point with the Minister of State. I have raised this with him previously. It relates to the new circular. It is causing serious problems. I also wish to flag the Carrigaline loophole. I have raised this matter with numerous Ministers. There are three areas in the country where, due to boundary extensions, the rent pressure zones cannot be extended to places where the rents are increasing way beyond the levels necessary. Due to redrawing, that is not taken into account and cannot be captured. That must be fixed.

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
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I thank Deputy Bacik and her colleagues for bringing forward this Bill and for the opportunity to discuss its provisions and the scandal of the rental crisis in our country. With the Covid-19 restrictions on evictions lifted and protection measures gone, we are seeing major fallout. People come to my constituency office in County Wexford every week who are facing desolation and homelessness because of higher rents and the complete lack of social and affordable housing. Young, hard-working families are paying through the nose for rents. The cost of living has increased and inflation is heading in the highest direction for years. With the addition of the highest childcare costs in Europe, there is a complete no-hope scenario for rent security or ever having the aspiration of owning a home. Due to the massive shift to working from home, more people are moving away from big urban areas in order to rent or buy in places such as County Wexford. This drive in demand will see a corresponding increase in prices.

The rental crisis must be tackled head-on. We welcome this Bill, which would increase rent security and remove unfair restrictions. The Government's failure to get a handle on the situation means that thousands of young people are financially trapped in a property fishbowl, with no way out. The latest Daft report for the second quarter of this year showed County Wexford with an astonishing 13% year-on-year average rental price increase. This is affecting young people too. Students who cannot rely on good quality transport in the county are forced to attempt to enter the Dublin rental market to go to college. Many families simply cannot afford it, and it is causing untold stress.

As my colleagues stated, we will support the Bill. However, Sinn Féin would also like to see a ban on rent increases for three years, as provided for in two Bills we introduced during the final Dáil term of 2020 and in July 2021. This is different from a rent freeze as it allows for rents to decrease as well. We would also go further in terms of the grounds for evictions. While we support the removal of the sale of property as a ground for eviction, and we introduced the family homelessness Bill to deal with this during the last Dáil term, we would go further and remove the use of the family member ground entirely. This generation of hard-working families and young people deserve a fighting chance, which consecutive Governments have denied to them. I commend the Labour Party on bringing this Bill forward. I hope it will help to address some of the issues.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin will support the Bill. We thank the Labour Party and Deputy Bacik for bringing it forward. However, we believe it could go further in a number of ways given the crisis situation in which people now find themselves. We are living with the consequences of the failure Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael led Governments to put citizens' welfare above that of vested interests. Imagine finding oneself in a situation where one is told that the house in which one lives is to be sold and that one's family will then have to enter a rental market with a massive shortage of supply. This is the reality for many families in County Tipperary, where rental costs have increased year on year by 12.7%, with a related reduction in the number of available properties.

Local authority housing is of limited use as the shortage in County Tipperary is reflected in many other constituencies. Tipperary County Council's 2020 annual report put the social housing need at 3,481, with 1,868 of those in receipt of the housing assistance payment. In other words, the private rental sector, which problematically is relied on to make up for the shortfall in local authority housing, is falling through. However, even if more local authority housing was available, HAP income limits are out of date. All of these factors are forcing families to live in overcrowded family homes or to rely on friends with a spare room.

11 o’clock

I am aware of people having to move back in with former partners and spouses, which is no good for them or their children's well-being. Those who cannot get help are faced with accepting unsuitable or substandard accommodation, or worse, finding themselves with nowhere to go. Unfortunately, there is nothing that the local authority can do until the family are in fact homeless. These are the consequences of evictions right now. There are just too many families who contact me in a state of panic because their tenancy has been terminated through no fault of their own and are faced with a rental market that does not have the capacity.

Whatever capacity there is too expensive. That is why I want to give specific mention as to how this Bill deals with grounds for eviction. I welcome the proposal to remove the sale of properties as an acceptable reason for evictions. This is something that Sinn Féin introduced legislation to deal with in the previous Dáil term with our Homeless Prevention Bill.

Sinn Féin also wants to see a ban on rent increases for three years as this Bill proposes. This was also outlined in two Bills we introduced in the previous Dáil term. The difference is that Sinn Féin’s Bills provided for more than just a rent freeze as it allowed for rents to also go down. This Bill contains many elements and Sinn Féin will support it although a number of parts of it that could go further. The policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over the years have damaged this country. Just ask all those families who have nowhere to call home or who are afraid they will not.

