Seanad debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

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

 

2:30 pm

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour)

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for bringing forward this badly-needed legislation. I do not intend to delay its progress on Committee or Report Stages but I have submitted some amendments, which I hope the Minister will have time to consider before tomorrow. One of my concerns relates to the enforcement of short-term lettings. We must make it as easy as possible for planning enforcement officers in local authorities to deal with that aspect. The more effectively that we can make it a desktop process, the better. It is why I am proposing that there be a register to which planning enforcement officers have access. There may be problems in legislating for this, but I ask the Minister to look closely at it before Committee Stage. I accept that his intention is not to prevent people from renting a room in their property. In communities close to my home and that of the Minister, several homes have been transferred to short-term lettings. With adequate enforcement, we can ensure a good number of units are restored to the long-term market. My concern is to prevent a hollowing out of communities, which we have seen on the Continent where residential communities close to city centres were turned into holiday villages. I can name streets in Dublin city centre where that has happened, with families putting their homes up for sale because the location was no longer a residential street but more like a holiday home section of the city. The relevant provisions in the Bill would be strengthened by considering mechanisms for enforcement and ensuring adequate resourcing for that enforcement.

I acknowledge the point that there are good and bad tenants and good and bad landlords. The reality at this time, however, is that the number of people losing their private rental properties and becoming homeless exceeds our capacity to provide housing for them. It is one of the main reasons for the growth in the homeless list, with people going into a family hub, if they are lucky, or a bed and breakfast or hotel. In the short term, we need to stem that flow into homelessness by providing adequate protections for people. Several measures in the Bill are timely and will assist in that regard. In addition, I would like to see a strengthening of the deposits system, as raised by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan in the Dáil and set out in one of my amendments.

Another issue with short-term lettings is that the relevant provisions relate only to rent pressure zones. However, as numerous reports in newspapers and on television have shown, short-term lettings are having an impact well outside those zones. Workers in places like Dingle and Kinsale, for example, can no longer find somewhere to rent because the properties that were previously available have moved to short-term letting. That matter must be reviewed. Fine Gael ideology has it that the market will resolve the housing crisis and we must concentrate on the supply side only and move towards the European rental model. The problem is that we do not have the underpinning legislation to protect people in rented accommodation in the long term. If we are moving towards a situation where the vast majority of people rent, our legislation must reflect that by ensuring there is security of tenure. In fact, it must go even further than that. If we are telling people in our cities that they will be renting for the rest of their life at a cost of €2,000 per month, what happens when they come to retirement age and experience a drop in income which means they are no longer able to pay that level of rent? Are we saying that people in their late 60s will have to move to another part of the city or country, away from the communities in which they have lived for 30 or 40 years, because they will otherwise be unable to afford their rent payments? If that is what we are saying, then we must have full reform of our pensions legislation to ensure people have adequate provision in retirement to be able to afford to rent in the areas in which they have lived all their life.

It has been noted that the cost of rent is generally higher than the cost of a mortgage. Under the affordable housing proposals for Dublin, one of the criteria is that a person must be living within the local authority area for the previous 12 months to be eligible to apply. I know of many families who have had to move out of Dublin city centre because the rent is no longer affordable. They will not qualify for affordable housing in their own communities if they have been gone for more than a year. That issue must be reviewed.

I intend to press five amendments. I do so not to delay the legislation but with the intention of strengthening it. I look forward to debating my proposals with the Minister tomorrow.

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