Dáil debates

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Rental Sector: Motion [Private Members]

 

6:25 pm

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

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that: — average rents increased by 7 per cent in the last year according to the Q2 2021 Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) rent index report;

— in the RTB rent index report nine counties experienced average rent increases of more than 10 per cent and all counties experienced average rent increases of more than 4 per cent;

— the September Central Statistics Office (CSO) Consumer Price Index shows that the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices increased by 3.8 per cent in the last 12 months;

— the RTB rent review calculator currently shows rental inflation at 3.9 per cent;

— the August CSO Residential Property Price Register shows that house prices have increased by 10.9 per cent in the last year; and

— despite the spiralling cost of rents, Budget 2022 contained no specific measures to reduce the cost of private renting; and agrees that the Government: — should have increased direct capital investment in social and affordable housing in Budget 2022 to deliver 20,000 social and affordable homes including affordable cost rental homes next year;

— must introduce emergency measures to cut rents, such as a refundable tax credit to reduce rent by 8.3 per cent, putting one month’s rent back into renters’ pockets;

— must introduce an emergency three-year ban on rent increases for all existing and new tenancies in the private rental sector;

— must introduce a mandatory NCT-style certification for landlords to demonstrate compliance with minimum standards;

— must ensure that 25 per cent of all private rental tenancies are inspected annually by Local Authorities;

— must introduce real tenancies of indefinite duration by amending section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to remove sale and use by family member as grounds for eviction;

— must ensure the RTB has adequate staff to police and enforce Government rent regulations; and

— must work with all higher educational institutions to ensure the delivery of affordable student accommodation.

I apologise to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Minister for my delay. Excuse me while I catch my breath for a moment.

In the past ten years, the cost of renting in this city and across the State has increased by more than 100%. Ten years ago, the average cost of renting in parts of Dublin was €800 per month. Today, it is almost €2,000 for a standard two-bedroom house or apartment. In the past six years, and starting under the previous Government, rents in Dublin increased by 60% and across the State by 40%. While there was some indication during the initial stages of Covid that rents were beginning to stabilise, they have started to rise dramatically in the past year yet again. The most recent Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, rent index shows a 7% State-wide increase in the 12 months to the end of quarter 2. If one considers the county-by-county breakdown, though, the results are startling. We have started to see double-digit rent inflation in many county areas. In every county, rent increases for new and existing properties have exceeded 4% according to the RTB.

A number of months ago, the Minister introduced legislation to amend the rent pressure zones and he decided to link rent reviews to the consumer price index instead of the 4% cap. At the time, we told him that that was a mistake because rent inflation was already on an upward trajectory from 1.9% to 2.2% and then 3%. It has now almost hit 4%. I checked the RTB rent calculator earlier this week and 3.9% is the current rate of inflation.

As the Minister knows, the problem is not just about the significant financial hardship caused for renters. It is also about all of the other implications for their lives. Some 20% of households across the State rent and 25% of households in Dublin. Renters represent a cross-spectrum of society: young people, students, singles and couples desperate to save a deposit for a mortgage, people who lost their family homes following the Celtic tiger due to mortgage repossessions and defaults, people who lost their family homes due to relationship breakdowns and many people who are approaching retirement who have never had the opportunity to buy their own homes and are fearful of what the future may bring.

People had a legitimate expectation in the run up to budget 2022 that, rather than the Government indicating that it would move towards what we believe should be a three-year ban on rent increases, there would be specific measures in the budget to alleviate and reduce the skyrocketing cost of rent. The Minister will remember that he campaigned in the general election, as did Sinn Féin, for a refundable tax credit for renters to give them some relief as the easiest and quickest way of reducing the cost of rent. It speaks volumes about the Government's sincerity when it comes to renters that not a single mention of private renters and not a single measure to alleviate the great difficulty that high rents cause them were included in the budget. In fact, the only mention of the private rental sector, as the Minister knows, was the extension of his existing tax relief for landlords.

Since the Government has abjectly failed to do anything in budget 2022 to tackle the issue of sky-high rents, let alone standards for renters, we have tabled this motion to have a debate. The Minister knows our positions, which are longstanding: we want a three-year emergency ban on rent increases, we want to put a month's rent back into every renter's pocket and we want to see the Government not just investing a few tens of millions of euro into affordable cost rental, but hundreds of millions of euro annually to deliver thousands of public homes, including thousands of affordable cost-rental homes annually, starting from next year. We also want to see action on standards. We want to see increased resources for local authorities and inspections as well as an NCT-style certification. We want to see the RTB getting the additional staff it was meant to get almost two years ago to be able to police the rent pressure zones.

I do not believe that the Minister's approach to the private rental sector is working. I will respond to his comments at the end of the debate in terms of his record to date.

We urge the Government to stand by renters, to abandon the failed policies it has been pursuing in conjunction with Fine Gael for the past number of years and to do the right thing and ban rent increases, reduce rents and deliver a proper supply of affordable cost-rental accommodation.

6:35 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The failure to include any measure for renters in this year's budget speaks volumes about this Government's attitude to renters. It speaks volumes that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Government are so out of touch they do not understand the real pain that is being felt by renters as rents increase again and again and all the while the Minister and the Government are dithering and dathering. The Government is hiding away but this motion calls it out.

Before the House, we have a motion that brings forward solutions that will make a real difference if implemented by Government. All the Government needs to do is look at the Sinn Féin alternative budget. We know that the Government is out of touch and out of ideas, but we are willing to share our ideas with it. The Minister can shrug his head; I do not care about that. This is about people who cannot pay their rent. It is about people who have seen their rent increase year-on-year and about young people who are worried about how they are going to start out in life and do what their parents were able to do, that is, purchase a house in this city or elsewhere. This is about real lives and real people. The policies being implemented by the Minister and the Government are pushing up house prices. We warned from these benches that the Government was throwing fuel on the fire and pushing up house prices, but the Minister said he knew better than all of the experts. What happened? House prices continue to increase and rents continue to increase and all the while the Minister is dithering and dathering. The reality is we need a three-year freeze on rent increases and we need to put in place a refundable tax credit that puts up to €1,500 back in the pocket of every renter who is renting privately in this State. We had a tax credit for renters from the 1980s right up to the last couple of years. This can be done if the willingness is there. This Government is so far out of touch and so far out of ideas it does not know how to support renters but, by God, as pointed out by Deputy Ó Broin, when it comes to fixing the troubles of landlords, it is always a willing ear and always willing to write the legislation. If you are a landlord, a big investment fund, a vulture fund, a speculator or a developer, the Minister is your man but, by God, if you are a renter or a young person wanting to set out in life and purchase an affordable house or rent at a decent price you have the wrong team in government.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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It has never been great to be a renter in Ireland. These days being a renter in Ireland is like being on a treadmill in that you are trapped, stranded and handing out fortunes of money, very often for substandard accommodation and, worse, you are always in an uncertain position, subject to a notice to quit under the many loopholes throughout tenancy legislation in this State and, when you do get a notice to quit, finding another property means queuing alongside many other people at appointments. We have seen the reports about the challenges single parents and those in receipt of HAP face in terms of competing with all the other people looking for rented accommodation. The system is broken beyond comprehension.

As stated by Deputy Doherty, the discrepancy in terms of all of the initiatives taken on behalf of landlords, institutional landlords and vulture funds versus the lack of even the merest measures in terms of relief for renters is incredible. The Government has been dragging its feet for years on a rent freeze. It is an issue Sinn Féin has been talking about for a long time. We are glad that the logic of that is finally beginning to percolate in the Government benches. The Minister and his party will tell us that they are only in government for a year and a half. Every year since 2016, we have been promised a housing budget, but it has never happened. I call on the Government to give some relief to renters. There are systemic issues that will take time to tackle in terms of supply and so on, but there are things that can be done now that are set out in this motion. It is about legislation and a rent freeze and some relief by way of a tax credit for renters. The Government needs to do that. Renters need the Government's help.

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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The latest report from the Residential Tenancies Board published earlier this month shows rents in County Roscommon have increased by 8.6% and in County Galway by 9.4%. That is just in the last year alone. Average rents in County Roscommon are now over €718 per month and in County Galway rents have surpassed €1,000 per month and are now approximately €1,300 per month. Rents are out of control. They have been out of control for a long time now and they are only going in one direction. Yet, this Government is doing nothing.

The Government can reiterate the help-to-buy scheme as many times as it wants but it does not tackle runaway rents and it does not reduce rents. For the couple who came to my constituency office in Ballinasloe last week, whose landlord is increasing their rent by €200, the extension of the help-to-buy scheme means nothing. The scheme means nothing to renters. Budget 2022 came and went. It did nothing for renters, who are working families and individuals working just to pay rent, skyrocketing energy and food costs and everything else on the increase. I know so many people in their 20s who emigrated after college because there was nothing here for them. There are, perhaps, jobs coming on stream now, but they cannot take them because there is nowhere here for them to live. They will not risk coming home to pay skyrocketing rents that can increase on a whim.

On my way home yesterday I was listening to an interview with a person who is thinking of returning home and was looking at a new rental development in Dublin that is pet-friendly. This person has two cats. There is an additional charge of €75 per cat per month, which is an additional €2,000 per annum on top of the rent per annum for himself and his partner. This is a joke. It has gone out of all proportions and the Government has not acted. It needs to act now.

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I know from contacts I have daily with constituents in Naas, Celbridge and across north Kildare that there is a direct link between the rental crisis and the mental health crisis. I have no doubt that if the rental crisis in north Kildare and across this State was addressed many people would no longer need to be treated for anxiety, which so often triggers an episode of depression. I say that not to downplay that important "dis-ease" but to highlight the anxiety that a perfectly normal human will have when faced with a crisis in regard to how and where he or she will live.

Last week, a lady from Galway featured on an RTÉ news report in regard to a home she had just been allocated by a housing agency. The lady said that she feels she is going to be able for anything that life throws at her now that she has a roof over her head and four walls around her. She is not wrong. She most certainly is in a much better position to deal with issues that might arise. Every day I see how the rental crisis and the lack of a secure home is affecting the mental health of our communities as people are faced with the threat of eviction, constant worry about rising rents, appalling conditions in private rental properties, panic in regard to where they will go if they have to present as homeless, in particular if they have children, where they will end up if they have to go into emergency accommodation and they are away from their supports and schools and without transport and so on. We all know that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. Much of our mental health is a matter of how we feel about ourselves and our place in the world. Right now, when it comes to housing there are too many people in north Kildare who feel less than and disposable because an extremely small privileged group decides what they deserve. That extremely privileged group includes members of the three Government parties and their affairs with the cuckoos and vulture funds and all the Independents who vote with them while pretending they care about mental health.