11:00 am

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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First, I thank Deputy Bacik for bringing forward this Bill. The Social Democrats will support this Bill's passage to Committee Stage as there are many positive measures in the Bill. That is, of course, if the Government majority on the committee actually allow time for this to be scrutinised on Committee Stage. No time to date has been allocated and given to Opposition or Government backbencher Bills on Committee Stage yet. It is welcome that the Government is letting these Bills go forward to the Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage but if the majority on the committee do not allocate time we will not be able to get to this Bill and we need to get to it.

There are a number of weaknesses in the Bill to which I would like to table amendments on Committee Stage and I hope the Labour Party and Deputy Bacik would support those at that time. There are a few points that are missing in the Bill which could be dealt in other legislation but which could also be dealt with in this Bill and I want to draw attention to those.

The Minister of State in his comments referred to rent controls and the need for them to be effective. The current rent controls link to inflation, which is now running at 3% and could well go to 4%, which means these are not effective measures when we have the highest rents in Europe in this capital city, as well as some of the highest in the country. We saw yesterday, with the Tánaiste’s comments, where he really reveals that he does not understand. He understands the pressure that some landlords are under but does not seem to understand the pressure that tenants are under. This is not an equal situation, which is not to dismiss the pressures that some landlords are under. Tenants are worried about losing their home, about being evicted and about becoming homeless. Some tenants, who are paying 50% to 60% and even more of their income on rent are worried about how they could possibly afford a further rent increase. It is not the same situation that tenants are in. Yes, we have to be mindful of the pressures that all are under but there is a very significant power imbalance in this regard and Deputy Bacik was right to mention that power imbalance between tenants and landlords.

Let us be clear about this Bill on one particular point. This Bill, despite what the proposers say, will not remove all grounds for no-fault evictions. It will remove some of them and that is welcome and I support that but it does not remove no-fault evictions.

What is a no-fault eviction? If we got rid of no-fault evictions, that would mean that someone who is renting and is paying their rent, is in compliance with their tenancy agreement, could not be evicted. This Bill falls significantly short of doing that and I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage to improve and strengthen it in that regard.

The renters need security of tenure and protection against rent increases, evictions and about their deposits. Losing one’s deposit may make getting another tenancy very difficult for people who cannot afford another deposit and puts them at risk of homelessness. Rents have almost doubled over the past decade, have become unaffordable and an entire generation is trapped in renting. Many of these renters would like to be able to buy their own home.

The security of tenure provisions in this Bill are particularly important because when someone is renting, as others have said, this is their home and it is not simply a rental property, an income, or where they get their pension or a return from, which is what it may be for a landlord. For the person living there it is their home. It is where they make friends with their neighbours, settle in to a community, and where their kids go to school and get involved in the GAA club. When they get evicted and sometimes have to move out of their communities, they have to start everything from scratch again. They may have had a child, as I said before, who has had a difficulty settling in to school, such as with a learning difficulty which has been worked through with the teachers and the schools to get the resources and supports in place. They can be uprooted from all of that when they are evicted. We have to recognise when people are renting that this is their home. The Bill does not go far enough in terms of creating that balance.

For example, it is good that the tenancies of indefinite duration would be brought in, as the Government have also committed to. It is good that the sale of properties as grounds for eviction will be removed. But there are not sufficient measures in section 10 in respect of refurbishing the property. They are insufficient and I have significant concerns about these as they are too weak and are potentially open to abuse and fundamentally do not recognise that this is the tenant’s home and that they should have a say as to any measures or renovations. They should definitely have a say if it means that they are potentially going to be evicted from their home. There have been a significant number of evictions using these grounds spuriously. That power imbalance between tenants and landlords should not be open to abuse.

I am also concerned about section 11 of this Bill in respect of an eviction being used to make way for a family member of the landlord. It is welcome that the measures proposed here are an improvement and they narrow the grounds for that but it still leaves this open to abuse and still does not recognise that this is the tenant’s home. This could be somewhere that the tenant is renting for years and where they celebrate their birthdays and family events. Leaving in grounds that landlord representatives fought for to get into the Bill 20 years ago, albeit reduced, does not create the kind of power balance that we need between landlords and tenants or introduce a removal of all no-fault evictions, which is what we have in place in most other northern European countries and what we should have here.

