Seanad debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

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

 

2:30 pm

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)

I chaired the start of this debate and I have been watching it on the monitor for the past hour and a half. I value the debate hugely as this is a huge issue on the ground. I would not want anybody to believe people are not interested. I spent many years in self-employed practice and landlords were my clients. As a public representative, I deal with tenants and landlords and a couple of features arise.My view is that as we catch up, we will not do everything right. If something is not working, it should be changed. I will make a few observations. The rent pressure zones are coming in. I think everyone accepts that our problem is ultimately one of supply. If we had sufficient supply, it is probable that we would not need rent pressure zones because the market would stabilise. Rent pressure zones are based on average figures across electoral areas. In some cases, there are exceptionally high rents in certain parts of an electoral area and exceptionally low rents in other parts of the same electoral area. If the average rent in the area is below the national average, it is not designated as a rent pressure zone. Other electoral areas are more homogenous, which can allow the area to receive such designation. I appreciate that the Minister has changed the legislation in this area.

All of us are hearing from landlords. Everyone rents at some stage in his or her life. I rented for many years. My wife and I bought our house a number of years after we got married. That was a standard approach at the time. What we are talking about is a modern feature. It is deep in the psyche of Irish people, probably because we were ruled by the British for 800 years, to aspire to own our own homes. It is deep in our psyche to want our own homes. Senator McDowell spoke earlier about the Vienna solution. While I agree that we have to move to looking at the rental model, we cannot get away from the fact that home ownership is deep in our psyche. That is why it is critical for us to make affordable housing available to people, particularly young people across the social spectrum. We are moving in that direction. I have been contacted by young professionals who cannot get mortgages. A young teacher who came to me told me she cannot qualify for a mortgage even though she is in secure employment.

I think the affordable model is absolutely key. There are anomalies within the system at the moment. I will speak about tenants in the first instance. Rogue landlords can make the lives of their tenants hell by providing substandard accommodation, retaining deposits or engaging in harassment. Equally, rogue tenants can use deposits as a means of not paying rent. In such circumstances, the landlord can end up taking the tenant to the RTB and the whole thing can be an unqualified mess. I have dealt with landlords who have kept their tenants' rents at relatively modest levels. If a property owned by such a landlord suddenly falls into a rent pressure zone, he or she might end up charging half of the market rent for the area.

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