Written answers

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government

Housing Policy

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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78. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will take measures to prevent co-living housing developments given the recent approval of such developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23529/21]

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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On being appointed, as Minister I undertook a review of co-living development and indicated in a letter dated 23 November 2020 to all local authorities, An Bord Pleanála and the Office of the Planning Regulator, that the preferred approach was to restrict commercial co-living development in Ireland.

This preferred approach was subject to the requisite environmental assessment processes, including Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) screening process in accordance with Regulations that give effect to the EU SEA Directive and which require a mandatory four-week consultation with the relevant environmental authorities. The consultation period was completed on 21 December 2020 and gave rise to no further issues.

Accordingly, I issued a further letter to planning authorities on 23 December 2020 giving notice that updated Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments, Guidelines for Planning Authorities December 2020, had been published as Ministerial guidance under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended (the Act). These are available on the website at the following link:

The updated apartment guidelines now include a Specific Planning Policy Requirement (SPPR) for a presumption against granting planning permission for co-living/shared accommodation development, and replace the previous, 2018 version of the guidelines. The December 2020 changes relate solely to the ‘Shared Accommodation’ (Co-living) aspects of the guidance.

Any co-living planning application or appeal arising from an application made prior to finalising updated Ministerial guidance on 23rd December 2020 must be assessed on the basis of the guidance that was in place when the planning application was made. Otherwise, as Minister I would have been using the guidance to interfere with ongoing planning processes, which is specifically precluded under Section 30 of the Planning and Development Act. Any planning applications and consequent appeals, or SHD applications made after the date of publication of the updated guidelines, are subject to the updated guidelines.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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79. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the measures he will take to prevent landlords and estate agents using incentivised rates such as offering short term discounts in order to avoid rent control measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23530/21]

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The Planning and Development and Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2016 introduced the Rent Predictability Measure to moderate rent increases in those parts of the country where rents are highest and rising fastest, resulting in great difficulty for households finding affordable accommodation. In these areas, called Rent Pressure Zones (RPZ), rents can only increase by a maximum of 4% per annum. The annual rent increase restriction applies to both new and existing tenancies, irrespective of a change of landlord.

Not all properties in RPZs are subject to the 4% restriction.

An exemption applies to the first rent setting of a tenancy of a dwelling where:

- no tenancy existed in respect of the dwelling during the two years immediately prior to this current tenancy beginning;


- no tenancy existed in respect of the dwelling where the dwelling is a protected structure, or is in a protected structure or is a proposed protected structure during the 12 months immediately prior to the current tenancy beginning. A protected structure is defined in the Planning and Development Act 2000.

The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 Act provides a legal definition of ‘substantial change in the nature of rental accommodation’ to illustrate the type of works to be carried out to a rental property to qualify for an exemption from the annual rent increase restriction applicable in Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs).

Such works shall result in:

- a permanent extension increasing the floor area by 25%; or

- an improvement in the Building Energy Rating (BER) by at least 7 ratings; or

- at least 3 of the following:

- a permanent alteration of the internal layout;

- adaptations for a person with a disability;

- a permanent increase in the number of rooms;

- an improvement in the BER by 3 or more ratings where the original BER was D1 or lower; or

- an improvement in the BER by 2 or more ratings where the original BER was C3 or higher.

The Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2021 do not stipulate a maximum or minimum rent amount to be charged in an area and places no obligation on a landlord to charge a rent. Section 19 of the Acts prohibits the setting of a rent that exceeds the prevailing market rent. There is no legal obstacle to landlords reducing rents in an RPZ or elsewhere in the country.

During the pandemic, landlords are being urged to show forbearance to tenants with regard to the levels of rent payable and any arrangements that might be made should rent arrears arise. It is open to the parties to agree informal temporary rental arrangements during the pandemic and this does not contravene RPZ legislation. Such arrangements are viewed as a pragmatic response to the temporary impacts of Covid-19, lowering rents for tenants when most needed.

In order to better enforce RPZ legislation, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 provided the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) with enhanced powers and resources to carry out investigations and to sanction landlords if required, for any contravention of the 4% rent increase restriction in RPZs. The maximum sanction is €30,000. Alternatively, a tenant may wish to refer a dispute for resolution to the RTB and a lawful rent can be enforced and damages of up to €20,000 can be awarded.