Private rents are out of control. It costs approximately €2,000 per month to rent a three bedroom semi-detached house in north Kildare. We need a three-year ban on rent increases and a tax credit that will put approximately one month's rent back into the pockets of renters. It is time for a change. It is time for a Government that works for the people. It is time to support our motion.

6:45 pm

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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This Government had the opportunity to seriously tackle the crisis in renting in budget 2022. However, it chose not to do so. It is hard to imagine a Government would knowingly and willfully ignore the obvious plight of thousands across the country who are forced each week to put aside greater and greater percentages of their income as they struggle to pay ever-increasing rents. While the cost of living rises and they are paying more in bills, the cost of putting a roof over one's head is reaching astronomical proportions. It is also leading to a brain drain from the country as some of our best in medicine and other professions are leaving as they cannot afford to rent a property, never mind buy one. The high cost of living is also a barrier to recruiting from abroad or indeed enticing people back to our country.

A simple glance at daft.ieshows an apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms in Dublin North-West can average up to €2,000 per month in rent. Very few individuals and couples, even when both are in employment, can pay such high rents without having to make major sacrifices in other areas of their lives. These rents are more often than not what most people pay each month for a mortgage. Such exorbitant rents, on top of a family having to pay for childcare, school costs, healthcare, transport and so on would clearly leave most with no disposable income as they would be effectively living hand to mouth. There is a genuine fear from many people that they could end up being homeless if trends in rent rises continue.

The Government is not putting in place measures that can give individuals and families the security of tenure they need. People are stressed, scared and feel they are in a hopeless situation without any respite or way out of their predicament. This Government has left them behind and budget 2022 proves that. We hear every day of the difficulties renters face and we have family members of our own who are going through the same hardships. Rents are spiralling out of control and this must be stopped. Rents must be brought back to a more equitable level.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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Budget 2022 did nothing for renters and I cannot say that is surprising. This place does nothing for renters, be they students, families or pensioners. The Minister told us not to judge him hastily. He told us to be patient. He told us Housing for All, which is the grand policy and his grand plan, would be the means to turn things around. It is hard to tell when exactly Eoghan Murphy's term as Minister's ended and the present Minister's one began because there is no difference. Maybe there is a difference, because I do not recall Eoghan Murphy tying rents to inflation at a time of rising inflation. Some bright idea that was.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy supported it.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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I am sorry to tell the Minister the ECB forecasted inflation would increase as economies opened so I do not think it came as a surprise to anyone. In fact, at the exact same time as he was planning to link rents to inflation, his own Minister for Finance was planning on indexing the tax bands on the basis inflation would rise, so he obviously saw it coming.

What about all those people who are not in rent pressure zones? I think in particular of those in our coastal areas. We saw during the course of the pandemic that the cost of properties across these areas increased massively. Just this week a woman come into my office who lives in a coastal area. She said her landlord is looking to increase her rent by 35%. I know very few people, indeed I do not think I know anybody, who has disposable income of 35% lying about that they can put towards the cost of their rent. What is being done for those people? Report after report has shown there are no rental properties available in Galway that fall within the housing assistance payment limits. Just this summer, a daft.iereport showed rents in Galway had risen by 9% and rents in the county rose by an extraordinary 14%. Linking rents to inflation at a time of rising inflation will only mean this will continue. Rents will rise and more and more people will be locked out of the housing market. Renters need rents to be frozen and they need a tax break to help them with the massive cost of renting. The Government has given a tax break to landlords; it should now give one to tenants.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes that:

— the Government is fully committed to tackling high rents and ensuring an increase in the supply of affordable high-quality accommodation for purchase or rent, including through continued significant capital investment;

— under Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland, the Government is providing an unprecedented level of capital investment in housing, a total of €20 billion until 2026;

— the Plan sets out the most ambitious programme of social and affordable housing delivery in the history of the State, with 90,000 social homes and 54,000 affordable homes to be provided by the end of 2030;

— the Government has already made significant changes in rent controls by restricting any rent increases in Rent Pressure Zones (RPZ) from exceeding any Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices inflation, which the Government recognise has increased in the short-term;

— as previously indicated, the Minister intends to bring forward urgent rental legislation in the coming weeks to introduce a cap on rent increases in RPZs, subject to Government approval;

— as set out in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, the Government is committed to legislating for tenancies of indefinite duration, and, subject to the Government’s approval, the Minister will do so shortly, to provide further security of tenure for tenants;

— 2022 will see record capital investment in housing of some €4 billion, through the Exchequer, the Land Development Agency (LDA) and the Housing Finance Agency;

— in 2022, over 11,800 new social homes will be delivered, including 9,000 new build homes, as well as 4,100 new affordable homes, including 2,550 affordable purchase and 1,580 cost rental homes;

— the Government will support 14,800 new households to have their housing needs met under the Housing Assistance Payment and the Rental Accommodation Scheme, as well as supporting almost 82,000 existing tenancies under these schemes;

— for the rental sector, the Government has targeted the delivery of 18,000 Cost Rental homes by local authorities, Approved Housing Bodies and the LDA by 2030 in order to provide long-term sustainable rental, and over 1,580 Cost Rental homes will be delivered in 2022;

— since 2020, the Government has increased funding by 22 per cent, and staff capacity by 13 for the Residential Tenancies Board to help further protect tenants, it also has stronger enforcement powers;

— funding of €6 million in 2020 and €10 million in 2021, an increase of 66 per cent, was provided to local authorities to inspect rental properties, and the strong legislative framework under which they currently operate has made a positive contribution to supporting the ongoing improvement of standards and to ensuring the availability of an increasingly high-quality stock of rental accommodation in Ireland;

— since August 2019, student specific accommodation is covered by the protection of the tenancy legislation;

— in relation to rental deposits, legislation passed in July restricts the level of upfront payments required of tenants, including students, to a total value not exceeding two months’ rent;

— the Government will support technological universities to develop purpose-built student accommodation through access to appropriate financing, and

— the Government already introduced five pieces of rental legislation to protect tenants during the Covid-19 emergency.”

I welcome the fact this motion has been tabled because it gives us an opportunity to debate the many areas of progress we are making and the policies we are putting forward in that regard. I do not doubt the sincerity of many of the speakers opposite. I am acutely aware of the difficulties among renters all across this country. I am also acutely aware solving the housing crisis is not something that is going to be done in a year or 18 months. It needs robust and real policies backed by real money. It needs a bit of honesty too, which is lacking from some of the contributors opposite.

This motion is a tweaked version of previous motions. We are all acutely aware rents have reached levels that put real families and real people under incredible pressure throughout the country but especially, though not exclusively, in our major cities and urban centres. We have seen that and this is not just a phenomenon in this country either. We see in Europe and also in America the effect of inflation as we come out of Covid. I have said on record a number of times that the rental market is indeed dysfunctional. I want to greatly improve it for almost 300,000 households and tenancies which exist in this country. However, we must recognise the fact that whether one likes it or not, we need a private rental market as well. We have had thousands of mom and pop landlords leave. We must look at some of the items in the Sinn Féin motion with respect to what intended or indeed unintended consequences they could actually have. I remind Deputies opposite - I see Deputy Mairéad Farrell is no longer with us and that is fine - that the Government and I have brought forward five different pieces of rental legislation in the period of time I have been Minister. Four of those Sinn Féin accepted and supported, which I welcome, including the one last July which I will deal with in a moment. When we linked rent increases to general inflation in RPZs it meant that if rents need to go up they could only do so in line with general inflation. However, when I brought forward this legislation - and this is where I would tell Deputy Ó Broin we need a bit of honesty - I said I would keep an eye on it and an overall cap under review because I also said I was aware of where inflation was going at the time. We brought forward the measures in July speedily and I said that at the time. We have a further rent Bill I am bringing forward in the autumn, which I also said during the summer will deal again with the issue of rent increases. I want to see that. In the coming weeks I am going to introduce tenancies of indefinite duration for the first time, via that Bill which I hope Sinn Féin will also support. I expect there will be support opposite, just as Sinn Féin has supported four of the five tenancy Bills I have brought forward on behalf of this Government.

We have also restricted the amount of upfront costs. I ask Deputies to look at the amendment I have moved which details the facts of what we have already done for renters in a short space of time. As part of that, we have restricted the upfront costs that can be sought at the commencement of a tenancy to a maximum of two months' rent, helping thousands of student renters and other renters who were previously expected to fork out deposits of upwards of €3,500 to €4,000. That has been stopped.

Perhaps most importantly, and something Sinn Féin wilfully ignores because it might not suit its sound bites or its Facebook and Twitter videos and all the set pieces it has brought forward here, is the fact that for the first time ever we have introduced cost rental and we have tenancies in place already. We will soon have many more of them. Others have talked about it but we have delivered it in the Affordable Housing Act, another Act Sinn Féin supported, for which I am grateful. These are all pieces of legislation I have brought forward on behalf of the Government, most of which Sinn Féin supported, and then its Deputies come in here and criticise them because it might suit their narrative. That is fine. Between now and the end of 2030 18,000 cost-rental homes will be delivered, including more than 1,500 next year. It goes without saying that increasing housing supply in this very space will ease affordability constraints, especially on renters. As the cost-rental sector grows, these consistent and affordable rents, which we want to see more of, which we have legislated for and for which we have, for the first time, a national cost-rental scheme in place, will have a moderating impact on the overall private rental market. As I mentioned, tenants already in place are availing of rents at approximately 50% below the market rates. I will be launching another scheme tomorrow where they are 40% below the market rates. That is what we intend to continue doing right into next year. We have published a plan with 213 different action points backed by more than €20 billion in real money for real actions that are going to make a real difference for real people.

Also in Housing for All is a commitment that legislation will be enacted to provide for minimum building energy ratings, BERs, in private rental properties. Again, this is legislation which I hope Members opposite will see their way to supporting at the appropriate time.