I want to mention two things that could be dealt with in this Bill that are not. There is a need for a deposit protection scheme. There is legislation already in place since 2015 to allow for that but it has not been implemented and should be. The latest figures from the Residential Tenancies Board show that 27% of disputes and complaints are around deposits and yet since 2015 we have had legislation for that but the Government has not implemented it, nor had the previous Government, or indeed had the Government before that either. It is all well and good having the legislation on the books but we need implementation of it.

Another area that is missing from this Bill is in respect of no evictions into homelessness, which is a very important part for renters. This should be in this Bill and in anything when we are talking about renters. There should not be a situation where people can be evicted into homelessness. That requires the State to step up more to provide supports and alternatives to evictions into homelessness but renters should be able to expect, at a minimum, that they will not be evicted into homelessness.

The measures in respect of pets in the Bill are important and are serious. I know that people who do not have pets may not realise the importance of those. I am concerned again that the wording in the Bill is not strong enough on this. There should not be any grounds or possibilities for blanket bans on pets. There are, of course, issues in respect of pets and they need regulation. There can be issues around noise and barking dogs and so forth, but there should not be blanket bans on pets.

I welcome this Bill and support it going on to Committee Stage. The Social Democrat will be tabling a number of amendments on which we will be looking for support on Committee Stage to strengthen the Bill.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Who was it who said, "if you freeze rents to zero, that could mean an income or pension cut for another person or another person unable to pay the mortgage on that property"? Was it, "A", the Irish Property Owners Association, "B", Margaret Thatcher, "C", Micheál Martin or "D", Attila the Hun?

Who wants to be a millionaire? A lot of landlords. The answer to the question is "C". It was the Taoiseach yesterday putting an investment by a landlord ahead of the right of a tenant to a home. This is not a level playing field. There are huge power imbalances. When the Taoiseach says he is balancing rights, he is clearly coming down on the side of landlords and why would he not do so? That is the class represented by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and are there not enough of them in the ranks of their parliamentary parties?

The maximum rent increase had been set at 4% in the rent pressure zones. The Minister decided to change that so he scrapped the 4% and said the maximum increase would be the rate of inflation. He said this at precisely the time when the rate of inflation was beginning to take off on a gallop. It has increased for ten consecutive months - something that has not happened since 2007 - and stands at 2.8%, which is the highest rate since November 2011. In fact, it is conceivable that inflation will go above 4%, perhaps before the end of the year, so in an act of incredible incompetence, the Minister would have set the maximum rate at a higher rate than it was before in the middle of a rent crisis and the greatest housing crisis in the history of the State. This is unbelievable stuff from the Minister.

The Taoiseach rides in to defend the Minister and says "the inflation increase is only temporary; the European Central Bank says it is only temporary." It does but there are others who say that it may not be so temporary. For example, Deutsche Bank describes rising inflation as a global time bomb. Many other capable economists and commentators reckon that this may not be a temporary phenomenon. Time will tell but it is not the point. The point is that, at a bare minimum, and I will make a point about this in a moment, rents need to be frozen. We will support this Bill but in many respects, it does not go far enough. A one-year rent freeze is extremely weak from the Labour Party. Most-----

11:10 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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We are calling for a three-year rent freeze.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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It is calling for three years. Is it not for one year and by the inflation rate thereafter?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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In that case, I stand corrected. A rent freeze would need to take place over a number of years, at the very least. The debate does not need to be about rents that rise at the rate of inflation or a rent freeze when a rent freeze is a no-brainer as a minimum policy. Regarding where the debate is, we saw how the Labour Party took a fair bit of flak from renters on its social media pages yesterday. They said a rent freeze does not go far enough. A rent freeze is not good enough. What we need are rent cuts. Rents are 20% above what they were before the crisis so the discussion must be about whether we implement a rent freeze or go beyond that with rent cuts. The case for rent cuts is powerful.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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This Bill supports tenants and I give a cautious welcome to that because many tenants are in difficult circumstances. I notice this from week to week in my office when people come in who have been evicted from their homes and have very little recourse. If this Bill helps in some way, I will support it but we must also have respect with regard to landlords. I do not mean those who have 50 or 100 houses. I am often contacted by landlords who have a couple of houses and but find it very difficult to survive given the way many laws are being administered. They have asked me to take that into account when I speak in the Dáil because maybe they feel I speak against them. Most times, I probably do but I certainly want to take their viewpoints on board as well. If we strengthen the laws for tenants, we are beginning to squeeze landlords out of business in many ways. We must be very careful about where we are going with more and more difficult and extreme laws regarding supporting tenants. While the tenant is being made worse off in this situation, and I have seen it in many situations, I would certainly not close my eyes to how the person who owns the property has to survive as well.

