Seanad debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018: Second Stage

 

2:30 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)

I also welcome the Minister and his officials to the House. I believe the Minister will hear a balanced debate on this important topic. The Minister needs and deserves our supports in all of his efforts to increase housing output, residential and rental, and that is acknowledged by the contributions of all Members, Opposition and others. The Minister will hear various proposals in this House that will assist him in that. I know the Minister is doing his utmost to prevent further homelessness. He wants to achieve the objective of a sustainable, normalised rental market. All of us in this House must do all in our power to help him to protect and sustain long-term tenancies.

The RTB has been mentioned and it plays an important role in terms of registration, monitoring compliance and adjudicating disputes. Positive strides have been made to adequately resource the RTB, to allow it do its work in adjudicating and making effective and early decisions where it must and that is important.

I am concerned that 1,700 landlords have left the market since 2015. There are reasons for that which we must understand. I have no doubt there are many rogue landlords and we must acknowledge there are also rogue tenants. We have all heard horror stories from both sides. It is important that all landlords and tenants are not tarred with the same brush when people step out of line. As other contributors have stated, we must be careful that legislation is seen as fair and addresses the societal challenges we face in housing and rental in the current climate.

We all recognise there is a rental crisis at the moment. That is why we have designated rental pressure zones. We must therefore respond and that is why I support the legislation before the House tonight. We should review the legislation after two or three years, by which stage, hopefully, the housing output will be continuing to increase and the market will be normalising. I am interested to hear the Minister's views on that.

The Bill will enhance powers to investigate landlords and impose sanctions for non-compliance, as it should. Standards and regulations are set down to protect tenants but I agree with Senator McDowell that, while sanctions apply to landlords, there should also be sanctions for tenants when they step out of line, are not being fair or reasonable, are not respecting property or the tenancy they are offered. The RTB might have a role in that if it is empowered correctly. It is important to recognise that it works both ways.

The Bill also ensures that annual registration by landlords of tenancies are kept up-to-date in terms of records.

I have heard Senator Humphreys raise the issue of Airbnb and how it is affecting long-term tenancies on numerous occasions in this House. The Minister also understands the pressures that is bringing. This Bill will also regulate short-term lettings in rental pressure zones. It will address rental properties in these zones with rental periods of fewer than 14 days, which essentially intends to address the Airbnb issue where good rental properties are possibly being taken up with short-term lettings.I understand why people might want to do that, but we have a crisis and we need to respond to it. This is a resource that is available to us to try to respond to that crisis. It is a mechanism and a measure being introduced in legislation in a crisis by the Minister to try to address that, and that should also be acknowledged. The Minister said he hopes it will be implemented by 1 July, and he also committed to the House that the regulations for short-term letting will be consulted in the Oireachtas joint committee. I welcome that approach because a wide range of views will be heard there as well.

Legislation must be fair in how it deals with both landlords and tenants. We have to be concerned when landlords are leaving the market, because the fewer landlords we have, the fewer tenancies that will be available for people who need them. It is important that we see increases in housing output in both the private and public sectors, and we need to ensure that continues. We all acknowledge that there is a scarcity of properties, as well as upward rental pressures, which are beginning to level off, which is welcome. I note recent by the economist, Ronan Lyons, in which he said that the solution to this is to encourage private developers to build and institutional investors to become landlords. The alternative view to that from various housing associations and social housing advocates is that housing should be provided mainly and only by the State. I believe that the solution is in the middle. It is a balance of both, where we need to see more private residential development and more social housing developments. Rebuilding Ireland is the plan that will address that, and it is beginning to become fruitful. We can see that from the numbers, and the thousands of houses that are becoming available year on year, but that needs to continue.

I need not tell the Minister about the increases in rent in rental properties nationally. The national average is now at €1,366, and it is much more than that in Dublin. In Waterford city, the average is €972 per month, and it is €847 per month in the county. The concern is that rent is now becoming more expensive than actual mortgages, and that has to be a cause for concern. It is not normal, and we therefore need to look at new mechanisms, which I know the Minister is doing all the time, in terms of affordable housing for both purchase and rental.

I wish the Minister well. I know there will be criticisms of the legislation but people should understand that it is a response to the crisis we are in. We are being innovative in trying to leverage properties that are there but are, unfortunately, not available due to short-term letting, and trying to make them available for long-term lettings. That is to prevent homelessness, essentially, and to try to make renting more sustainable in this country. I support the Minister in his efforts, and I hope the House will as well.

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