When I look at some of the measures on housing Sinn Féin Deputies have proposed, it seems that they are modern day snake oil salesmen. They have a cure for all of our ills and there are easy solutions to this. They say they will build 20,000 public homes next year and I continually ask where they will be, who is going to build them, how long it will take to build them, when they will be occupied and how Sinn Féin will pay for them. There are no answers forthcoming; just a figure of 20,000 that is pulled out of the sky. One thing Sinn Féin is clear on is that it will abolish the help to buy scheme which has helped nearly 23,000 families to own their own home. It also says that it will abandon long-term leasing immediately but does not say what that would mean. I have been extremely clear on behalf of this Government that I want to see an end to long-term leasing. I will bring it to an end but will do so in a targeted and managed way. Let us look at what Deputy Ó Broin is proposing.There are already 1,300 homes in the long-term lease pipeline for 2022, decreasing to 200 in 2025. We are showing a pathway out of this and there will be no leasing thereafter. These are real homes ready for real people. We cannot simply turn off that tap and cancel these homes, as Deputy Ó Broin would do. He would just scrap them. What does Sinn Féin say to the 1,300 families who will be in safe and secure social homes next year? Which homes would the party cancel? Would it abandon the 160 one-bedroom homes that will be leased next year for single homeless people?

6:55 pm

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

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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It would do that. That is fine but come out and say it. What is the party's alternative for those 1,300 families next year? I have shown a pathway out of leasing and I have shown the way in which we are going to increase our social housing delivery to a level never seen before in this State, starting in 2022.

Sinn Féin has also said, in predictable criticisms that have been put forward here this evening and previously, that the Government does nothing for renters. I have covered some of what we are doing already but let us look at what Sinn Féin is completely ignoring, namely, the 62,000 households in rented accommodation that are supported by the housing assistance payment, HAP, the 18,000 households who are being supported through homeless HAP and the almost 17,500 households supported under the rental assistance scheme, RAS. This equates to just short of €800 million in real supports for real people and real families. Sinn Féin ignored these households and did not even mention them in its budget submission. I am already reducing the dependency on HAP by reducing the level of increase but Sinn Féin says that it will cancel it. What is it going to say to the thousands of families out there? It does not have a solution for them.

These are very real questions and it is incumbent on the main Opposition party to start to be honest with people and say what it will do. This is a party that feigns an interest in solving the housing crisis. It is a party that voted against at least 17 housing motions totalling nearly 7,300 homes right across this country. Sinn Féin does not want to see real progress in housing because it does not suit its political agenda but I will not be deterred by its disingenuous and cynical approach. We have a radical plan that will deliver 300,000 homes between now and 2030, comprising 90,000 social homes and at least 54,000 affordable homes. These are real homes for real people and our plan is backed by real money and will deliver. Projections into next year, which might not suit the main Opposition party, are actually positive. They are positive in relation to housing delivery. We are going to see significant increases in housing delivery, particularly in social housing delivery, right across this country. We are going to see affordable and cost-rental homes at scale. What we will be judged on is delivery, not Twitter videos or Facebook posts but-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Rents up, house prices up-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Mr. Angry is at it again. He might just show me a little bit of courtesy by letting me speak.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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A dose of reality-----

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Doherty, please.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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He does not like what I am saying but he should not interrupt me. I will not be bullied by him. I welcome the fact-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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A bit of reality from the Minister is all we are asking for. Rents are up, house prices are up-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I am well aware of that.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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Allow the Minister without interruption, please, Deputy Doherty.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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It is incumbent on Sinn Féin and others to put forward real alternatives which they have not done. The Sinn Féin submission on Housing for All was 12 pages long, with five pages of pictures and no costings. That was its alternative to our housing plan of more than €20 billion in capital investment in housing that will make a real difference for our people. I urge the House to support our amendment to the motion.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is unbelievable to hear the Minister asking Sinn Féin to be honest. I will just give him a few facts and he can tell me if I am being honest or not. Fianna Fáil was in a confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael which destroyed housing in this country. The financial crash that Fianna Fáil caused also destroyed housing in this country. When we should have kept men and women in this country to build houses, schools and roads, Fianna Fáil drove them out, in their tens of thousands, to every part of the world. I know because I have family and friends in Australia, America, Canada, England and Germany. They were my friends. I remember saying this to the Taoiseach's brother, Séan Martin, when we were both on Cork City Council. The response from Fianna Fáil was that "they'll be back" but they never came back. How can we have people building houses when Fianna Fáil drove them out of the country? That is the truth of it. Fianna Fáil also backed Fine Gael in power for four years while it destroyed the housing market.

The Minister referred to what he has done for renters but here are the facts. In Cork at the moment the average rent is €1,344. Rents have increased by 6% on the Minister's watch. He can accuse us of being dishonest but the facts are the facts. Rents are going up every year on Fianna Fáil's watch. It is its fault because it failed to act. Surely Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael know that the number one issue at the moment is housing. Fianna Fáil has been in government for more than a year. The election was in February 2020 and it took the Government 18 months to produce a plan. It did not even produce a complete plan because it contains nothing in for renters and does not tackle dereliction or the 90,000 vacant properties around the country. The plan was introduced on Fianna Fáil's watch but it does nothing to tackle these issues. A few weeks ago I told the Minister I would bring him to Cork to show him the hundreds of vacant properties lying idle on his watch.

I will give the Minister an interesting statistic. I have been involved in politics for 12 years. Last Monday 12 families came to my clinic, five of whom will be evicted by next February. That is what is happening on Fianna Fáil's watch. Five families in one day in my constituency; in the 12 years I have been in politics I have never seen the likes of it.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister said that we are dealing with a dysfunctional rental sector which is part of a broader dysfunctional housing market. We all accept that this will only be addressed through housing delivery. That is why Sinn Féin is talking about 20,000 units per year comprising about 12,000 social housing units delivered by councils and approved housing bodies, 4,000 affordable units and 4,000 cost-rental units. That is what we need to be looking at every year.

In terms of the rental sector, every Deputy has figures for quarter two rents from the RTB. In Louth the average rent is €1,148.32 but there are properties in Dundalk for €1,600 or €1,800 if one is lucky enough to find one. Unfortunately, elected representatives like Sinn Féin councillors spend so much of their time dealing with rental agencies and local authorities with regard to HAP. The difficulty is that HAP sets the baseline for rents. Obviously, the HAP scheme is necessary because we do not have an adequate supply of council houses but it means that families are competing with those in receipt of HAP supports. They are competing with young people or students who can band together and thus have greater spending power. They are also competing with people working in the likes of Wuxi or other FDI employers Louth is lucky enough to have. We are dealing with an utterly dysfunctional sector and many people are at their wits end. They cannot make those payments and we need a solution for them. We tabled this motion this evening because the budget does not contain proposals that will deal with these specific issues.

I welcome the fact the Minister has interacted with Louth County Council on the issues of maintenance and land banks.

That is something I will be chasing up later. We need to do something. I know the Minister has to be inundated, the same as everyone else, by people paying rents that they cannot afford. We need solutions.

7:05 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on his motion on renters. I also congratulate him and thank him for the work he does advocating for a better, fairer and more just approach to housing. I represent the constituency of Dublin Bay South, which stands as a prime example of how housing policies developed by Government parties have continually failed the needs of these communities. Government parties have stood idly by while Dublin City Council flat complexes have been allowed fall into disrepair and neglect. It is important to remember that those people are renters also. Issues like dampness, mould, frequent flooding and rat infestation are all common within the State's housing stock in the inner city. These tenants across the inner city, who pay rent to Dublin City Council, have effectively been abandoned by this Government. Let us dispel the myth that many pundits and those in the media like to fire out so often about social housing being free. These residents pay rent. They contribute to society and keep alive that strong sense of inner city community that makes Dublin what it is.

Not only has this Government failed those renting from local authorities, it has also left many of those renting in the private sector to the mercy of institutional landlords who are trying to squeeze every cent out of ordinary working people and send it to their shareholders, many of whom have probably not set foot in Ireland. Too often we see landlords who will put two bunk beds in one double room and charge sky-high rents per bed with little or no regard for the quality of life of those who need somewhere to call home. For these reasons, we need the measures outlined in this motion, such as the NCT-style certification for all rental properties to ensure compliance with minimum standards. There were zero changes for renters in the budget and no changes to HAP limits at a time of runaway rents. We need to give renters a break and support this motion.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Our message is a simple one. We are asking the Government to acknowledge that there is a crisis in the rental sector and we want actions and not words in regard to this. Absolutely nothing was done in the budget last week for renters across the State but corporate landlords and institutions were supported. They are squeezing every last cent out of everyone who is renting. In my constituency the average increase in rents year to year has been 14.2%. I am aware that rents in Sligo, Leitrim and generally in many areas in rural Ireland are relatively low compared to those in the large urban centres like Cork or Dublin but it is all relative to those paying because wages and salaries are also lower in many of these areas. There is no big surplus for anyone renting in rural Ireland, contrary to common belief. There is still competition for residential rentals in rural Ireland. The Government had a chance to give renters a fighting chance last week in the budget but failed to do so. There was no increase in the HAP limits, for instance, which is a huge problem. There is also no pressure to ensure that people have to accept HAP. There are hundreds of landlords who simply will not accept HAP and are getting away with it all the time. There is also no effort to increase the income threshold for people to get on the housing list, which is another issue the Government has failed to deal with. If the Government had a scintilla of interest in the ordinary working renters across this State it would support my colleague Deputy Ó Broin's motion and would give renters a real break by providing a refundable tax credit and banning increases in rent for three years.

The fact of the matter is we have a situation across the length and breadth of the country where people simply cannot afford to rent. People in my constituency are coming to me, including families renting small properties who have another child on the way. There was a family in last week who have three children already and there is a fourth on the way. They are in a two-bedroom house and they cannot find anywhere else to rent. They are working and earning a salary and they cannot get on the housing list. It is absolutely scandalous that in every part of Ireland this is impacting people's lives to such an extent and the Government seems to be oblivious to it. Everything the Government does continues to make the market the solution and the market has failed in respect of this. That is very clear. If the Minister were honest about it, he would have to accept that the market has failed and that what we have to do is provide more houses directly to people, not just local authority residents but also people who are working, people who cannot get on the housing list but cannot afford the rents that are being charged by these corporate landlords. They are the ones who are squeezing the life out of communities up and down the length and breadth of the country. The Minister says that Sinn Féin is coming up with all the problems and none of the solutions. He is the Minister. His party has been in government or supporting the Government for the last ten years. It has allowed this to happen and takes no responsibility whatsoever. It is absolutely scandalous.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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I thank Sinn Féin for tabling this motion. It is difficult to keep track of the number of motions and Bills on housing generated by Deputy Ó Broin, by my colleagues in the Labour Party and other Opposition parties over the last two to three years. The Minister mentioned that in his earlier contribution. These are not abstract motions or Bills. They are drawn up and tabled here today and on countless other occasions to fix a very real problem in our society and our economy. We take to this House the direct experiences of those we represent and we try as a responsible Opposition party, and I would like to describe the Labour Party as such, to propose real solutions to these problems, as others do too. I do not say this as a criticism of colleagues beside me but what is proposed in this motion is familiar. They are not dissimilar to some of the provisions laid down in Deputy Bacik's recent renters' Bill. The measures are similar because we all know objectively that the measures contained in this motion and in Deputy Bacik's recent Bill will work.