This all comes back to the fact that we have a dire problem in housing. I spoke about that at length last night. Many people are caught in a trap. They might have a small wage and cannot get a mortgage to buy a house. Many young people trying to get planning permission in their local community are being refused. This is forcing people into social housing or housing through HAP, which is crazy. It is not something the State can continue to absorb without something bursting.

I am very strong on the issue of planning permission, which is almost a no-go in my constituency of Cork South-West. I call on the mayors of Cork county and Cork city, who are both Fianna Fáil members, to sit down with the Minister - I would be happy to sit down at the table - and forge a realistic way forward. Young people trying to get a start in life are finding it almost impossible to get planning permission. People who do not need any social housing supports are being refused planning permission for the silliest and most nonsensical reasons. At the end of the day, both mayors will have to stand over this process at the end of the year and say whether they have done something about it. One of the them has spoken to me about it and is interested in making some kind of move. In fairness, I appreciate that work.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Labour Party. While I do not agree with parts of what it is proposing, I appreciate anyone trying to do anything about housing. I thank the Minister for all the work he has done but I must tell him that there is more to be done to get this off the ground.

Regarding what is being proposed, it would not be fair to stop landlords from selling their houses. Surely if they own a house, they have the right to sell it or give it to a family member if that person comes of a certain age and wants a house to live in once tenants are given proper notice. However, I also see the side that is very hurtful. It is hard when tenants are told to quit, possibly after a number of years in the property, and they are not even on the housing list. They did not think of doing that. It takes ten or 12 years to get a council house if someone is on the housing list in Killarney and rents are very high. The Government must do something in this area as well because most landlords are paying tax at 51%. When rents are going up and the Government's take is more, why does it not see fit to reduce the tax rate and spread it between the tenant and the landlord? This would be better business. The Government is saying nothing. It is taking 51% in tax while the cost of rent is outrageous.

I have spoken about the tenant purchase scheme for a long time. Between 2011 and 2017, a complete stop was put to people buying council houses. A number of people who have reached pension age are not allowed to purchase their house after possibly renting for 37 or 40 years. I know a family that is very hurt by this. There are many others. Regarding council houses built since 2015, I hear the Government.

Yesterday, the Tánaiste said the Government supported the idea of everyone, or as many people as possible, owning their own homes. However, local authorities are not allowed to sell a house built after 2015 to tenants. Any house built by a local authority after 2015 cannot be purchased by a tenant. When we size up and examine closely the new Bill introduced by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, it looks like a lot will depend on the private sector building houses, whether developers or small builders. It is impossible for many of them to build like they used to because of the VAT rates, taxes and levies that have to be paid and the rules and regulations. Small builders are being affected whereby they can no longer get stage payments. They must carry the whole cost of building a house until it is completely finished and the key is being turned in the door. This is very hard on some builders. It is putting small builders out of business.

Why not give money to the local authorities to build rural cottages where applicants have their own sites? Kerry County Council tells me that where a house has fallen into disrepair, there is a system of taking out a demountable home. This was cited by the late Gerry Collins and his team. A demountable home can be put in place within a few days and means people no longer have to be in a house with no roof, which is leaking, where things have got very bad or where there is vermin. The local authority now says it has no money for this system. Will the Minister speak to Kerry County Council about this? It is a very serious issue. Demountable homes cannot be provided to people in such a situation and who will not leave the land or place they were born. At present, the local authority may allocate them a house in the local village but they will not leave the place they were born and reared. Will the Minister look at this?

