Committee on Finance. - Rent Restrictions (Continuance and Amendment) Bill, 1955—Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The object of the Bill is to continue the present Rent Acts in operation for a further period of one year pending the outcome of the Government's review of the whole problem. As Deputies will recall, the Rent Restrictions Act of 1946, which was a consolidating Act, was to have expired at the end of 1950 but in October of that year the Government appointed a commission under Judge Conroy's chairmanship to investigate the working of the Act and to make recommendations. The commission reported in June, 1952, and recommended that the existing controls be continued, with certain increases to landlords who are liable for repairs, and that control be extended to dwellings built since 1941 or to be built hereafter and it also recommended the extension of control to furnished lettings. There were a number of other recommendations, some of which are technical but no less important for that.

When the present Government took office the various interested Departments had not concluded their examination of the report but since then the principal recommendations, together with departmental observations thereon, have been submitted to the Government which have been considering what is best to be done for the common good. It is over 40 years since the first of the rent restriction measures was passed and in the meantime a host of new and complicated legal relationships have come into existence. This is one of the relevant considerations. There are, of course, other considerations which have to be taken into account. Since 1952, when the Conroy Report was presented, there has been an improvement in the housing situation and in living standards. On the other hand, very few houses have been built for letting by private enterprise though a large number have been built for tenant purchasers, and there has been a high rate of building under the Housing of the Working Classes Act and Labourers Acts. There is, nevertheless, a housing shortage, particularly in Dublin and Cork, which has yet to be overcome.

All of these aspects are receiving consideration but it will be some time before the Government are in a position to take final decisions. Meanwhile, it is necessary to continue the Acts in force for a further period. Every effort will be made to have the Government's legislative proposals communicated to the House during 1956. In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity of saying that authority has been given for the preparation of a Bill on the general lines of the second report of the Conroy Commission, that is to say, the Report on Reversionary Leases under the Landlord and Tenant Acts.

I do not know how the Minister kept a straight face while reading out his brief. Three years ago, I was told, when I said amending legislation might take 12 months, that six months should be ample. At that time, I could have made a far better case than the Minister now does because the Report of the Conroy Commission had only been received. This Government has been 18 months in office and it must be three years since the Conroy Report was submitted. I should have thought that that would be sufficient time in which to introduce a Bill. I do not propose to put the matter to a division, but I think that we should have something more definite from the Minister; we should at least be told by the Minister whether the Bill has been sent for drafting and that the Government has come to a decision which would enable us to expect the Bill would be before the House inside 12 months.

I remember telling the Minister for Justice in the first Coalition that he knew fairly well he would be unable to introduce such a Bill because he might not be in office long enough. It just happened that he was not, but I was just taking a shot. Let us not be making prophecies, because we do not know what may happen, but I would like to know if we can expect to have a permanent measure before this time 12 months. I do not want to press the Minister too hard because I, naturally enough, know the difficulties as well as anybody else. If the Minister is able to say to us that we may expect a Bill within the next 12 months, I shall not put this to a division. All I want is to have something definite.

There are two reports, one of which came out last year which is a report on reversionary leases. That has been approved of and has been sent for drafting.

Then there will be two Bills.

Necessarily, because there are two different Acts.

I should like to raise a point which has arisen as a result of a fairly recent decision of the High Court on the question of lawful additions. This decision is going to have considerable repercussions on the rights of tenants and I want to protect certain tenants who may be served with notices in respect of lawful additions and who at present are unprotected and who cannot afford to wait until an amending Act is brought in. As Deputies are aware, the scheme of the Act as it stands at present is that, when the basic rent of the premises has been determined either by the courts or by arbitration agreement, the landlord is entitled to certain lawful additions which in certain cases are automatic on the serving of notice.