I will take the opportunity to read into the record, while respecting her anonymity, an email from a constituent today. I will read it out because it is emblematic of the wider problem that we all experience in our constituencies and in our lives. These are problems that our family members and friends have and, indeed, many in this House may experience them directly. This email came to me today. It reads:

My partner and I are renting an apartment in Drogheda over the past 2 or so years. The apartment is covered in mould and our health conditions are deteriorating. My [young] child is always sick from the mould and on antibiotics. Our bed and my child’s cot have mould on it. Our clothes and shoes have to be always thrown out because mould grows on them. My mental health is getting worse and worse living here. My partner also has an illness. We have never once missed a payment and have asked our landlord when we moved in to sort it out. This is two years on and it’s just getting worse and worse. We can’t afford anywhere else to live as the prices in Drogheda for rent are sky high. I’m so worried for our health especially my 2 year old as I have read what mould can do to your body. I will attach pictures [and she has done] so you can see what I’m talking about. I would be so grateful if you could get back to me.

I have seen the pictures. They are emblematic of the problem we are experiencing day in, day out, and all of the cases we get. I will of course get back to her but we feel powerless to support our constituents in situations like this because of all the reasons outlined by the earlier contributors. What I just read into the record is a clear depiction of the reality of precarious housing and insecurity in this country and the impact it has on an individual, on children, and on families more generally. The Minister knows this and I know he knows this. You cannot be a fully productive, engaged citizen in this country or anywhere else if your life is bedevilled by precarity, whether it is precarious housing, insecure work or uncertain income. This issue has an impact on our economy. It has an impact on the finances of the family, on health, on education and on the confidence and development of a child. Presiding over this situation shames us all. What is to be done? Many of the measures contained in this motion can go some way towards fixing the problems that we are experiencing in housing in our country.

These are not new problems. There was a failure of regulation in the case I described a couple of moments ago. There are needs, as the motion demands and for which the Labour Party legislation has provided. There is a need for a national car test, NCT, style certification for landlords. Often, the kinds of slums I described earlier are subsidised by the State through the housing assistance payment or rent supplement. We cannot stand over that situation.

The fear of my constituent is ultimately about leaving because she has nowhere else to go. That is the point; she has nowhere else to go. This speaks to a failure of supply and a failure to control rents. She literally has nowhere else to go and no options. I deal with far too many people who have the same experience day in and day out. This leaves people especially vulnerable and exposed. It is a landlords' market and they know it.

Rents in my area, which was one of the early rent pressure zones, are out of control. I cannot tell the Minister the number of absolute dumps I have visited with constituents over the last few years that are now on the market for €1,600 or €1,700 per month. These are two-bedroom apartments and homes that really cannot be described as homes at all.

Efforts to limit rents to the rate of inflation have manifestly failed, although the objective, as articulated by the Minister, was correct and well intentioned. What needs to happen is what this motion and what Deputy Bacik's recent legislation call for, namely, that rents be frozen for the next three years. That is the only immediate solution that will resolve this issue in the short term.

Even if we believed that Housing for All is the optimum solution to all our housing problems and even we believed its ambitions to deliver the kind of supply it has ambitions to deliver over the next period of years, we should use a rent freeze as a bridge over the next two to three years to allow the market to draw its breath and to allow for the kind of supply anticipated through Housing for All to come on stream. That in itself, while it would not fix the problem, would certainly contribute to additional supply and, therefore, a reduction in costs.

It was said earlier that budget 2022 was effectively a non-event for renters. That is shameful given the scale and extent of the problem that renters are experiencing in society.

I will refer to two particular issues in the short time I have left. I am pleased the Minister referred to measures he is considering introducing in respect of tenancies of indefinite duration. That is key. Since the eviction ban was lifted, we have seen an ever-increasing number of people entering homelessness. We know the main reason for homelessness is people exiting the private rental sector for a variety of reasons, for example, use of the home for a wide range of family members. This demands attention and Deputy Bacik's Bill attempts to address it. I hope the Government will adopt that measure as well as demands for tenancies of indefinite duration. Taken together, these steps could resolve many of the issues we experience day in and day out and many of the problems experienced by those we represent.

Finally, I will refer to the language we use around housing. We know there are many ways in which households are formed these days. We should never forget that there are 400,000 single households in this country. We still constantly use the terminology associated with couples and families. There are many different ways to form households these days and there are, as my colleague, Senator Moynihan, repeatedly points out, 400,000 people in this country who live alone for a range of different reasons. We should always be conscious of their concerns, needs and demands when we debate the complexities we face with our housing situation.

7:15 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I will start close to where Deputy Nash finished, namely, with the issue of tenancies of indefinite duration. I will certainly support such a measure when the Government brings it in. I was a member of the commission on the private rented residential sector approximately 20 years ago. I did not agree with the commission's decision to include a get-out clause in respect of the very limited improvements and tenancy rights that it recommended. That get-out clause was put in place because landlords lobbied very heavily for it. It meant that some rights would accrue in terms of tenancy but these would be effectively wiped clean after a small number of years. I was one of a minority of people representing tenants - I represented students at the time - and I did not support that decision. It is incredible that only now, approximately 20 years later, it is proposed to get rid of that get-out clause.

Let us be clear. Tenancies of indefinite duration alone are not enough. No-fault evictions need to be brought in to bring us into line with the European norm. It should be the case that if somebody is paying the rent and is not in breach of the tenancy agreement or engaged in antisocial behaviour, he or she should not be subject to eviction. There should be recognition that the property is that person's home. It may be someone else's investment. It may well be someone else's pension fund or whatever. It is, however, the home of the person renting and the primacy of that should be respected. His or her children will go to the local school, be involved in the GAA club or drama group, make friends and take time to settle into school. That potentially would be disrupted by the person being evicted for whatever reason. The primacy of that should be recognised.

This is linked to the whole area of rents and rent regulation. The rent pressure zones have not worked. That is not my opinion. We know categorically that they have not worked. The Residential Tenancies Board has published its latest data which show that the RPZs have not worked in a single county in which they have been introduced. They have been breached in all of them. Those data come from the RTB.

We know that the latest measures brought in by the Government have not worked either. The Minister stated when he brought in these measures that he would review them in the context of inflation. It is also true, however, that many Opposition Deputies warned at the time that inflation was increasing and those measures would be insufficient and would not work.

Something else about these measures fundamentally does not work. There are two issues. First, with rents here among the highest in Europe, having almost doubled in the last decade, we clearly do not need any rent increases. Second, there is an issue around allowing for any rent increases and the implementation and enforcement of that. As previous speakers have said, there are insufficient resources in the RTB. That issue, which there have been warnings about for years, needs to be corrected.

The more fundamental issue, however, is the power imbalance between tenants and landlords when tenants attempt to assert their rights. The following are the words of a renter cited in an article compiled by Michelle Hennessy in TheJournal.ie.

I currently rent in Dublin and live with my partner and two children. My experience of a power imbalance is that of our landlord attempting to increase our rent by 8%. When we pushed back to the letting agent they rightly agreed that the rent increase must be in line with inflation. However the landlord turned up at our home unannounced and demanded that we pay the 8% increase in cash, which he will collect personally, or he would have us and our children evicted.

That leaves tenants in an impossible situation when they are trying to assert their legal rights. They know that if they continue to assert their rights, the landlord can legally turn up and evict them and their family for a whole myriad of reasons, even though they are paying their rent and are fully compliant. That is the situation we have created. It makes no sense if we are serious about supporting tenants having a right to live in their homes if they pay their rent and so forth.

If the Government is in any way serious about this, tenancies of indefinite duration, while a start, are nowhere near what is needed to increase security of tenure for tenants just in order that they can assert their minimum and basic rights without the fear that if they try to do so, they will be evicted.

I was talking to someone else recently who is renting. The heating in the building is included in the rent. Does the landlord turn on the heating when it gets colder? No. Do the tenants in the building feel they are in a position to strongly assert their rights on this with the landlord? Of course not because they are living in fear that if they do so, the landlord could evict them on whatever grounds and reasons he or she wants. That goes to the heart of all of this.

When the Minister was in the Chamber he asked for honesty in our contributions. It is important we are honest in this. The Minister referred to cost rental and the Government's plans for 18,000 cost-rental homes. That is a great aspiration but let us be honest about what the Government has delivered. So far this year, 25 cost-rental homes have been delivered. The Minister has attacked the Opposition several times, not just tonight, for plucking the number of 20,000 public homes out of the sky. He said this evening that the number had been "pulled out of the sky". That is an interesting phrase because Fianna Fáil, in its election manifesto for the last election, committed the party to deliver in government at least 10,000 social homes and 10,000 affordable homes per year. That is 20,000 public homes. Does the Minister believe the figures in the Fianna Fáil election manifesto were pulled out of the sky? It seems he thinks they were. If he wants an honest debate about that, he should explain why it was okay for him in his manifesto in the election campaign to commit to 20,000 public homes, while repeatedly attacking the Opposition for having the same aspiration.

The new line from the Government side appears to be to ask who will build these homes, as if the skills shortage has nothing to do with the Government. The Construction Industry Federation has warned for years about the skills shortage and has been crying out for the Government to do something about the lack of support for apprenticeships. Apprenticeship levels in key construction trades, wet trades, are running at approximately 10% of what they were in 2004. The Government has a key role to play in this. It is the largest purchaser of construction contracts in the country, especially through infrastructure and the national development plan. It spends billions and billions. The Government should now build a minimum number of apprenticeships into each public procurement contract. In some other countries, they have insisted that approximately 10% of the labour force on each of these public contracts are apprentices. That means these countries have an ongoing supply of apprenticeships and skills being built up. They are building that into their large-scale public spending plans. There is no reason we should not be doing that as well. I would much prefer to hear the Government talk about what it will and can do to plug that skills gap than listen to this new line where we are asked who will build the homes and we hear this has nothing to do with the Government and it does not know what will happen or where these people will come from. The Government has a key role in ensuring that is done.