11:20 am

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Residential Tenancies (Tenants' Rights) Bill. I support the Bill in its attempt to address some of the issues facing renters today, particularly in its effort to address the key areas of security of tenure, rents, deposits and quality of accommodation. These are very important issues that are in urgent need of addressing. The Government cannot go on burying its head in the sand and pretending these problems no longer exist. The Bill does a good job in addressing some of these important issues. However, I believe there are some areas that could be looked at further.

While I welcome and support the fact that the Bill addresses security of tenure, in that it would restrict the circumstances in which a landlord can terminate a tenancy, I believe there is scope to provide a mechanism whereby the grounds for evictions are removed with a mediation process in place. This would allow for assistance in cases of arrears that looks to help landlords with management and recovery while avoiding evictions. I believe this would benefit landlords and tenants.

It is vital that in a country such as Ireland, where increasing numbers of families are renters, quality of life be taken into legislative consideration. I commend the Bill as it takes this into account. One of the most distressing things a public representative faces is meeting families who have been evicted through the so-called sale of houses. Trying to get accommodation sorted for families in the current climate is impossible. While there may have been a time when renting was the domain of students and transient workers, this is no longer the reality. The pandemic had forced us all to spend more time than ever in our homes and the importance of quality of life within the home has been highlighted. We need to pull current rental rules into the 21st century and give our renters the quality of life they deserve.

I do not think anyone in the Chamber would disagree that this country is experiencing a huge rental crisis. We need only to have looked outside last week to see just how many this housing crisis is affecting. In my constituency of Donegal, I have been contacted by many students, excited to begin or to return to college, who are unable to secure any type of accommodation and are being forced to reconsider their college places. This should never be the case and we should all feel ashamed that we have forced our youth into this situation.

There is an urgent need for cost-rental homes. There are upwards of 300,000 rental homes in Ireland. Housing For All, which the Government likes to pretend does something real and substantial in addressing this issue, has provided for only 2,000 cost-rental homes. The Government likes to accuse the Opposition of criticising without offering any solution. I would like to offer a solution in the Vienna model, which is internationally utilised and provides a well-endorsed and successful working model for cost rental. This model would provide State-owned accommodation that functions to deliver affordable rental accommodation for low to middle income households. It would also assist in suppressing rent inflation. It operates in a way that reinvests any surplus money from rents in the system, in comparison with the proposed model under Housing for All which only leaves room for developers to profit. We need far more cost-rental units than the measly 2,000 the Government has suggested and they need to operate on a not-for-profit basis.

In order to further address these issues effectively, we need to empower our local authorities to oversee the planning, acquisition, registration, inspection and certification process of builds. If we did this, there would not be a need for the Land Development Agency. The Building Control Act is a hybrid of private and public that has allowed issues such as we currently see in Donegal and Mayo with mica to arise. It is not enough that the Government provides 100% redress to those affected by deleterious materials in concrete blocks. There is scope and opportunity to empower local authorities properly to provide new and improved mechanisms to ensure homeowners are protected. We would not even need new and improved mechanisms if we just enforced the law that is already in place. It is sad that we do not have enforcement to ensure blocks are manufactured to the proper standards. We have a self-certification system in Ireland that just does not work. I believe it was designed not to work to facilitate the manufacturers and the Construction Industry Federation to make massive profits, as they have done. We see that homeowners are being left to carry the can and this is wrong. This is something the Government should consider if it is serious about not only addressing the mica issue but ensuring that this does not happen again, which is vital.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Bacik for introducing the Private Members' Bill. It is her first Bill since she was elected in the by-election and I congratulate her on it. I thank her for bringing it forward. It gives me an opportunity to reflect on a number of the issues that have been touched on during this morning's debate.

Everyone can agree there is a need to ensure the residential sector is an attractive option for tenants and landlords. We need a sustainable and adequate supply of homes to rent to meet current and future demand. We need those rents to be at an affordable level. Tenants who are renting need to have certainty that as long as they pay their rent and meet their obligations, they will be able to stay comfortably in the property they are renting. Equally, landlords must have confidence in the long-term viability of their investment and that the rental income will be sufficient to cover their expenses over time. I remind colleagues, and I know Deputy Bacik is aware of this, that approximately 86% of landlords are individual mom and pop landlords who own one or two properties. They are the group on which I will particularly focus in my remarks.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, outlined earlier, any legal change to be introduced cannot risk weakening stability and confidence in the rental sector. No new law should intentionally or inadvertently undermine the economic viability of providing rental accommodation or negatively impact on the existing and future supply of rental units. There are knock-on effects to the wider economy to consider also. We absolutely need rents to be affordable. We also need them to be viable. Any new measure should be fair. Any new measure must be capable of withstanding legal challenge, including constitutional challenge.