My Department, the Housing Agency and the RTB keep the operation of the rental market under review. It is important to have rent transparency and a rental system with fair rent and certainty for tenants. I intend to bring forward comprehensive rental legislation in the Autumn with provisions to address long term security of tenure, rent levels and the impact of on-line platforms taking units out of the rental market. The matter raised will be examined in the context of that legislation.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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80. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the measures he will take to ensure housing is affordable given the large amount of private capital investing in housing here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23531/21]

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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This Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that affordable, quality housing solutions are available to everyone in Irish society and this is reflected in the Programme for Government.

Institutional Investors are regulated by the Department of Finance. The issue of sale and of purchase of land or housing are matters for the Minister for Justice. I have serious concerns of instances, recently reported, where investors are inappropriately purchasing entire completed houses estates, preventing their sale to families and first time buyers. I am working with my Government colleagues to bring forward comprehensive proposals to address this issue as a matter of urgency.

I would note that institutional investors occupy a relatively small share of the housing market which based on the last census in 2016 was more than 2 million houses and apartments. Industry estimates suggest that the total number of residential units under institutional ownership in Ireland was approximately 15,550 at the end of 2020, less than 1% of the total housing stock.

Historically, the private rented sector in Ireland has been largely made up of small-scale landlords, who will continue to provide the bulk of private rented accommodation. Data provided by the Residential Tenancies Board in November 2020 reports that the majority (over 70%) of landlords registered a single rental tenancy.

The presence of such institutional investors in the market helps to increase the supply of housing, particularly of urban apartments, through forward-funding of development. This is essential to reaching the National Planning Framework targets and to support more sustainable living generally. However the possibility of a trend of investment emerging where already or nearly completed traditional family home estates are purchased in bulk is deeply concerning and not in line with Government policy.

Over €3.3 billion has been made available in 2021 for housing - the largest budget in the history of the State. This year alone we are providing Capital funding of €468 million specifically to cover affordability measures including:

- €110 million for a new Affordable Purchase Shared Equity scheme and a newEquity Loan Facilityto deliver Cost Rental homes;

- €50 million in Services Sites Funding to deliver affordable purchase homes on Local Authority lands;

- €38 million in Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Funding which will support the delivery of homes on private lands including many discounted prices;

- €210m for lending under the Rebuilding Ireland Home loan for those who cannot secure the necessary commercial loan.

- €205m to be spent by the Land Development Agency in its progression of housing including affordable homes.

- In addition, the Help To Buy scheme is also available via the Department of Finance.

The Government has recently approved the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 which will give a statutory basis for the introduction of the Affordable Purchase and Cost Rental schemes. I intend to publish the Bill very shortly bring it to the Oireachtas to allow its commencement this year. The Bill will also reform of Part V of the Planning and Development Act by increasing the existing 10% obligation for social housing in residential developments to a 20% obligation for social and affordable housing.

The new National Affordable Purchases Shared Equity scheme is currently being designed for private developments. My intention is that this measure will be available nationally. It will help bridge the gap, by means of an equity stake purchased by the State, between the maximum mortgage available to eligible households and the price of the new home they wish to buy. The objective of the scheme will be to increase housing supply by activating viable planning permissions and to enable First Time Buyers to buy a new home at a price they can afford sooner than would otherwise be the case.

In relation to Cost Rental, a range of work is ongoing to deliver this new form of housing. My Department is utilising the expertise of Local Authorities, the Land Development Agency (LDA), and the Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) to deliver projects in a variety of ways, in order to prove the concept of this new sector. This is in conjunction with the policy development for the sector that is set out in the forthcoming Affordable Housing Bill.

Cost Rental will be informed by National Planning Framework priorities. It will be focused, at least initially, in densely populated urban areas where rental affordability pressures are particularly acute and where State resources can have the biggest impact. It is important that the State targets its affordability measures towards the parts of the country that are experiencing the most extreme affordability challenges.

One of the main sources of State funding for Cost Rental homes is the new Cost Rental Equity Loan (CREL) scheme, which was allocated €35m in funding in Budget 2021. It gives Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) access to Government loans on favourable terms to cover up to 30% of the cost of new Cost Rental homes. Following the detailed assessment of submitted proposals, approval was granted for the funding this year of 390 new Cost Rental homes, located in Dublin, Kildare, and Cork. Cost-covering rents for these homes will be at least 25% below comparable open market prices. Further details of these homes, including precise locations, will be published when the successful AHBs have completed necessary commercial arrangements. I intend seeking an expansion to this scheme through the review of the National Development Plan and the Budgetary process, in order to give AHBs certainty of funding on a multi-annual basis and allow them to plan developments into the longer term.

In the meantime both the Help to Buy scheme and the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan remain available to eligible purchasers to make the cost of housing more affordable.


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