If we look at the newspapers today, two headlines stick out. In one we learn that one in four households believes they will still be paying rent or a mortgage when they retire. The second states that renters are being asked to pay extra to keep cats in a pet-friendly Dublin apartment. A monthly charge of €75 for keeping a pet is now being levied in a new-build apartment complex on Griffith Avenue in my constituency. That is on top of the baseline rent of €2,250 per month and €50 per month for those who want to park their car. That is the kind of rental market which has become a reality. I have to say I feel ridiculous reading out that headline. What sort of country are we living in when we have that carry-on from these people? Amy Molloy of the Irish Independent told us today that she found on daft.ie a €1,000 per month charge for a studio where a wardrobe and bed have to be moved to access the shower. I appeal to the Government. It is an utterly unacceptable, ludicrous situation in which renters find themselves. We need every urgent action taken on this, not a "Who will build the homes?" or "Nothing to do with us" kind of response.

7:25 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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In my area, if you find yourself having to rent a place, you are, by definition, in a housing crisis unless you are very rich. The average rents are €2,200 per month. To be honest, you would be lucky to find a place for that and rents continue to rise. Let us think about that. You would need after-tax income of €26,000 to pay the average rent in my area. That is completely unaffordable for the vast majority of people. Someone on average industrial earnings would have a bit under €30,000 left after tax and might have to pay €26,000 of that on rent, before childcare, bills or anything else. That is the situation in my area. That is the worst in the country but it is not far off what we have in the rest of Dublin, which is an average of €2,000 per month. Some €24,000 of after-tax income is required just to pay the rent.

The highest available HAP rate for those who get homeless HAP - they will only get that if they are staring homelessness in the face - is €1,850. They are not allowed to look for a place with a rent of more than €1,850 when the average rent is €2,200. If someone is evicted because a landlord is selling the property, moving a family member in or whatever else, he or she is in serious trouble and facing the extreme likelihood of being homeless and being sent into accommodation. That is where it is at in my area. I am sick of it. This has been going on for as long as I have been in this Dáil, which is a decade, and before that. Rents never fell in Dún Laoghaire. I remember when the HAP system - it did not have that name then - was brought in 2011 by Fine Gael and the Labour Party when they said we would stop building direct capital projects. The Government told us not to worry as rents were falling because they had fallen after the property collapse. However, we knew in Dún Laoghaire that rents were not falling and the decrease in rents would not last for long, which it did not, and that a housing crisis was looming because of that decision.

To compound that, a policy was embarked upon under which the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, which had all this property flogged it off to vulture funds, the same people who are now charging these extortionate rents. In some cases down in the docks, they are charging €3,000 per month and NAMA is still selling property to them. It is not just history. As I highlighted today in Leaders' Questions, NAMA is still doing this. It is touting and advertising the fact that the big corporate investors which can buy this stuff can make a fortune from the high levels of rents that can be charged. This is a State agency encouraging corporate landlords to screw people with completely unaffordable rents and the Government does nothing about it and does not mention it in the budget. It continues to allow NAMA to do it and to allow the HAP rates to remain way below the average rent. The vast majority of people who can even get a HAP tenancy have to top up their rent with money they cannot afford, which is pushing them into poverty.

I will tell the House what this means and describe the harshness of it. I had a young person come into me in the past ten days who had made an attempt on their life when they got a notice to quit from their landlord. The person was also struggling to get psychological and social services in that situation and still faces the possibility of homelessness. That is what is happening to people.

For four years I have been going on about the people in St. Helen's Court who in the last week got a notice from their vulture landlord who took over their complex and who has been sitting on 13 empty apartments for more than two years and who is trying to evict them. They got a legal notice saying to get out by this Friday, as in two days from now, by the end of this week or they will be taking legal proceedings to get them out and they will bang them for costs as well. This is because Government has not taken any action to prevent them from making a no-fault eviction. We should ban no-fault evictions.

How can any Government stand by while a vulture fund does that? I want somebody in Government to tell me what the tenants of St. Helen's Court and other people in similar situations are supposed to do. I want somebody in the Government to tell me that when they go down to the homeless section of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council and the homeless section tells them that they can find a place for €1,850 and that the average range is €2,200, what are they supposed to do? Nobody gives that answer and therefore the families just keep going into homeless accommodation. They are sent into hostels in town, when their kids are in school in Shankill or Dún Laoghaire or somewhere nearby and they are supposed to go in and out from the hostel in town. When are we going to do something about this? We hear talk, talk, talk and nothing happens.

The Minister of State asked for honesty. We have been totally consistent. We never advocated linking rents to inflation, as some of the Opposition did. We never agreed with the rent pressure zones. We have been asking for years for a simple measure, which is to control rents. Set rents, like they do in places like Austria, Denmark and in a number of places around the world. They set initial rents. They do not cap how much they can increase them; they set initial rents. We should set initial rents. It is disgusting that the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, is touting these extortionate rents when, as I highlighted today during Leaders’ Questions, they have thousands of units, mostly apartments, under construction at the moment. They are going to allow them to go out on the market at €2,000 and €3,000 a month. They could just as easily, under direction from a Minister tomorrow, charge affordable rents based on a third of average income and make them available to people who cannot afford the market rents. The Government could do that tomorrow. There are 24,000 units that they could deliver in the next two to three years. That would make a big difference to many people. Moreover, they are sitting on empty properties.

Another thing we have been saying for a long time - now people in Berlin are talking about this – is to expropriate the vultures. Take them out of the market. They are not contributing anything. Take them out of the market. Why will the Government not do it? I keep asking the Government. It should not have sold them all the property in the first place. It certainly should not still be selling the property by NAMA. At what point do we learn and stop this madness and say that we do not need these people in the market? They are contributing nothing except misery and making a lot of money for themselves. Take them out of the market. Expropriate them, because putting a roof over people's heads is more important than their right to make a profit from their investment. To me that is simple.

On empty properties, there should be a six-month rule. If a property is empty for more than six months, and there is no good reason given by the owner, expropriate it. Take it over. I am sorry, but all the interesting excuses and complications are less important than the obscenity of people being homeless on the streets of towns, cities and villages while vacant properties are lining the streets. Everybody knows it. You only have to walk around this city and walk out of this building to see the places. Some of them are in public ownership. It is shocking. They are sitting there empty. There is one building that was not built for accommodation, but it just makes me sick as I see it nearly every day. If you go past the Merrion gates, you see the Seamark building which was sitting empty for ten years. I think that it was originally built by Tom McNamara. It was just sitting there empty. You could put people who are homeless in there; you could refurbish it; you could put schools in there as we have nowhere for schools; you can do all sorts of things, but it is just sitting there empty. That is just one example that drives me insane because I see it every day. Everybody knows this in their own villages and towns. Why will we not take the measures to expropriate those empty properties, refurbish them and get them to people who need them?

If there's any lesson from Covid-19, it is that when the Government is faced with an existential crisis it has an obligation to do emergency things that had never been thought possible before. Covid-19 proved that when we were really pushed, we could actually do it in some circumstances. We did things that were considered unthinkable. Is the housing and homelessness crisis not an emergency on such a level that we need to do unprecedented things quickly in order to resolve it? To my mind it is. Expropriate the empty properties. Expropriate the vultures. Control rents at affordable levels. Tell NAMA to deliver all its housing as solely public and affordable housing. Ban no-fault evictions and we would make a difference to the human misery that is out there because of this housing crisis.

7:35 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. I call on behalf of the Regional Group Deputy Verona Murphy. She has ten minutes and she is sharing time.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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Five minutes each. I thank Sinn Féin for bringing the motion which again allows an opportunity to discuss some of the issues of housing and renters. At the outset, I want to acknowledge that there are some rogue landlords - some rogue landlords - who will do everything possible to get as much money from their property and who will use sometimes illegal and immoral methods to do so. I do not think the existence of rogue landlords is in any dispute but, equally, I do not believe all landlords are rogues.

We do not have enough houses of the type that people want to buy or rent. Whether for an individual, a couple, a family, or a student, there is a shortage. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I do not think it can be repeated enough: supply and demand dictates the price of everything. When barriers are placed in the way of supply, a product becomes scarcer. The scarcer something becomes, the more expensive it becomes. That is what is happening. Rents will continue to rise until we have a better housing supply. Part of the reason we have a lack of housing supply is because we have poor planning policy. Senior civil servants are contacting county managers across the country, telling them to take command of their county councillors in order to push through poorly thought-out and unlawful planning policy, which places barriers in the way of housing supply. It should be the other way around. It is time for the elected representatives and county councils to take charge of this situation. I mentioned previously in this House that continuing professional development, CPD, training needed to be rolled out for our directors of services in planning departments of councils. As much as I often disagree with the Office of the Planning Regulator, we are in agreement on this matter.

Furthermore, people are forced into taking judicial review proceedings, because unlawful planning policy is being implemented. Rather than ridiculing and holding to account those who are making and implementing unlawful planning policy, the powers that be are conspiring against the victims of such unlawful policies. Successive Governments have been placing barrier after barrier in the way of a person who wants to build a house, or multiple houses. Every time a new regulation is passed that makes the building of a house more difficult or onerous, it has two simple consequences. It either means the house will not be built at all or that the cost of the house will increase. I suggest that a good place to start would be for political parties to stop voting against housing developments for spurious reasons, particularly in our large cities. Perhaps then we would not have such a shortage of supply.

There was a battle recently with regard to the Wexford county development plan, where the Office of the Planning Regulator wanted to plan only to allow developments of at least 35 dwellings per ha. That figure is unrealistic for rural towns and it would act as a major barrier to development. Importantly, nowhere in the guidelines is there a minimum density. Thankfully, a strong campaign by seven of the eight independent councillors in Wexford County Council set down an amendment that has been accepted by all councillors and will go out for public consultation in the next month, seeing a reduced and acceptable density applied to a rural county such as Wexford.

Getting the reading of the motion right will rest with the director of services and chief planners. The independent councillors have performed for their constituents at this stage so we will have to wait for a week or two. Further to that, there was a recent meeting of Wexford County Council which I attended. Under Covid regulations, the meeting was limited to one hour and 55 minutes. Some 20 minutes of that meeting were given to ridiculing my contributions here in the Dáil because I dared to tell the truth and speak up about the implementation of unlawful planning policies.

We can have all of the motions we like on rent prices, purchase prices or affordable housing but we will continue to have a supply crisis until such a time as the Government corrects its position and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, introduces clear, precise guidelines. That is exactly what the Minister needs to do to remove barriers. He needs to provide a policy that can be implemented and stop the sidewinding conversations that are taking place with senior civil servants and county managers.

