Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 can be discussed together.
Committee on Finance. - Local Government (Sanitary Services) Bill, 1964: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, between lines 3 and 4, to insert a new subsection as follows:
"(7) This subsection shall apply to a person who:
(i) is tenant of a dangerous structure or any part thereof and is required to vacate such structure by reason of the service of a notice under subsection (1) or paragraph (a) of subsection (9) of this section or by reason of a Court order made under paragraph (b) of subsection (9) of this section, (ii) was not by virtue of his tenancy under legal obligation to prevent the structure from becoming a dangerous structure,
(iii) became tenant of the structure or any part thereof not less than six months before service of a notice on the owner under subsection (1) of this section."
On a previous occasion, I put this amendment, together with amendments Nos. 2 and 3, before the Minister. On Second Reading, I mentioned the necessity for compensation, and the Minister brought in an amendment which dealt with compensation in certain terms. It dealt with compensation in regard to portion of a building, or a building, which was described as a business premises. On this side of the House, we sought to make it applicable to a dwelling also. We believe these three amendments are more equitable than the amendment proposed by the Minister. The Minister wants to go part of the way, but not all of the way, to meet the situation which has been created.
I pointed out in this connection that a landlord who was negligent could evade his responsibilities and leave the local authority to deal with this problem. I pointed out that the landlord has an obligation to the tenant, and that in regard to a building which had become dangerous, or was likely to become dangerous, a landlord might continue to neglect his obligation and cast the responsibility over to the local authority. When the Minister brought in his amendment, he said that if the local authority wished, they could pay the compensation. We believe these amendments are better, inasmuch as they place an obligation on the landlord to pay the compensation, and the terms of compensation are measured by reference to the Landlord and Tenant Act and the Rent Restrictions Act which govern compensation payments in these cases.
I am sure the Minister is aware that sites which become available in the built-up areas are valuable, especially in Dublin because of the development which is taking place. Those sites are perhaps the most valuable property in the city and can fetch rather high prices. We feel it certainly is not equitable to put on the ratepayers the necessity for paying compensation in a case where a landlord can obtain a valuable site and dispose of it at a later stage. These amendments were put down to enable the Minister to reconsider the matter. We feel that whatever measure of compensation he makes applicable to a person who is disturbed in his business, should also be payable to a person who is a tenant in a dwelling. There is no reason why compensation should not be paid to that individual. Under the terms of the various acts which protect his rights, if he were being moved from the premises by the landlord, his rights are protected. If a landlord elects to allow property to fall into disrepair until such time as notice is served by the local authority, he can allow the local authority to get rid of the tenant without entitlement to compensation. For that reason we are moving these amendments, and we hope the Minister will accept them.
I am afraid the amendments are not acceptable and, in explaining why, I should first like to deal with what seems to me to be the main argument put forward by Deputy Jones. He said the Bill as it stands would enable a landlord, over a period, to permit a building to fall into disrepair, procure a demolition order in regard to it, and thereby succeed in getting rid of the tenant without paying him compensation. I want seriously to suggest that his argument is very unreal and that the likelihood of such a thing happening is so remote as to be capable of being disregarded.
First the main factor which applies is that under the Landlord and Tenant Act and the Rent Restrictions Act, the tenant, whether he is a residential tenant or a business tenant, has a number of remedies available to him to ensure that the landlord keeps the premises in good repair and does not permit this gradual process of obsolescence to take place. The tenant of a building would be quite negligent and neglectful of his own interest if he were to permit this process to take place and not have recourse to the legal remedies available to him.
Secondly, are we serious in suggesting that a landlord, for the purpose of avoiding what would be in the great majority of cases fairly trivial compensation, would permit a building of some value, whatever it might be, to fall into disrepair over a period of years? No matter what way we look at it, that would be a completely uneconomic course of action for any landlord to embark upon. The type of cases we are dealing with here would, in the main, be the small type of businesses which are commonly known as huckster shops, and in the vast majority of those cases, the compensation which would fall to be paid by the landlord to the tenant would be quite small. I do not believe Deputy Jones can seriously ask us to believe that a sensible landlord—and most of them are fairly sensible and have regard to the basic economics of the position—would permit a whole building to become obsolescent, and be written off, simply to avoid the payment of comparatively small compensation.