The lawful additions are made under either Section 11 (2) (g) of the Act or Section 17 (2) (e) in the case of controlled 1923 Act premises or controlled non-1923 Act premises. At the moment, if a tenant is served with a notice increasing his rent over and above what he is charged by a suggested increase by the landlord under a notice under the sections to which I have referred, the tenant's rights are then determined under Section 20 of the Act. If the landlord serves on the tenant a notice increasing his rent to a figure to which the landlord claims he is entitled because of exceptional repairs he has carried out, the tenant's rights under the Act as it stands are confined to his rights under Section 20. Section 20 of the Act gives the tenant the right to apply to the court to set aside this notice and the section goes on in sub-section (5):—

"The court may, on the application of the tenant, if satisfied that the expenditure (in so far as it is applicable to any of the said matters) in respect of which the notice was served was not incurred or was unnecessary in whole or in part, disallow or reduce the increase accordingly."

In other words, the tenant is entitled to come into the court and say only two things: either that the expenditure was not incurred at all—in other words, that the notice was fraudulent —or that it was unnecessary, in whole or in part. It does happen, and in fact has happened, that landlords serve notice under Section 11 (2) (g) or Section 17 (2) (e) and ask the tenant to pay an increase in his rent for what the landlord says are exceptional repairs and the tenant's answer to these notices is that the expenditure was incurred not for exceptional repairs but in respect of repairs which the landlord should have carried out in any event under his contractual or statutory obligation to repair the premises. Landlords, who should repair premises and who do not, have served these notices and get a lawful addition for expenditure which they should have incurred under their ordinary repairing covenant. The tenant should be entitled to make that case when he comes into the court.

He should be entitled to come into the court and say either that the expenditure was not incurred, or that it was unnecessary either in whole or in part or—and this is where I should like the 1946 Act amended—that the expenditure was incurred in accordance with the contractual or statutory obligation on the landlord's part. I should like the Act amended in order to entitle the tenant to make this case when he applies to the court under Section 20. The tenant is restricted at the moment under Section 20; he may bring only two matters before the court. I do not want in any way to take away the landlord's rights to get an increase in his rent when he hasbona fide carried out repairs which are to the benefit of the tenant and the building. But that is how I understand the scheme of the Act. If he carries out exceptional repairs, he is entitled to increase his rent by 15, 8 or 6 per cent., as the case may be. What I do want to secure is that the tenant, when he is faced with a notice, is not restricted when he applies to the courts.

I should like to see the 1946 Act amended, so that, when a tenant is served with notice under the Act, he will be entitled to apply to the court for a decision by the court whether the expenditure was, in fact, expenditure which the landlord should have incurred in any event. I know there are many cases of landlords who incurred large expenditure and who should be entitled, in view of the scheme of the Rent Act at the moment, to some return for it when that expenditure is exceptional expenditure for repairs which accrue to the benefit of the tenant as well as the landlord. I think it should be open to the tenant to let the court determine whether, in fact, the expenditure was excessive, or whether it was expenditure the landlord should have incurred in any event under his ordinary contractual or statutory obligation to repair.

I would ask the Minister not to take all stages of this Bill to-day in order to permit me to put down an amendment on this point, and I would ask him to consider favourably the amendment I should like to put down.

The point so ably stressed by Deputy Costello was one of the points considered by the Conroy Commission. It is one which will have to get serious consideration by the Government. I am not in favour of bringing in piecemeal legislation, merely for one particular item. Deputy Boland wants to be guaranteed the Bill immediately.

I said inside 12 months. I did not say immediately.

No man in the House has greater knowledge of the trouble experienced in trying to frame a Bill to meet the points raised in the Conroy Commission Report than has Deputy Boland. Therefore, he knows the difficulty. Consideration will be required not only by my Department but by other Departments. I can only give him the assurance that we will endeavour to do everything possible to have a Bill by 1956, while we will very soon have a Bill on the second Conroy Report. I regret it is not possible to accept Deputy Costello's suggestion.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages to-day.
Bill passed through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.