With regard to supply we can all accept there are acute pressures in the rental market at present. These are driven by a number of factors but predominantly by the rise in demand for rental accommodation as we come out the other side of the pandemic and a constrained supply exacerbated further by two construction shutdowns over the past couple of years caused by the pandemic.

We all know that these factors have led to significant rental price inflation over recent years. However, the long-term solution for the high levels of rent lies in increasing supply, as well as providing transparency and consistency around rent levels.

In this regard, Members know that in July I introduced, and saw enacted, the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021, the purpose of which is to better protect tenants with affordability challenges by extending the rent pressure zones until the end of 2024, prohibiting any rent increase in those zones from exceeding general inflation as recorded by the harmonised index of consumer prices. This measure significantly reduces the level of permissible rent increases for approximately three quarters of all tenancies that are in rent pressure zones. In addition, until 2025, rent reviews outside the zones can occur no more frequently than biannually. They may occur on an annual basis within the rent pressure zones.

The harmonised index of consumer prices averaged approximately 0.73% over the past three years, although I am acutely aware that as our economy recovers and people return to work after the pandemic, inflation has begun to rise. When I introduced the legislation in an expeditious manner last July in order to deal with the 8% issue, I acknowledged that inflation was rising and stated that I would keep the need for an overall cap under review. That is what I have done and I have already asked my officials to re-examine the rent control provisions with a view to introducing an overall cap so rents in rent pressure zones can only go up, if necessary, in line with general inflation to a maximum cap. That is something we are working on but I wanted to move quickly in July to deal with the matter. I said at the time that we would be bringing forward a more comprehensive residential tenancies Bill, which I will allude to further in my response.

One of the cornerstones of Housing for All is the introduction of the new form of tenure, cost-rental. Between now and 2030, we intend to deliver at least 18,000 - and not 2,000 - cost-rental homes. That means the tenants would pay the cost of delivering, maintaining and managing the homes only. We did not wait for the plan to be launched. The first 25 cost-rental homes have been delivered and tenanted at Taylor Hill in Balbriggan, in a scheme managed by Clúid. Some of these homes have been delivered at a 50% reduction on the open market rates. At Enniskerry Road in Stepaside, there are another 50 apartments with average monthly rents of €1,200. It is a start on a new tenure of housing. It is a model that stands very well in comparison with Vienna and in many instances it is a better model than the much talked about Vienna model. We must build this at scale to make a real difference across the rental market. The more cost-rental units out there that people can fill, the more effect there will be in reducing rents in the private sector. Cost-rental is a game changer. It is the start of a new rental system, with fair rent and certainty for tenants.

I will address a couple of specific items in the Bill brought forward by Deputy Bacik and her colleagues in Labour. On the model tenancy agreement, section 152 of the Residential Tenancies Act already provides that in the development and publication of guidelines for good practice for those involved in the rental sector, the Residential Tenancies Board can include a precedent for a model lease of a dwelling. The Residential Tenancies Board is examining the feasibility of developing a standard lease for the sector and the requisite legal provision is already in place for it to do so. I would like to see that done. We will work through this Bill with scrutiny and that could provide a further impetus for it to happen. It should happen.

On the question of expanding the definition of a landlord, I recognise that the appointment of a receiver to a dwelling may cause and has caused real difficulty and distress for tenants. It is critical the rights of tenants are protected. Going back to our time in the Seanad, I remember a former Minister with responsibility for justice telling us that measures would be brought forward in this regard. That was not today or yesterday. This must be done. Under section 5 of the strategy for the rental sector, my Department established a working group with the Departments of Justice and Enterprise, Trade and Employment to examine the scope for amending legal provision. I want to see that done and I intend to address this matter in the upcoming housing and residential tenancies Bill, which we will see later this year. It is useful that this aspect of the Bill brought forward by Deputy Bacik can feed into the pre-legislative process for the housing and residential tenancies Bill. It is something I have stated before should be done.

