Tuesday, 26 November 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Housing Management Companies
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for taking time out of his busy schedule to come to this important debate. He will be aware of this issue because I have been in touch with him about it over recent weeks. Issues have arisen in the Park Retirement Village, Castletroy, over recent weeks, including the case of two long-term residents, Liz Lynam and Antoinette McEnnis, who live in bungalows and have been issued with termination notices by the owner. The Minister of State has visited the retirement village, which is marketed as Ireland's premier retirement village. What has happened is a grave injustice. The two women have been given notice to quit by 30 June 2020 on the basis that refurbishment will take place.
These bungalows have been their homes for many years. They came into the retirement village on the basis that this would be their long-term home. What has happened has been a grave shock to them. Furthermore, there have been notices to many other residents about rent increases, something that can happen in normal circumstances. However, what has happened has created such a degree of anxiety and distress among residents that I have advised them to take their case to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. There are complaints before it for adjudication. I ask that Ms Lynam and Ms McEnnis's cases be expedited.
Security of tenure is paramount for people who go into retirement villages. They have to be guaranteed that. If they are being evicted from their homes, a change in the legislation in the past 12 months means that if they return to those homes, rent can be charged at market rates. In many cases, rent could rise by €200, €300 or more. People cannot afford that. They moved to the retirement village at a time when it was marketed as a place they could live out the remainder of their lives in peace and tranquility in a safe environment. There have been other issues, such as the fact that there is no longer 24-hour security and instead a patrol system is in operation. I asked the management and owners to consult residents, which has not yet happened.
The most immediate issue is that the RTB needs to expedite the review of what I believe to be unwarranted and illegal evictions. I refer to one clause in Ms Lynam's letting agreement.Under the section heading "THE PARTIES AGREE", paragraph 4.2 states: "The parties agree that the Management Company reserves the right to relocate the Tenant from their existing Dwelling to another Dwelling within the Retirement Village - there are 32 bungalows in the retirement village to addition to apartments - in the event that the medical needs of the Tenant change or in the event that the Owner of the Dwelling wished to take up residence in the Dwelling." Neither of those conditions apply here. Both residents, Ms Liz Lynam and Ms Antoinette McEnnis, want to stay in their homes. The owners of the properties are not going to live in them.
I ask that all the complaints and disputes concerning the tenants of the Park Retirement Village in Castletroy that are before the RTB be expedited. Furthermore, the Minister of State can provide reassurance on the security of tenure for retirement villages. Strictly speaking, this development was given planning permission on the basis it would be a retirement village, not for letting in the private sector. I would like to hear the Minister of State's view on this.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue concerning the regulation and operation of retirement homes and villages, to which I will respond in general. The Senator specifically raised the issue of the Park Retirement Village in Castletroy in Limerick city. It is an area with which I am familiar, and I visited the retirement village and was very impressed with it. I cannot get speak on it specifically as the matter is before the RTB. Due to the quasi-judicial role of the RTB, it would be inappropriate for me, as Minister of State, to comment on or interfere in the specifics of any case that is ongoing with it. I agree with the Senator it would be appropriate if this matter could be dealt with quickly and an outcome found. It is to be hoped the RTB has the resources, which I believe it has, to be able to deal with this matter, and it would be best placed to the judge the specific issues the Senator raised. I was disappointed to hear some complications and difficulties concerning the retirement village have arisen, and it is to be hoped they can all be resolved. As the Senator said, perhaps the best way would be for the new owners to consult the existing tenants and to agree some changes. Separate from that, the RTB will make its own decision, in which process I cannot get involved.
In general, retirement villages are based on a model of independent living for the residents whether these are homeowners or tenants. We are trying to encourage a greater provision of them, both publicly and privately, or a combination of both, with taxpayers' money and private money. They are not nursing homes. Rather, they are homes where people in an older age bracket may collectively live in a good location, often with centralised services. I have visited quite a number of retirement villages throughout the country in recent years. Most residents are very happy in them and have made lifestyle choices based on that as well in respect of their own homes.
As these are normal homes, they are subject to the normal planning and building control systems, as with any other development. Where the accommodation is rented, it is also subject to the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2019 and may be subject to rent pressure zone designation in relevant locations, as in the case of Limerick. The Residential Tenancies Acts set out the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants. They apply to every dwelling that is the subject of a tenancy, subject to a limited number of exceptions.