Those are the two practical points of view which I put forward to suggest that Deputy Jones's fears in this whole matter are, as I said, unreal. Apart from that, there is a very sound technical argument against doing what Deputy Jones suggests in this instance. The position of landlord and tenantvis-á-vis each other is very carefully regulated and delineated in the Landlord and Tenant Acts and the Rent Restrictions Act, and the rights and liabilities of both parties are clearly set out. If any change is to be made with regard to the obligations of one party to the other, it is not in this statute that the changes should be made. It would be wrong in principle in a Bill of this sort to cut completely across the other code and to bring in something which should only be done in landlord and tenant legislation.
We have done it in regard to business premises in this Bill.
That is not a valid argument, because we are not really interfering with the rights of the tenantvis-á-vis the landlord. What we are doing is saying that in cases where hardship arises, the local authority, as the public body, can come in and make a grant to alleviate hardship. Deputy Jones is inclined to think in terms of compensation. As I read the subsection put in by amendment on Committee Stage, the local authority were really given a permissive discretion to make grants in cases of hardship. But that does not affect the rights of the tenant and landlord vis-á-vis each other and it does not interfere with their obligations and liabilities to each other as Deputy Jones is purporting to do in his three amendments.
At that stage, the building may be down by reason of an order.
I think this is an inappropriate place to make any change in this well-defined relationship which exists between landlord and tenant and which we, from time to time, will be coming to look at here and will be changing perhaps——
We were hoping that nothing would be done to a building when that would happen.
The law governing landlord and tenant and rent restrictions is my responsibility as Minister for Justice. I certainly envisage that before a great deal of time has elapsed we shall be looking at both these areas of legislation with a view to making changes. That is where any alteration or modification of this relationship should take place and not in a measure of this sort.
There is a great danger in these matters of becoming excessively rigid. The Minister acknowledges that in the course of discussion on this Bill an amendment was introduced to deal with an aspect of this problem which apparently had not occurred at all to the Minister for Local Government. I refer to the circumstances of the small business person whose business is wiped out of existence as a result of the demolition order made by a local authority consequent upon a landlord's failing to maintain a premises in a viable condition.
The amendment introduced by the Minister for Local Government in that regard does not go far enough because it is only permissive. It leaves on the small shopkeeper or small business person the obligation of getting the local authority to acknowledge that there is exceptional hardship and of establishing his or her case for compensation in respect of the exceptional hardship that is envisaged. The Minister for Justice now says that he cannot conceive a situation arising that a landlord would allow the property so to deteriorate as to allow for demolition so as to displace the tenant or to avoid paying him compensation.
Purely for that purpose.
I can conceive of many such cases arising where you cannot get the tenant out.
In a huckster shop?
He has certain rights under the Rent Restrictions Act. The landlord bought the property as a final feature in an acquisition of a relatively large size. He is dealing with an individual who cannot find alternative employment. He wants to get rid of him. He fails to do so. They quarrel about what would be reasonable compensation for disturbance. The situation arises in which he cannot dislodge the individual. We all know of such cases. Finally, he has recourse to seeking to create a situation in which the Corporation would make a demolition order and thus take off his shoulder his responsibility for shifting the tenant.
At any time in that process, the tenant can come along under the various legal remedies available to him and make the landlord repair.
I fully appreciate it. I think the Minister is allowing himself, just at present, to live in cloud-cuckoo land. We are dealing with an old age pensioner who is living in a room.
I thought the Deputy was dealing with business premises.
I had intended to say this to Deputy Jones. With regard to the residential person, of course, the compensation is there in so far as the local authority already have power to rehouse such a person.
In the past month, it is popularly believed in this city that no fewer than 100 old age pensioners were taken out of their rooms in various buildings scheduled for demolition and put into the South Dublin Union and informed that, having regard to the housing lists in this city today, there is no prospect of their being rehoused this side of the grave and they will never leave the Union.
I do not accept that. There will be 4,000 dwellings in Ballymun soon.
I am told that, with the present housing lists in Dublin city, a person's name will not even be put on the list if there are fewer than four children and, if a name is put on the list, the prospect is of waiting for a house for maybe two years.
The remedies which a tenant now has under the Landlord and Tenant code may be very present to the mind of the Minister for Justice. I do not know if he has read of Rachmann. Providentially, I do not think we have any Rachmann problem here. However, there you had a whole code of law in existence which was habitually and flagrantly violated, not only the landlord and tenant code but the ordinary criminal law — people attacked by savage dogs, people beaten up—and nothing was done about it because the people who were being so treated in the slums of London did not know their rights. Eventually, that came to light as a result of a Parliamentary investigation and some remedial steps were taken but the evil had gone on for years. Thank God, we have not got that kind of evil in this country. Sometimes it is a pity we do not get that kind of evil because it blows up and cries out for remedy. Our kind of problem is the defenceless, simple person who does not know his or her rights.
