Thursday, 23 June 2022
Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill 2022: Report and Final Stages
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. For the information of Members, please note that the House, by agreeing to the motion to recommit, allows a Committee Stage style discussion on the amendments Nos. 3, 4, 9 and 10, that is, Members may speak more than once on each amendment.
In respect of other amendments, I remind Senators that on Report Stage a Senator may speak only once, except the proposer of the amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each non-Government amendment must be seconded.
Government amendment No. 1 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1, 5 and 7 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendments Nos. 1, 5 and 7 are technical corrections to correct the Irish language version of the name of the register known in the English language as the Construction Industry Register Ireland from “Clár Tionscal Tógála na hÉireann” to “Clár Tionscail Foirgníochta na hÉireann”.
Amendment No. 3 provides for necessary amendments to the Long Title to reflect the insertion of Parts 11 and 12 into the legislation via amendments Nos. 9 and 10.
Amendment No. 4 amends section 1 to provide that the new Parts 11 and 12 will not come into operation on foot of a commencement order signed by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage but will instead come into operation on the day after the passing of this Bill by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The relevant Parts provide for such commencement.The aim is to bring Parts 11 and 12 into operation at the earliest juncture.
Amendment No. 9 is to insert into the Bill a new Part 11 to provide for a number of amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to, inter alia, do the following: increase the notice period to be given by landlords when terminating certain tenancies; require landlords to serve a copy of any notice of termination on the board; and enable the board to assist in providing contact details of tenants to landlords for the purpose of facilitating a reletting offer.
Amendment No. 10 is to insert into the Bill a new Part 12 to provide for a number of amendments to the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Act 2019 to increase by 12 months the period permitted for an application to be made to register as an approved housing body.
This is a welcome amendment on the notice periods for tenants. There are significant increases in the notice period protections for tenants: from less than six months up to 90 days; not less than six months but less than a year up to 152 days; not less than one year but less than seven years up to 180 days; not less than seven years but less than eight years up to 196 days; and not less than eight years up to 224 days. These are significant increases in the notice periods and given the climate we are in and the fact that there is a dwindling number of rental properties in the market, giving tenants an additional period of time to source alternative private rental accommodation is a welcome move by Government, which I fully support.
I also welcome these amendments. I suspect that they are probably in response to the increasing numbers of people getting notices to quit. It is welcome that notice periods are being extended but it will only delay people presenting as homeless; it will not stop notices to quit. For those reasons it is probably right that I articulate that we need to put a month's rent back into people's pockets and to bring down rents in that way. We should ban rent increases in addition to extending notice periods. I do not know if housing rights groups or tenants' groups were notified about these amendments. As far as I am aware they were not and this move took us by surprise, which is somewhat unusual. We welcome the amendments and I commend the Minister of State for bringing them forward.
I also welcome these amendments. They come after other amendments that have been put in place by this Government over the course of the last year or so to protect renters, enhance their protections and increase their security of tenure, which is welcome. The protections that were put in place are all welcome and include: additional notice periods; caps on rent increases; and the extension of the rent pressure zones. They go a long way to helping with increasing renters' security of tenure. The leases of indefinite duration are also important.
The reality is that there would be no hope for people if we had not passed Housing for All and if the Government had not committed €20 billion to deliver: improved conditions for renters; a massive increase in the social housing stock; the introduction for the first time ever of a cost rental model; and an increase of affordable and private housing. For people who are renting and who want to have the security of knowing they are living in a place that is their home, these measures help them in the short term but the only way we can give people real security of tenure is by increasing the housing stock and we all know that. I welcome these amendments and I encourage the Minister of State and the Government to press on with Housing for All and the housing delivery increases we need to see.
I will not get into a big back and forth debate with Senator Warfield but I must make some important points in response to what he has outlined, particularly on banning rent increases.
We all want lower rents and that is why the Government is introducing cost rental and why we have moved to a situation where we have indexed rent increases to the consumer price index, or 2%, whichever is less. We have to point out that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We do not have to look too far to Germany, where the left-wing Berlin Government introduced a rent freeze and banned rent increases overnight. What that did within a 12-month period was reduce the rental stock by up to 60% in Berlin, making it far more difficult for people to find the rental properties we are talking about.
It is all well and good to put things out there but when one is in government one has to balance all the competing interests. We have struck that balance and we have to do so on both sides, in favour of the tenant and the landlord. There are many ways that money can be put back in renters' pockets and one of the ways it can be done is through taxation. That is why I hope the Government will look at income taxes, particularly for those squeezed middle income earners who work the extra bit of overtime in the factory and end up in the higher tax bracket of 52%. There are many ways we can address the issue but if we are going to have a debate on it then it needs to an honest and informed debate on what has happened in other jurisdictions in response to what is being touted by some in the Opposition.
I might reply to a number of the matters that have been raised and I welcome the comments of Members and the support for these amendments.
The amendments seek to give additional protections to tenants with additional notice periods. On the point raised by Senator Warfield, the results of the review are set out in the legislation, and stakeholders were consulted. There has been good consultation with stakeholders on this. A further review of the notice periods is built into this legislation so I want to give assurances on that issue.
The points were well made on the issue of supply and cost rental. There are many elements that are built into Housing for All, which is gaining significant momentum, and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has taken initiatives on constraining bulk buying and other elements that distort the market.
Senator Cummins is correct that we have to look at the experience of other jurisdictions, which we have done and which has informed our decisions. Cost rental is based on a similar model to the one that was initiated in Vienna so we are looking to other jurisdictions in how we frame our housing policy, in how we protect tenants and renters and in how we have a vibrant rental market in Ireland.