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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 27 Oct 1966

Vol. 224 No. 15

Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill, 1966: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
Debate resumed on the following amendment:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute "Dáil Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill on the grounds that it is not appropriate to do so until the Government provide an adequate number of houses to deal with the present acute housing shortage and thus enable the Rent Restrictions code to be revised in a manner equitable to houseowners and occupying tenants".
—(Deputy M.J. O'Higgins.)

We had a discussion which largely dealt with the amendment put down by Deputy M.J. O'Higgins which seeks to indicate that it was not appropriate that this Bill should be passed by Dáil Éireann unless the Government provide an adequate number of houses to deal with what is alleged to be the present housing shortage. In my view, the amendment on which the discussion took place is really a separate issue altogether to the issue contained in the Bill. The Bill itself is a very complex one and it is one on which I hope we will have a very fruitful Committee Stage discussion.

In the main, the purpose of the Bill is to do precisely what the amendment seeks to indicate the Government are not doing. The main purpose of Government policy in the housing field is, of course, to increase the stock of houses on the one hand and preserve the existing stock of houses on the other hand. It is the function of the Minister for Local Government to deal with the first situation—the question of increasing the stock of houses. Government expenditure in this direction has been rising in recent years and ample grant and loan facilities are available through the State and the local authorities to facilitate this work. The Minister for Local Government dealt with this aspect of Government administration in a very comprehensive manner some weeks ago when replying to the debate on his Estimate. That is the particular responsibility of the Minister for Local Government.

In my capacity as Minister for Justice, I am bringing in this Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill which is designed to deal with the other side of the problem. It is the problem of the Minister for Local Government to ensure that we increase the stock of houses and devise the incentives by grant and loan to facilitate such an increase and to ensure that we have better housing conditions, and better facilities and amenities in accordance with the needs of the present day. It is my function to ensure that the rent restrictions code which has been with us now for a number of years does not operate in such a way as to be a disincentive in regard to the preservation of existing stocks of houses. It is for that reason that this Bill has been introduced and, in effect, it is a further step in dismantling the restrictive aspects of the rent restrictions code which, if this measure were not introduced, would operate to encourage the growing disrepair of houses to the detriment of existing stocks of such houses.

The number of controlled dwellings which come within the provisions of the rent restrictions code come to about 14 per cent of the total stock of houses in the community. It is the purpose of the Bill to ensure that landlords of these controlled dwellings, the dwellings which will continue to be controlled, will be enabled to keep these dwellings in a proper state of repair so as to ensure their preservation. This makes commonsense. For that reason I feel that the amendment which has been put down is not really relevant to the particular purpose of the Bill. It deals with one aspect of the situation, the Bill itself is concerned with another. Let me emphasise that the Bill seeks to alleviate housing conditions. It is only commonsense that if we allow the existing stocks of controlled premises to degenerate into a state of disrepair so that they cannot be used for housing, the people living in these houses will add to the problem in another respect in that they will increase the demand for new houses.

This Bill, then, is in accordance with the pattern of Government policy in regard to housing since it seeks to ensure that landlords will be in a position to keep these controlled dwellings in a proper state of repair. The increase of 15 per cent in the basic rent is a very reasonable increase when one considers the rise in reconstruction costs and repair costs. In the past six years the rise in labour costs has been of the order of 29 per cent and when one considers the additional labour cost involved in small repairs on individual houses the percentage rise would be even higher than 29 per cent. I think we are doing the right thing to ensure that landlords are in a position to carry out the repair and maintenance necessary. The Bill also proposes to allow landlords an increase in the rent amounting to 10 per cent of the expenditure in any year in excess of one-fifth of the basic rent where that expenditure is incurred in repairs or maintenance. Both of these factors are necessary to ensure that, as far as controlled dwellings are concerned, landlords will, in future, be in a position to keep them in proper repair and so ensure the preservation of housing accommodation for the tenants concerned.

The Bill also provides for an increased degree of decontrol in two circumstances. Firstly, when the landlord gets vacant possession the premises will pass out of the category of controlled premises, and in to the category of premises protected by the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931. We have also reduced the valuation rate of the controlled premises down to £40 in the case of Dublin and £30 for the rest of the country. This measure has the effect of bringing the higher valuation property outside control. It will mean extra living accommodation because a large number of these high valuation controlled houses in excess of £40 in Dublin and £30 elsewhere are under-occupied at present because of the effects of rent control. On decontrol they can be easily adjusted to flats and such-like accommodation. The purpose of decontrolling these high valuation houses is to ensure that the development work can take place whereby extra living accommodation in the form of flats can be provided. The thinking behind the Bill is to ensure that we make the best possible use of existing housing reserves. I hope that we will have a constructive Committee Stage discussion to ensure that we do full justice to both sides of this particular matter. It is really a question of balance between landlord and tenant; to ensure on the one hand that the landlord is in a position to preserve and maintain the houses which he or she owns and on the other hand to ensure that, in the process of doing that—by giving the landlord extra rent by way of a lawful addition—no injustice is done to the tenant concerned.

It is important to remember that in this type of case you can have poor landlords as well as poor tenants. That is why we have a provision here allowing for the small landlord with not more than six houses of a total valuation not in excess of £60. Such a landlord may be in poor circumstances and may have a tenant who is much better off than himself. In such a case he can go into court and seek a rent which is fair to both parties. This new provision in the Bill is designed to do justice to this category, which is often ignored in this particular type of discussion because the emotion tends to be on the side of the tenant. But there are many cases which have come to my notice of poor landlords and we are allowing them for the first time to go into court and prove in court if an injustice has been done by reason of the level of rent which the particular tenant may be paying him or her. This new provision, designed to do justice to the poor landlord will however continue the protection of the tenant since the court will have to have regard to the necessity for avoiding hardship to the tenant as well as the landlord.

I do not think there was anything else mentioned in the course of the debate; the discussion was largely devoted to the amending motion. As was stated by Deputy O'Higgins, very rightly, the Bill is largely a technical one and the main discussion will be on Committee Stage. I hope that the discussion will serve to ensure that justice is done on both sides and that, from the legal point of view, the Bill will, when it becomes law, operate in the interest of both landlord and tenant and that it can be interpreted in a fair and equitable manner by the courts.

I would, therefore, ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 9th November, 1966.