Let us not forget that when this Bill reached this House it made no reference to the small shopkeepers who were displaced as a result of demolition orders. How did they come to be considered by Dáil Éireann? The Minister for Local Government and presumably the Minister for Social Welfare were concerned with the welfare of these people but, with all their consideration, there was no reference to them in this Bill.
One of the parochial clergy, maddened by the fact that four or five of his parishioners who were in a very small way of business had been informed one morning that they must get out with their business gone, wrote to me. One of the persons concerned was a widow who had supported herself and her family all her life. She was informed that she was on the street, with no visible means of support, that it was nobody's business and that her appropriate remedy was to go to the South Dublin Union and to apply for admission.
In these circumstances, one of the parochial clergy wrote to me and to a number of other Teachtaí Dála and said, in effect: "This is more than anyone can bear in patience"—particularly when two other women who had small shops were approached by a mercantile firm which wanted to acquire the building in which their little shops were located and, having bought the premises, said to these old ladies, in effect: "What compensation would be fair and equitable in meeting the loss you sustain in vacating your premises?" and arrived at an agreement which the firm paid.
It was only when those facts were publicised, at the instance of one of the parochial clergy, who was driven to a deep sense of frustration, that we got this very frail amendment accepted by the Minister for Local Government to give to the people at least the right to seek some compensation from the local authorities. Although the local authority has the right to refuse them, I do not think it is at all possible. It is not likely to happen every day of the week. It is not likely to happen at every street corner, but it is not at all impossible, if somebody is seeking to buy an industrial site and there is one building left on it, which he wants to acquire and pull down. There is still a tenant in that building.
There is special provision under the Rent Restrictions Act that if a landlord wants to develop the site, he can get the tenant out and pay him compensation.
Suppose he does not adopt that course. Is not the proper procedure to go to the arbitrator and say: "This site requires development. One tenant refuses to go. I submit his case for arbitration."
He does not even have to do that. The compensation payable is set out in the Act.
But suppose he does not want to do that.
He would be holding up up his development plans if he were to wait for deterioration to take place.
If the amendment is simply designed to provide against a contingency that can never arise, my answer to this is, if that is the problem, why not put it in the Bill. We believe this amendment would serve as a remedy where individual cases of hardship arise. The Minister says such individual cases cannot possibly arise. Very well, put it in the Bill.
Remember, when this Bill was being discussed on the Second Stage, we made the case for the displaced small shopkeeper and we were told no such cases existed. Between the Second Stage and the Committee Stage five cases turned up of a specific kind. The facts relating to them were so coercive that the Minister gave away, albeit begrudgingly. I put it to the Minister for Justice that his contention that the circumstances envisaged by the amendment can never arise is one excellent reason for putting it in the Bill. If it can never arise there is no harm done. If his judgment proves to be mistaken and ours is right we have magnificent legislation to provide against such isolated cases. It is not always possible to do that because exceptional cases, we all agree, make bad law. If you can legislate in order to protect defenceless people suffering an injustice it is an admirable thing to do. That is why we put in this amendment.
I should like to deal with Deputy Dillon's allegation that the Dublin Corporation has found no accommodation. He stated that a hundred old age pensioners had been put in what he described as the South Dublin Union. There is no such place today.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
The Corporation have been in the happy position, in spite of their difficulties, of being able to provide accommodation for old age pensioners and elderly people, even those people who are incapacitated. They have been successful in finding accommodation for all those people and they are now busy preparing further premises to provide accommodation for 300 more. It is not right to say that a hundred old age pensioners were sent to what the Leader of the main Opposition described as the South Dublin Union.
Are they in Cork Street?
Cork Street is a home for old people. Cork Street has been functioning for years.
Where did the old age pensioners go?
Deputy Dillon said these people were put in the South Dublin Union.
Where are these people now?
They are in chalets. There were 200 chalets provided during the last month. The Deputy is using this opportunity for propaganda purposes. The Corporation are very conscious of this very grave problem and are approaching it in a constructive way. The Minister for Local Government has gone a long way to deal with the problem of the small shopkeepers who have, unfortunately, found themselves in the position of having their business done away with overnight. The amendment in so far as it permits the local authorities to allow compensation in the case of hardship goes a long way towards solving a problem which has not been faced before.
The houses were not falling down before.