7:45 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Phil Hogan and Deputies Kelly and Coveney and now Deputy Darragh O'Brien have all been Ministers who have stood in this Chamber and said that the housing crisis cannot be fixed overnight. That hackneyed phrase has been trotted out as some kind of defence over and over again for more than a decade. The truth is that this is not an unfixable problem but there is an issue. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have an ideological objection to taking the necessary steps to fix the issue. I will give a couple of examples. Approximately 1 million people are in housing distress in the State. Either they are grappling with spiralling rents, they are on housing waiting lists or they are trying to buy a home when prices are going nuts. There are people still in mortgage distress from the last housing crisis who are going around the courts at the moment. Yet NAMA has 577 ha of land and could be directed to provide for 4,000 cost rental houses and 4,000 affordable houses a year. The Taoiseach sat roughly where the Minister of State is today and argued against that. He argued that there is legislation that underpins the mandate which NAMA has to operate and that it was NAMA's job to protect the taxpayer.

Here is the news. The Government can change that legislation whenever it wants. Arguing that there is legislation is not an argument at all. The argument about protecting the taxpayer is incredible. Some 70,000 families are currently on HAP or RAS in the State. At least €600 million is spent by the State and given to private landlords. That money could go to buy or build social housing. There is no protection for the taxpayer in that type of spending.

I will give another example. The vacant site tax is a neon light example of this. When the Government introduced the vacant site levy a number of years ago, I opposed it as strongly as I could because I knew then that it would be a dud tax. It was a dud tax. It was never properly implemented. It never scratched any speculator with regard to the price of land. Last year, it was reported that it took in €21,000. Any Government that produces a tax that probably cost more to draft and implement than it takes in in a given year is a Government that does not mean what it says or is actually so useless that it cannot produce that tax properly. It was replaced by the zoned land tax just a couple of weeks ago. When we pushed the Minister for Finance on that, he admitted that there would be a tax reduction for landowners and that it would not be implemented for two or three years. There have been ten years of saying this cannot be fixed overnight, yet the Government is pushing out the implementation of a tax that could motivate landowners into putting land into use. That shows the Government is not interested in doing it, has an ideological opposition to it or that there is an emergency deficit within the Government. It is an emergency deficit that is not shared by people staying on the streets. There are ten hostel beds available tonight for students. If you are female and do not want to share a room with males, there are two hostel beds available. There is an urgency among that cohort of people that is simply not reflected in the actions the Government has taken.

On the vacant home tax, I sat in the committee, opposite the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and he said that we should not implement it now because we do not know if it would make any difference, we do not know how many houses are actually vacant at the moment and we do not know their circumstances. There are 180,000 empty homes in the country today. If half of those could be used for housing, it would have a significant impact. A tax could be implemented to get those houses back into use. That money could be ring-fenced and used as a grant to help to get those houses back into use but the Government is not interested in doing so because it has an ideological block. Is the Green Party going to go with that ideological block, as a passenger on this bus, or is it ever going to make an impact in the direction it is going with the Government?

There are plenty of other examples. The capping of rent only happened when the inflation rate got to about 3.5%, which meant that the cap was of no use whatsoever. That is not the action of a Government that means business. This issue could be fixed. The Government is ideologically opposed to the necessary solutions.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Rents have gone crazy for those who are trying to rent, as if the Minister of State does not know already. It traps people who are renting. They will not be able to afford to buy a home for themselves. The national average rent is €1,352. If a family or couple is trying to rent a property at €1,352, they will never be able to own their own home. They are tied into and trapped into this terrible system. People have lost their homes due to unscrupulous banks, which have been unwilling to work with them. Vulture funds are the clever way out for these banks and these vulture funds have ruined many people's lives. These people wanted to pay when they could afford to but could not do so in a difficult time in their lives, so they were squeezed out of their homes, which is shocking. This has forced more and more people into social housing or HAP, leaving tens of thousands either being fleeced or simply on the edge of being homeless. The Rural Independent Group has put forward ways out of this mess for people who sought a home or some place to live. We have looked for grants and tax relief in our budget submissions for people living over shops in lovely towns and villages throughout the country and rebuilding some of these rural communities. Instead, the Government is heaping more misery on the ordinary woman or man who works tirelessly day in, day out.

I see first-hand in my constituency clinics every weekend and on my phone during the week that people are tired and angered by the inaction of successive Governments. For those who are willing to try to turn things around and not be a burden on the State, the Government is creating more pressure by making sure that policies are written to prevent people from getting simple planning permission for their homes. I know people who want to live in small timber houses, maybe two beds with a back garden. What about those who want to turn a shipping container into a home but are prevented from doing so? What about a home on wheels, which is another idea that the local authority should co-operate with? It would be for people who want to develop small, temporary homes, and the local authority should make sure that they are tucked away on private property. Instead the answer is always "No". The Government has absolutely no solutions. It leaves the ordinary, hard-working people not knowing where to turn. Serviced sites in towns and villages should be addressed too.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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As always, I want to put on the record that this is an issue that I know a lot about as I have been involved in it for a long time. It is a simple, straightforward problem to tackle. We need to supply more local authority houses. We need to build more houses and provide more accommodation of all types. In the county that I represent, we desperately need more one and two-bedroom accommodation. That is a fact. I am proud of the work of Kerry County Council's housing department and the work that it does, including Mr. Martin O'Donoghue, and the excellent staff who work with him, whether in the homeless unit, the inspectors who go out to meet applicants, the ladies in the office or the men who work in the department.

However, we need more resources to be given to us. It will have the capability then as a local authority to buy the land and build the houses. There are excellent contractors in County Kerry who will build the houses for us. We need more funding to be provided.

There is something I can never understand. There has to be a mix with private. It is not being critical of this Government, the last one or any one before. Every Government will fail to provide enough housing. You need the mix. We have people shouting from different parts of the Dáil and condemning the people who provide private accommodation as if they are criminals. They are tax collectors. They give over 50% of whatever they bring in on tax. They are paying mortgages on the properties and maintaining them. They are giving a service and it is no crime to do that. I ask the Government not to neglect that fact.

Another thing I cannot understand is there are people in here who shout about providing more housing and they are the first to go out and object to housing developments. I see people in areas throughout the country objecting to people's opportunities of building houses and apartments. They are denying people family homes and have no right in the world to do so. People have a right to object if there is a genuine reason but I see noodenaddys objecting because they are good for nothing only objecting and trying to shoot down other people's hopes.

7:55 pm

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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Tá áthas orm an deis a fháil chun labhairt ar an rún fíorthábhachtach seo anocht agus ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Ó Broin a chur an rún seo os ár gcomhair.

The defining issue for an entire generation is housing and increasing rents. It is a more defining and real issue than all the talk spouted about climate policy because it affects so many people. We are all aware the current rates of rent are unsustainable for most working families, including those who rely on HAP and other payments. A recent analysis of trends in the residential sales market showed the biggest year-on-year increase was in my county of Offaly. I did not need to be told that by the survey because I knew it from the volume of calls I receive into my offices all the time. We also have a situation in County Laois where the year-on-year increase is almost 10%, I believe. We need to tackle the issue.

Many people are trapped in the rental sector because of the lack of action on our forestry crisis. Young couples cannot build homes because of the crisis and the cost of timber and that forces them to remain in the rental sector. We also have a situation where vulture funds are not regulated and can do as they please with people in terms of repossession of homes. That is forcing droves of people into the rental market.

The Government needs to be proactive, more compassionate and to take action on regulation of vulture funds and sorting out the mess in our forestry sector. I am aware that in two towns in my constituency, Tullamore and Edenderry, renters are paying well over €1,000 per month. That is not sustainable or right. It was an issue before the pandemic, is still an issue and is becoming a crisis. I ask the Government to take urgent action because I see the suffering and hardship of my constituents in Laois-Offaly.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for giving us the opportunity again this evening to talk about rents. I declare that people may say I have a conflict of interest because Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is in that business and I am his brother.

I concur with what Members have said. The cost of rents has become very steep and people cannot meet the amounts being charged. They are in a desperate way, especially in Killarney, Dingle, Kenmare and other places around the county. We need to build more social housing. We have had enough schemes and reports. Give us the money in Kerry to build more social housing. That is the answer to it. We have the land and the builders to build them. Give us more money and forget about HAP and such schemes. I look forward to the Government getting rid of those schemes and building social houses for people.

We must help people trying to build their own houses and who are having severe difficulty getting planning. A lovely young girl got planning permission and some lousy being objected and appealed to An Bord Pleanála. Even though everything was perfect, An Bord Pleanála dismissed her planning application and she finished up not getting it. An Bord Pleanála refuse 90% of all rural planning applications that come before it. That is some record. It must be tackled because it is not fair.

I saw a case the other day where someone else objected and the poor young couple have to wait until December and January before they can reopen the holes, so making sure they will not get planning after a year and a half. To think that has happened in our county and a young couple trying to put a roof over their heads are being denied planning in this way. We must seek to do something about the levies being charged and the regulations being put on them because the cost of materials has gone out of control. The Government must try to do something about that and recognise it. Do not try to blot it out or whatever because it is happening. A 6 ft by 3 ft stick of timber that was €20 for years is now €38. Will the Minister think of that?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I turn to the Independent Group. Deputy Joan Collins is sharing with Deputies Pringle and McNamara.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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After Luxembourg, Dublin is now the most expensive city in Europe to live in. A key factor in that is the cost of housing, particularly in the private rental sector. The majority of available accommodation in Dublin is empty luxury apartments, empty because their rents are unaffordable. This is alongside an oversupply of luxury student accommodation with rents beyond the means of the average student. Some are now being used, as the Minister knows, for tourist accommodation.

During the pandemic, we discovered that front-line workers were not just staff in health services but also the workers who maintained essential services in retail, public transport, cleaners, care staff and others. These essential workers are often among the one in five workers in our economy on low pay. Let us take an essential worker on the minimum wage, which is €10.20 per hour at the moment. If they work 40 hours, which many do not, they will earn €408 per week, or €1,620 per month. A so-called studio flat, which is a glorified bedsit, on the North Circular Road costs €1,350 per month. A one-bedroom flat on the North Strand costs €1,550 per month. What are they supposed to live on? How can they buy food, heat the flat, pay bus fares or buy warm winter clothes?

We hear now about a shortage of workers, especially as hospitality reopens. We apparently have people living it up on PUP and not making themselves available for work. As the €300 or €350 available to people in receipt of PUP is €50 or €100 less than 40 hours on the minimum wage, how are they paying their rent, never mind feeding and clothing themselves? They have left and gone home. That is what has happened. If you cannot afford to live in Dublin, how can you work there? We also have a shortage of construction workers, yet we have just 37 apprentices employed by local authorities on a national level.

