Seanad debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

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

 

2:30 pm

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)

Sinn Féin welcomes the Bill and will be supporting it. I am disappointed, as ever, when we have to submit amendments quite rapidly or before Second Stage is finished, but I will not dwell on that tonight. There is much more that needs to be done, both within and beyond this Bill. We saw from yesterday's daft.ie report that the average rent in Dublin hit over €2,000 for the first time, and it has been on the rise for 31 quarters now. That highlights the inconsistency and non-compliance with rent pressure zones, RPZs. The report also highlighted that there were just 2,700 homes available to rent nationwide on 1 May, which is the lowest recorded since daft.iestarted compiling those statistics in 2006. In contrast, more than 4,000 hotel bedrooms were under construction in the first quarter of this year. Similar to how, during the financial crisis, workers were reluctant to assert their workers' rights, we are now seeing the same situation where tenants are reluctant to assert their tenancy rights for fear of having no place to call home at all.

The rental crisis has highlighted that even when laws are strengthened in regard to tenants, there is still a cohort of landlords who actively evade those laws. Lettings that do not meet minimum standards or overcrowding laws, non-registration with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, or rents raised higher than RPZ limits are all commonplace. We need the RTB to have the resources to inform all renters of their rights and to build up tenants' confidence. That is a funding issue. We also need the RTB and local authorities to be funded so they can carry out inspections to combat non-registration.

Furthermore, the continuation of rents being higher than mortgage repayments in every property type and county in the State highlights a harsh reality for most renters, who are paying grossly inflated rents, are therefore unable to save for a down payment on a house, and are locked into a vicious cycle. While the Minister will say that Rebuilding Ireland is the remedy to this, a Rebuilding Ireland home loan requires, in many cases, a down payment of €28,800 in cities like Dublin. The affordable housing scheme is still in its infancy, and properties acquired under Part V are meeting the huge social housing need. When Rebuilding Ireland was launched in 2016, did the Government believe that the situation would become as dire as it has today? We are sinking further into the crisis.

One issue the Bill is addressing that I largely welcome is the limitation put on so-called renovictions, the action where landlords can evict tenants from lettings for the purpose of "substantial renovation", and are able to rent outside of RPZ limits when they re-advertise the properties. I have heard, albeit anecdotally, of this happening to tenants more so over the last couple of months than in any other time, and I wonder whether some landlords are doing this in anticipation of this legislation.

I seriously welcome the inclusion of student accommodation under RPZ legislation. I commend the efforts of the Union of Students in Ireland, as well as the NUIG and DCU students' unions, on this. We put forward a proposal on it in the past, so I welcome and commend that move.

I welcome the extension of the notice to quit periods, which form part of the Bill. We proposed a 90-day period in the past if a tenancy was six months old, as opposed to 35 days.

I welcome the Minister's amendments during Committee Stage in the Dáil aimed at curbing short-term lettings. Dublin, in its current status, is quickly becoming like larger European cities which reap the benefits of tourism but fail to cater to residents. I bring attention to robust enforcement of those measures, and support for Dublin City Council to perform that enforcement.

I and Sinn Féin are disappointed that the Bill does not include enabling legislation for a rental deposit scheme or a limit of one month on the amount charged as a deposit. The deposit protection scheme has had legislation approved by Cabinet as far back as 2014, and five years on I am sure many deposits have been lost unfairly. I understand the Minister has stated that further legislation to deal with this is at a biting point, and maybe he could provide an update on that as well.

We will be supporting the Bill on Second Stage, and we have submitted a small number of amendments for the remaining Stages.

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