On the question of deposits, the Deputy is aware that in one of the five items of tenancies legislation I have brought forward, section 7 of the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Act 2021 inserted a new section applying to tenancies created on or after 9 August this year. A new restriction is in place for the total amount that a tenant is required to pay a landlord by way of a deposit or advance rent payment to secure a tenancy. It should be equivalent to no more than two months' rent. It comprises one month up front and one month of a deposit. That applies to students and all renters. There was a Bill from the Opposition that dealt with this matter and we made improvements to ensure the provisions would apply not just to student renters but to all renters. That legislation is now in place.

There is a section on the obligations of the landlord and this is something we must work through a little more. There is the question of a definition regarding the deposit. The legal definition of a deposit could serve as a term to be circumvented by certain parties that might wish to charge key money, for example. I know this is not what the Deputies intend. More work is required in that space. There is now an understanding of what a deposit means right now. If we define it in legislation, there may be an issue with people trying to do something by using other terms, such as charging key money.

The Residential Tenancies Board considers a security deposit to be a sum of money paid by the tenant to a landlord, usually before a tenancy commences. It is still the property of the tenant and the security deposit is considered the lawful property of that tenant until the landlord establishes a right to it, whether that is unpaid rent or damage to property.

There is the question of grounds of termination by a landlord in a Part 4 tenancy. Deputies know Part 4 rights were extended from four to six years in 2016, which was welcome. In Housing for All, the strategy I published as part of this Government's policy, security of tenure will be strengthened for tenants subject to legal advice. We must do this by legislating for tenancies of indefinite duration. There is a commitment in the programme for Government, and it is reiterated in Housing for All. An upcoming Government rental Bill - either the tenancy Bill I will deal with next or the one after that - will contain work that is ongoing in the space to look to address tenancies of indefinite duration.

I take the point completely regarding the extension of rent pressure zones nationwide. That is something the Housing Agency monitors continuously. Particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic, we may see people moving to regions, leading to further increases outside the rent pressure zones. Some rates of increase are running into double digits, which we do not want to see.

We know that the rental market is dynamic and constantly changing in response to fluctuations in supply and demand. We must be careful that abrupt legal or regulatory changes do not undermine confidence in the sector or add to uncertainty for both tenants and landlords. Unintended consequences may arise in such cases. We must be careful and all be earnest in our efforts to help secure homes for our people.

I take this Bill in the spirit in which it has been tabled. It is useful legislation and we intend to progress our own rental reforms. I will bring forward a residential tenancies Bill this autumn. It would be very useful for a committee to proceed with further scrutiny of this Bill, which is why I will not oppose it. There are useful measures in it. There are others I question, although I have not had the time to go into them here. The committee might do that. I heard Deputy Howlin speaking earlier about unfurnished properties and we should look at that.

11:30 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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There are different approaches in other jurisdictions. All these elements serve to improve the sector but all of us know that increased supply is crucial because the market is constrained. We must also continue to push the cost rental model, which I know the Labour Party supports and supported when it was last in government. I thank the Deputies for the legislation. I have tried to address as many points from the Members opposite as I could.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I thank the Minister for his comments. I acknowledge the work put into the Bill by my colleagues, Deputy Bacik, and Senator Moynihan, our housing spokesperson. We appreciate that the Minister is not opposing the Bill and some of his comments reacting to the Bill are welcome. Some of the commentary made outside this House, however, has been particularly disappointing. My colleagues referred to that earlier.

It just makes us all wonder where is the priority of Government. Whom in the housing market is it actually trying to protect? There is no equivalence between the danger that the renter faces and the danger that a landlord faces. I wish the Tánaiste and Taoiseach would realise this.

It is a bit like when we have the debates on low pay and workers' rights. My colleague, Deputy Nash, will conclude the debate for the Labour Party and he knows well that whenever we talk about legislation to strengthen workers' rights, somebody always asks, "What about the employer?" We end up with 23% of workers in low pay because resisting giving a worker that right inevitably leads to that worker having less stake in the economy and not having that level of dignity because the legislation always seems to fall down on the employer's side.

In response to the comments that the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach made, I say that renters could lose their home. There is no equivalence between the danger of a renter losing his or her home and a landlord losing some money. In Irish history classes as children we are taught about the Land League and the very basic rights it was seeking of fixity of tenure and fair rent. These things are not consigned to the history books. We have history lessons in here all the time from flag-wavers in different parties. They are some of the most basic foundations of the decency that we were hoping to achieve in a republic.