The RTB was established as an independent statutory body under the Act to operate a national tenancy registration system and to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants, as in this case. Recently, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019, introduced a number of key measures and reforms designed to enhance protections for tenants, which would include tenants in a retirement village, such as the one the Senator mentioned in Limerick or others. The Act strengthened the security of tenure protections to guard against unlawful tenancy terminations, including applying the new RTB sanctioning regime to improper conduct by a landlord who contravenes the tenancy termination provisions; requiring landlords to copy a tenancy termination notice to the RTB; requiring a certificate from an architect or surveyor to the effect that the proposed substantial refurbishment or renovation works in question would pose a health and safety risk requiring vacation by the tenants and that such a risk would be likely to exist for at least three weeks during such works; significantly extending the duration of tenancy termination notice periods, for example, a 180 days, or approximately six months, notice period for landlords who terminate a tenancy of between three and seven years' duration; and, where a landlord terminates a tenancy because he or she needs to refurbish or renovate the property substantially, the requirement to offer the property back to the former tenant upon completion of works provided the tenant has provided his or her contact details. That is a key part of the case raised by Ms Liz Lynam and Ms Antoinette McEnnis. Given the strong planning and building control standards in place, and the strong protections for tenants under the Residential Tenancies Acts, there are no plans to have a separate system of regulation for retirement villages. There is a need, however, to have more options for housing for older people. To this end, and further to the Senator's question on security of tenure, we are in an area of policy development and we have an action plan, Housing Options for Our Ageing Population, which was published in February. The Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government and Health published a joint policy statement and a new framework for how we will work in the area. An implementation plan is progressing the 40 actions outlined in the statement to bring forward housing options, including supported housing for older people. We are examining security of tenure and various barriers to that, and the blend of private and public money.
The bottom line is that we want there to be more housing options for older people in every town and village but it is about giving people the choice to move or change home if they want. I call it "right-sizing", while others refer to it other names. Often, the debate in the media suggests that people will be forced out of their homes but there is not an ounce of truth in that. It is about giving people the option to move house and facilitating it. We will plan for more retirement villages similar to the Park or the private ones in various parts of the country and have them ready in order that people will have options. It is a choice. If the planning is done correctly, with all the necessary protections, including security of tenure, it will work well in the future.
The people in question moved to the Park retirement village in Castletroy because they wanted to do so. Many of them sold their homes. They have lived in the retirement village houses for at least eight or nine years. These are their homes and they are where the residents want to reside. It is a Hobson's choice for them. If the houses are renovated and they are offered them back, the rent will probably rise by a multiple to a price well above what they now pay. If they are moved to another unit within the complex, it will not be their home, but the rent will nonetheless be significantly higher. I want there to be security of tenure when someone makes the choice to move to a retirement village. It is totally different from the case of somebody renting in a private complex. People move to retirement villages for security and they will have made an effort to downsize. The eviction notices are causing a great deal of distress not only to Liz Lynam and Antoinette McEnnis but also to all the other people living in the Park retirement village.
I ask the Minister of State to provide an assurance that he will seek to expedite the matter with the RTB. There has to be defined security of tenure for people who move to a retirement village. Such facilities market themselves specifically as retirement villages for people who are old and infirm. I hope there will be a speedy resolution to the matter. I call on the new owners of the Park retirement village to engage actively with the residents. They moved there because they wanted to. While there are issues that will need to be addressed, they like their neighbours and where they live, and they should be entitled to continue to live there, given that it is marketed as a retirement village.
I am glad the Senator has raised the issue, both in general and in the context of the specific case in Limerick, which I hope the RTB will be able to resolve quickly. In general, it is important that we bring forward more suitable accommodation and housing for people who are ageing, which will include all of us at some point in our lives. A large part of the issue is that people want to feel safe and secure and have a sense of permanency. If one is to right-size, by selling or renting out one's home and moving into a new one, one has to know that one will be able to remain there for as long as one wishes. It is important we deal with that and we are doing so under policy interventions. An important aspect is the financing. Our implementation body, which involves all the Departments working together along with representatives of the older people associations and Age Friendly Ireland, are around the table, making decisions and driving forward the changes that are needed. There is a great opportunity in the country to provide appropriate housing for older people. I hope we can avail of that opportunity and bring it forward. It is important that all local authorities be involved in the planning aspect of setting out land and sites, specifically for what I have outlined, and ensure that it will be backed up by policy.It is very important that all local authorities are involved in the planning aspect of this, that they set out land and sites specifically for this, and that they make sure there are backup assets and policies as well. I believe in general this can be a positive area. It is disappointing that there are difficulties in relation to the Park in Limerick, because it was quite a good example of what could be done right. Again, Senator O'Donnell has urged that the new landlords would sit down with their tenants. That is obviously the best outcome.