Last week's budget did nothing to tackling these issues. We need to reduce rents by 50% and we need a rent freeze of at least three years. Freezing rents at an average of €1,900 in Dublin is not enough. Rents will only come down if there is a supply of affordable rental accommodation. An emergency programme to build cost rental accommodation is part of the solution but the budget reduced the target for delivery of cost rental housing. The target in Housing for All of 2,000 units per year has been pushed back to 2025 and just 750 are planned for next year.

The Land Development Agency is supposed to build 1,000 units but it has now said that will not happen until 2023. There is no increased funding for third-level institutions to build affordable student accommodation. We are continuing to rely on the failed policies of Rebuilding Ireland, which is what Housing for All does, with a few tweaks. The priorities remain the same, which is that we must not upset the market and use the tax breaks for landlords to entice in international funds. The housing needs of the person on low and even average income are simply not a priority. I fully support the Bill introduced to the Dáil tonight by Deputy Ó Broin and Sinn Féin.

8:05 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I fully support this motion's intention to support renters, who are stuck right in the middle of the worst housing crisis that we have seen in the history of the State, and whose situation only seems to look more and more bleak, despite the fact that this same crisis has been going on for years. I recall the former Taoiseach, or perhaps the present Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, declaring the homeless and housing crisis a national emergency over three years ago. What I want to know is what has been done to address this emergency in the three years since. We are in the exact same, if not worse, position as we were then.

We all know that high rents have, disgracefully, been a characteristic of the private rental market in Dublin for a long time. I find it extremely concerning, however, to learn that other counties are also experiencing rent inflation, with increases of more than 10% year on year. That is where Airbnb has not taken over all the properties. This is especially concerning when considering mica-affected families, who are being forced into the rental market, in the middle of this crisis, while also paying mortgages on their homes because the Government refuses to address their needs and award them the 100% redress they deserve. It is a truly shocking situation and it is an unfair stress to put on the people of Donegal, who did nothing wrong. It is an unfair stress to put on their children too, who should not have to worry about their parents' financial situation or where they will live. Every child in this country deserves to experience the freedom of childhood without worry or stress. The Government is taking away this freedom and their childhood by forcing such stress on them at such a young age.

I urge every Deputy, in particular every Government Deputy, to get out and speak to the mica-affected children from Donegal when they make the trip all the way to Dublin to tell them about their experiences outside the gates of Leinster House at 11.30 a.m. tomorrow. If they are willing to take a day off school and make the four-hour journey to stand outside those gates all day, the very least we can do is come down from our offices to see them, talk to them and listen to them. We must listen to the stories of how they were forced to grow up too fast and understand what they should not yet have to understand. We must see how this is affecting them and how every day the Government delays the publication of the redress scheme, weighs on them. When they see this, then they can come back in here and tell me how these families and these children do not deserve a safe and secure home.

In looking for solutions to the rental crisis, one would think that the Government would use every resource at its disposal. But, as Dr. Rory Hearne wrote in the Irish Examineryesterday: "Why is NAMA not being used as a source of affordable housing by the Government?" It is unbelievable to think that there is a wholly debt-free, State-owned agency with €1.2 billion in funding reserves and 577 ha of residential development land that could accommodate 80,000 social and cost rental homes. Yet, despite the spiralling cost of rents, and the fact that we are facing what has been acknowledged as a national emergency, nothing has been done to utilise this. The Minister for Finance has the ability to direct NAMA to stop the sale of its land and to build social and cost rental homes. Why is he not doing this? I call on the Government to release a map with the details of all the land that NAMA holds. It would be very interesting to look at it.

While I fully support the introduction of emergency measures to cut rents, the three-year ban on rent increases, the NCT-style certification for landlords, the tenancies of indefinite duration and the delivery of affordable student accommodation, this motion does not go far enough to protect renters and to deliver the large-scale affordable housing that is needed. The Government will unfortunately not do even what is called for in the motion for ideological reasons. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have an ideological stance that the market will provide and will look after housing. The market has been doing a great job so far of providing for the vulture funds and the people who are profiting on the backs of those who are unfortunate and who have been left behind. They will continue to be left behind, because as long as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are in government, that is the way it is going to be.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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In the very limited time available to me, I wish to focus on inspections of private rented accommodation or rather the lack thereof. The minimum standards for rented accommodation are set out in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations and the responsibility for inspecting houses to ensure that they meet the standards rests with the local authorities. The recent figures available from the National Oversight and Audit Commission are from 2020. Six local authorities, including Galway city, where one would expect to find quite a lot of rented accommodation, carried out no inspections whatsoever last year. In Clare, one in 20 private rented accommodation units were inspected. The Minister of State might think that is bad but it is good by the standards of all the other local authorities. In Carlow, the county of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, there were no inspections at all last year. In Limerick, one in 18 private accommodation units was inspected. That is even better than Clare. In Dublin, one in 34 units was inspected. The figure in Cork was one unit in 48.

Based on that, if I was a lawyer and I knew somebody who had a hovel that he or she wanted to rent out for a lot of money, I would say he or she should take their chances because the chance of being inspected, certainly in Cork city, are pretty low and in Carlow they are next to non-existent. I would say they should go and take their chances because nothing will be done about it.

Last year, the inspections were down on the previous year. Nationally, just 6.7% of tenancies were the subject of an inspection. That was due to Covid of course. It is a great excuse for every State failing. However, in 2019, the year before, it was only 9.9%. Although it was not mentioned in the Sinn Féin motion, and it chose for good reason to concentrate on escalating rents and other such matters, the Government did mention it as one of the great things it has done. It indicated that it had increased funding for inspections by 66%. If we increase funding by 66% and the number of inspections in Cork increased by a similar percentage, I calculate that we would get a one in 30 chance of being inspected, as opposed to a one in 48 chance. Either way, it is completely unacceptable.

I first raised the issue in 2012 in the Dáil. The then Minister responsible for housing undertook to do something about it. In 2017, that same former Minister raised it as an Opposition spokesperson and, lo and behold, said-----

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. He is over time at this point.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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-----that action needed to be taken to clamp down on substandard conditions in the rented sector. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, not to be the Minister who does nothing in government and then complains about it when he is in opposition, because if he does, there is a distinct lack of credibility attached to that. I urge the Government to do something about the lack of inspections.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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In the time I have I will try to address some of the issues raised by Deputies in the debate. I thank Members for their contributions.

Deputy Nash raises a very valid point on the condition of houses where children are living in housing conditions with mould. That goes back to the issue of inspections, which is being addressed by the Government through additional resources this year. He also raised the issue of single households.

In response to the point raised by Deputy Cian O'Callaghan on staffing in the RTB, since 2019 some 41 extra staff have been sanctioned and its powers of implementation and enforcement have been enhanced. These posts include a number at senior executive level and a new director, a CEO, who will be appointed shortly. That appointment will be a welcome development.

HAP was raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett. A flexibility of 20% above HAP limits is available on a case-by-case basis and even more is available for homeless HAP to bridge the gap between €1,800 and €2,200 a month.

Deputy McNamara also raised inspections. In 2020, Covid restrictions meant that inspections could not take place for six months of the year. Only since July 2021 have restrictions been lifted. The target is 25% or a one-in-four chance for 2022. Additional funding of €10 million is available for that as well.

Deputy Joan Collins raises the issue of local authority apprenticeships. I agree with her. We always had a very good local government apprenticeship programme. That is one area that should be given consideration in the new apprenticeship plan. If it is okay, I will try to address everything else through the closing speech.

As the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, stated at the outset, to fully debate the wide range of rental issues put forward in the motion would take more time than is available to us this evening, so actions have to speak louder than words. As the Minister outlined, he plans to introduce urgent rental legislation to address key Government priorities in this area, and the implementation of the actions contained in Housing for All will help to deliver an adequate supply of accommodation onto the rental market and the wider housing market. The Government believes that everybody should have access to good quality housing to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and located close to essential services, offering a high quality of life. The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, sets out the priorities in the areas of housing over the next number of years which will be given impetus by a clear plan of action under Housing for All.

As already discussed, the Minister intends to bring forward urgent rental legislation to enhance tenancy protections and security of tenure for tenants. In line with the legal advice of the Attorney General, these laws will respect the constitutional property rights of landlords while enhancing the operation of rent control in rent pressure zones and providing for tenancies of indefinite duration. I wish to put on record that I have been assured by my Department and the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, that the RTB’s rent pressure zone calculator operates in accordance with the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Act 2021, which was enacted in July.

In the time remaining, I will address some of the key topics raised in the debate. In regard to rental standards, the motion calls for 25% of private rental tenancies to be inspected annually by the local authorities. As set out in Housing for All, the target for inspection of rental properties is set at 25% of all private residential tenancies. As I stated, a total of €10 million in Exchequer funding will be made available to local authorities in 2022 to help them to reach this target and, again, this was highlighted by a number of Deputies, including the particular case study highlighted by Deputy Nash.

The issue of an NCT-type certification for rental dwellings has been raised by a number of bodies in the past, most notably by Threshold. However, establishing the rolling out of such a certification system for rented dwellings would have very significant resourcing implications for local authorities and the Local Government Management Agency. Furthermore, the potential impact on the supply of rental accommodation, at least initially, cannot be underestimated. An unintended consequence of such a system is that it could have a detrimental effect on supply in the rental market, resulting in an increase in rents and homelessness. However, there are undoubted potential merits in enhancing the current inspection system. The Department is working continuously with the sector to improve the system so high-quality homes can be made available to rent across the country, and it is investigating the feasibility of a future certification-type system.

In regard to student accommodation, the motion calls for the Government to work with all higher education institutions to ensure the delivery of affordable student accommodation. The Government is doing precisely that and is acutely aware of the challenges facing students as they return to third level. Approximately 40% of students who rent accommodation do so in purpose-built student accommodation, with 60% in the wider private rental market. Fundamentally, the challenge is one of supply. As a country, we need to dramatically increase the supply of all types of housing and accommodation, including student accommodation. That is why the Government has launched Housing for All: A New Housing Plan for Ireland, led by the Minister, Deputy O'Brien. This plan sets out a series of actions which will be delivered to fix the housing crisis. Housing for All is backed by the largest ever housing budget in the history of the State to transform our housing system, in excess of €20 billion. Housing for All contains a commitment to support technological universities to build purpose-built student accommodation, where such requirements exist. In addition, there is a commitment to legislate to enable technological universities to borrow from the Housing Finance Agency and, again, this will help to increase availability.

My Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science have been engaging on a number of issues, including privately owned student accommodation being used for other purposes. This is deeply disappointing and runs contrary to the national student accommodation strategy. There have been a number of incidents where planning permission has been sought and granted which facilitates the change of use of student accommodation on a temporary basis to short-term visitor accommodation. In response to this, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, has issued guidance to local planning authorities on this matter by way of a circular letter. This guidance reminds planning authorities of the critical need for purpose-built student accommodation to be available to serve the needs of the higher education sector. In essence, student accommodation should be retained for students.

The Government has also taken measures to address affordability. Student accommodation rents are controlled in rent pressure zones. For tenancies created on or after 9 August 2021, the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Act 2021 restricts the total amount that anyone is required to pay a landlord by way of a deposit or an advance rent payment to secure a tenancy to no more than the equivalent of two months’ rent, that is, any deposit cannot exceed one month's rent and any advance rent payment cannot exceed one month’s rent. Previously, families were required to pay a lump sum each term, often in the range of €2,500 to €3,500. The Act also limits termination notice periods in respect of student-specific accommodation so no more than 28 days' notice is required to be given by students.

In conclusion, housing supply has unfortunately been impacted by Covid-19. The periods of lockdown since early 2020 have reduced construction activity and placed limitations on the ability to conduct normal market activity. However, the ongoing removal of Covid-19 restrictions is supporting a full reopening of the housing market and resumption of construction activity. This, along with the increases in supply that will be delivered by Housing for All, will ensure that housing market activity normalises and that supply increases to meet the demand as the plan is implemented. CSO data regarding new completions for quarter 2 of 2021 show that the rate of completions is increasing and the effects of periods of lockdown are abating. Quarter 2 of 2021 data record 5,021 new dwelling completions, which is 55.5% greater than the 3,229 completions of quarter 2 of 2020. Data on commencements are also showing significant increases over this period.

The record investment by the Government will happen in parallel with major measures and reforms committed to under Housing for All, building on the Government's measures to increase the delivery of social, affordable and private market housing over the past 16 months. Housing for All will transform our housing system and remove the constraints that can lead to delays and blockages in the provision of housing. In particular, the actions set out under pathway 3 of the plan, the pathway to increasing new housing supply, will create the environment needed to enable the supply of more than 300,000 new homes by 2030, meaning an annual average of at least 33,000 homes. The €4 billion in Exchequer investment, supplemented by Land Development Agency funding and Housing Finance Agency lending, will ensure that 4,130 homes are made available for purchase and cost rental, a new form of affordable rental tenure in Ireland which was championed by the Green Party, and that 9,000 new-build social homes are provided, meeting the 2022 targets in Housing for All.

The Government is keenly focused on helping everybody to secure a roof over their head. Providing enhanced tenancy protections, assistance and considerable funding to help renters feel secure in their homes is uppermost in our priorities and will continue to be into the future.

8:15 pm

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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One issue that my office in Limerick is contacted about multiple times a day is housing. People are calling to look for help with their housing issues and help to get on the housing waiting lists, people are in mortgage distress and, more and more, we are seeing people who are struggling to pay their rent. Those in this category are extremely varied and include students struggling to find a house for a semester and families who have rented for years but the rent just keeps going up and up. To put it simply, hard-working families cannot keep pace with rising rents. Rents are out of control. In the second quarter of 2020, the standard average rent in Limerick was €1,027 per month. By the second quarter of 2021, it was €1,122 per month, a 9.3% increase year-on-year, which is not sustainable.

Moreover, there are hardly any properties available. For example, in Limerick today, there are only 12 properties available for rent. Some of the rents are those we would see in the Upper East Side of New York’s Manhattan, not Limerick city. There are only two family homes available for less than €2,000 a month, and one of them is close to €2,000. This is a disaster because there is nothing there for people to rent.

The current Government talks about solving the housing crisis but that is all it is - talk. If the Government was serious about addressing housing concerns, it would have taken decisive action. One would think the budget was a prime opportunity to do so but not for this Government. The Government offered renters nothing in the recent budget, nothing to alleviate even a little of the pressure on renters. If it was an exam, it would have failed.

When there is a crisis that affects so many citizens, an emergency response is needed. The Government needs to take action to stymie the rising rents. One option that would surely be welcome is a refundable tax credit that would give one month’s rent back to renters.

Another aspect of dealing with the housing crisis is ensuring that those who rent do so in abodes of a minimum standard. In the past few weeks, I have been contacted about two properties near the University of Limerick, one of which has a bedroom in the kitchen area and the other a toilet next to the main cooking area. In both cases, the landlords were seeking €600-plus per month for the pleasure of renting the properties. Renters need protection. A useful step would be an NCT-type certification system for properties, under which a certificate would need to be renewed every 12 months.

Another key problem for people who are renting is the tenuous status of their leases. Families are being evicted on the basis that the landlord's children are returning home from Australia - for some reason, it is always Australia - and the tenant is informed that the property will not be available for rent much longer. Section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, as amended, must be amended to remove the provision whereby the use of a rental property by family members is a legitimate reason for eviction.

Housing is a challenge and we must get our approach to it right. The Government missed an opportunity in the budget to ease the pressure on renters.

8:25 pm

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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Like Deputy Quinlivan, I have people coming into my office every week who are absolutely distraught because they cannot afford to keep renting where they are currently renting, they have got a notice to quit and are trying to find somewhere else or, for whatever family reason, they have to leave their current accommodation. I am sure there are many thousands of such people who waited with bated breath for the Minister's budget speech last week, hoping for some type of rent relief measure or, at the very minimum, something to help them in their current situation. However, the Government completely ignored in its budget the hardships being felt by renters, some of whom are single people expected to pay up to €2,000 per month in my constituency. This cost is on top of the expense of feeding and clothing themselves and trying to live any sort of life.

A parent came to talk to me last week who was utterly distraught after receiving a notice to quit. She and her partner have three children and the family has lived in the area for 13 years. They have sent hundreds of emails to landlords looking for somewhere to live but have not been successful. Any three-bedroom family home they find costs up to €2,000 and more to rent. That is way out of reach for these two working people. They just cannot find anywhere to live but they must leave their current property by March 2022. Unfortunately, they are faced with going into homelessness.

The Government needs to build social and cost-rental housing. It must step up to the plate and take action to deal with this problem. The urgency of the situation has been outlined in the Chamber for weeks. Deputy Ó Broin has repeatedly set out the measures that are needed to tackle the housing crisis, including a refundable tax credit for private rental tenants that would put a month's rent back into every renter's pocket and deliver at least 4,000 affordable cost-rental homes in 2022. Unfortunately, those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. What we really need is action because people cannot take this anymore. They cannot be faced with a rental market where there is nothing available or whatever is there costs thousands of euro per month. That is just not acceptable.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The purpose of tabling this motion tonight was to highlight the abject failure of the Government to provide any immediate, urgent relief for those in the rental sector struggling with sky-high rents. The Government has been in office for nearly 15 months and none of the legislation to which the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, referred has done anything either to stop the upward movement of rents or bring rents down.

I want to respond to some of the comments the Minister made before he left the Chamber. He is right that landlords are leaving the rental market. In fact, we have lost more than 20,000 private rental tenancies in four years. The Government has no plan or strategy to stop this disorderly exit from the rental market. I have been calling on the Minister, as I called on his predecessor, Eoghan Murphy, to put in place such a strategy and work with the Opposition to achieve it. To date, our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

The Minister referred to five legislative measures the Government has introduced. The purpose of the first of them was to strip the overwhelming majority of renters of the Covid-19 protections introduced by the previous Minister. Bit by bit, with each subsequent Bill, further restrictions on those protections were put in place. As a result, the overwhelming majority of private renters now have no protections, even when they are still experiencing difficulties arising out of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Minister also told the House that we supported his move to shift rent pressure zones from the 4% cap to an inflation-indexed basis. We supported it but we also told him on the floor of the convention centre that it would not work because inflation was already on an upward trajectory. In fact, I have just checked the Residential Tenancies Board rent review calculator, which shows inflation at 4.3%. We do not yet have the legislation from the Minister to address that issue and we do not know when it will be introduced. What we do know is that if another cap of, say, 2% is introduced, that will not work either because it will not apply to tenancies outside RPZs or new rental stock coming into the market and it will not, in the main, be enforceable on existing rental tenancies where a new tenant occupies, both because of the understaffing of the RTB and the lack of empowerment of tenants to make complaints.

The Minister is right that he introduced improvements to the deposit regime for all renters. Of course he forgot to mention that he did so on foot of a USI-initiated Bill tabled by Sinn Féin and supported by the Opposition and the Government. It was only after this that he chose to move on the issue.

With regard to cost-rental provision, I accept that the Green Party has long advocated it, as has Sinn Féin. The Minister promised to deliver 390 additional cost-rental units this year. According to the reply to a recent parliamentary question, only 113 will be delivered. If he could not deliver 390 new units this year, from where will he get 1,500? There will be additional funding for the approved housing body sector to provide an extra 500 units, as well as the 250 it has not provided this year. These are appallingly paltry targets. The idea that the Land Development Agency is going to deliver another 1,000 cost-rental homes seems farcical to me. It does not have 1,000 such units under construction at present. The only way it will achieve its target is if it goes out and acquires those units for the market, which means it will be in competition with AHBs for cost-rental units, as well as AHBs and local authorities for turnkey properties. I do not believe that target will be met.

Regarding the comments by the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, on an NCT-style certification system, when the Green Party was in opposition back in 2018, it supported a Sinn Féin motion on foot of an "RTÉ Investigates" report called Nightmare to Let. We have shown that such a system can be implemented in a way that would be cost-effective for the State and impose virtually no extra cost on landlords. If 25% of rental properties are to be inspected annually, as is proposed, then a landlord would only have to secure an updated certificate every fifth year, at a cost of €100. I do not see how that would have any negative impact whatsoever on supply.

The most telling remark by the Minister of State was his observation that he hopes market activity will normalise after the Covid crisis. That means we will go back to the chaos and dysfunction of a housing market, particularly in the private rental sector, that has reined over the past nine years of Fine Gael-led government. That is not a good thing and it is not where we should want to go. That is why I am urging the Government to reconsider the measures outlined in our motion to stop rents increasing, reduce rents immediately and dramatically increase affordable, particularly cost-rental, supply, not to a few hundred units a year but to thousands of units every year until the need is met. I commend the motion to the House.

Amendment put.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time tomorrow evening, Wednesday, 20 October 2021.