There is a sense that renters are some kind of failures who have not got themselves on the property market, their lives are somehow disorganised, they have not made a success of things or they are young and will probably move out at some point. We need to recalibrate and recast our collective brains around the fact that many people will rent for their entire lives.

The Tánaiste and Taoiseach saying that we need to be mindful that a landlord might lose some money out of this makes some of us in opposition wonder if they really get it and highlights where the power really is. As Deputies, we have all spoken to people in fear of losing their homes. It is a very real fear. The potential of losing one's home is a terror. That is why I am so proud that Deputy Bacik has stood by her by-election commitment to introduce legislation in this House to protect those rights. We need to collectively rebalance our priorities in this area.

We appreciate that the Minister is not opposing the Bill. Legislation can always be improved and we take that process in good faith. However, it is a commentary on those in senior positions in this Government that when it comes to the suggestion of having absolute protections for renters what jumped into their head first was the profit margins of landlords or the money that landlords might lose out on. This is an issue the entire Government needs to reflect on.

11:40 am

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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I am very proud to wrap up this debate on the first legislation that Deputy Bacik has introduced to this House as a new Member. It is grounded very much in a history of progressive legislation that she has introduced in the Oireachtas that is designed to improve the lives of the many, as this legislation does.

We know that precarious housing leads to precarious lives, a precarious economy and a precarious society. Unfortunately, we have had five wasted years on housing, five wasted years in which fewer homes have been built, five wasted years when we could have fundamentally changed the culture of housing with our hard-won return to economic prosperity, and five wasted years when we could have provided more prosperity and security for those who find themselves renting for longer than they ever would have envisaged.

As many other Deputies have recounted this morning, a day does not pass by, whether it is in my office personally, on the street, by email or on my phone, that I do not come across a case where a constituent in Louth and east Meath presents me with a notice to quit. Given the high rental cost in my area, escalating house prices and a lack of availability of decent, secure long-term accommodation, it is no exaggeration to say that for many the notice to quit is akin to receiving news of a bad diagnosis from a doctor. This devastating news instils the same kind of fear and anxiety in an individual. It is no exaggeration to say it instils panic.

In this case the Minister has the cure at his fingertips. While being critical of elements of the Housing for All package he presented recently, we want to give it a fair wind because if it succeeds, our society will succeed and Ireland will do better as a result. However, for it to succeed Deputy Bacik's Bill will need to be enacted in full. Breathing space and a cultural shift are needed for renters to allow supply to be ramped up.

Deputy Bacik's proposals are legally sound and constitutionally robust. They are also objectively fair and grounded in the experience of residents. As the Deputy outlined in her initial contribution, they are grounded in findings reported by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. This trinity of rights, if I may call them that - security of tenure, addressing rental costs and improving quality of accommodation - can change the face of housing in Ireland. Who can argue with a reasonable measure that has been in place since time immemorial about security of tenure for commercial tenants? Who could argue with the principle of applying that to residential tenants? A three-year rent freeze is entirely achievable and does not conflict with the Constitution. It can be done and the Minister knows it can be done. We have done it before, we have argued for it before and we know it is sound.

Who, too, could argue with an open transparent rental register to allow individuals who wish to rent - and possibly have to rent - to find transparent information about the previous rental costs for the property they might be interested in? That is fair and reasonable. Who should be afraid of transparency?

I note that the Government will not oppose the Bill. However, that is not the same as the Government supporting the Bill, which is the difference. I appeal to the Minister to proactively support this. Even if the Government has some philosophical or practical objections to it, the Bill is rooted in a will for housing to succeed in this country. We genuinely want housing initiatives to succeed because, as I said, if they succeed, we will all succeed and our country will become fairer and better for everybody.

I ask the Minister to give these measures a fair wind. I ask him to support them. He should not send this Bill to the place where Bills are sent to die. It is grounded in reality, in robust research and in the real-life experience of those we all represent for whom we all want to see improvements delivered. I am delighted to support the Bill. I hope it succeeds. I again congratulate my colleague, Deputy Bacik, on this very progressive initiative to support renters.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 11.50 a.m. and resumed at noon.