Monday, 29 March 2021
Residential Tenancies Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages
I agree with previous speakers that the measures in the Bill are a proportionate response to a difficulty. It is important to point out that no matter what happens, no legislation we pass will cover every eventuality. There will always be people who require protection and do not get it because it is almost impossible for legislation to conceive of every eventuality, circumstance and individual case. Every individual case will have its difficulties.
My colleague, Senator Conway, referred to accidental landlords who may have difficulty paying their mortgage, and regard must be had to them as well. I am conscious, for example, that in recent weeks the protections provided by section 35 in respect of disallowing the de factoeviction or notice being given to more than ten properties in a single development have been used at St. Helen's Court in Dún Laoghaire. These are important protections. The Bill does not remove all the protections, as has been suggested by Senator Craughwell, but I accept that it removes an important one, once the restrictions are lifted. However, there are still very important protections provided for in the residential tenancies legislation. The section 35 provision prevents notice being given, in cases of ten or more properties, for the purpose of substantial redevelopment at the landlord's convenience. When this occurred in St. Helen's Court the evictions were stopped by the legislation. However, the Derry-based developer who bought the apartments from PwC then served a notice on eight property owners, which is reprehensible. To my mind, it is a naked attempt to circumvent the protections in the legislation. That has happened and the legislation has failed in that instance to protect the tenants who are in these homes in St. Helen's Court. They are compliant tenants who are paying their rent. They are not guilty of anti-social behaviour or any other breach of their leases, yet they now find themselves at an extraordinarily difficult time looking for new homes in the coming months, which is a very difficult situation.
Let us acknowledge that the legislation does not do everything we would like it to do. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, feels the same because I do not think he would endorse what has happened in Dún Laoghaire either. The reality is that in all legislative processes we must balance the rights of different sectors of society. On Second Stage, I raised other issues that are not covered by this legislation. Amendments I tabled were ruled out of order because they are outside the scope of the Bill, but they relate, for example, to providing legal aid and legal advice to people who are before the tribunal of the Residential Tenancies Board. They provide, for example, for circumstances where we move the evidential burdens onto landlords rather than tenants. If they cannot be addressed in the Bill, I will accept that but the issues remain. I ask Members to step back for a moment and not to present these matters as if they are black and white or as if, on one side, we have somebody trying to undo the rights of people and, on the other side, we have somebody trying to save the rights of everyone. That is not the case. We live in a world of shades of grey. That is the reality. As another speaker said, I presume and expect that if need be, we will come back with more legislation when we reach the date set by means of the sunset clause. I invite the Minister of State to confirm that is the case.
Nobody is trying to do away with the protections that are important and necessary, but we must move with the times and recognise the realities of this situation and that there is no such thing as a Bill that does everything we want it to do. I agree that we must do what we can but in that regard all of these things are a matter of balancing the rights of two sets of individuals, neither of which is having a whale of a time during Covid. We must always seek to balance those rights. The Bill does a very good job of doing that. I presume the Minister of State would concede that it is not perfect because in previous debates he has been generous in acknowledging that the legislation does not do everything even he would like it to do. We all live in a world of compromise where we try to balance rights and achieve the best possible result for as many people as possible.