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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 7 Mar 1967

Vol. 227 No. 1

Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill, 1966: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 2, after line 37, to add the following subsection to section 2:

"(5) Section 3 (7) of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion after `subsection (2)' of `and in paragraph (g) of that subsection'."

This is purely a drafting amendment.

Will the Minister please explain it? I know it is a drafting amendment.

The amendment is consequential on the amendment to section 3 (2) (g) of the 1960 Act. That amendment introduced into section 3 (2) (g) a reference to the landlord coming into possession of a selfcontained flat. It is just to make it clear that it is to paragraph (g) of the subsection that we are referring.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, line 49, to insert "paragraph (a) of" before "this".

Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 are cognate and may be discussed with No. 2.

This series of amendments is being moved to give effect to a suggestion made on the Committee Stage by Deputies O'Higgins and Dillon that a party to an agreement between a "small" landlord and his tenant on a fair rent should be open to review by the District Court. I promised to consider this suggestion and I think the amendment now meets the wishes of the House. It provides that the court may review the rent fixed by the agreement, within three months after notice of the agreement has been served, on the ground that one of the parties has since that date become aware of matters showing that the financial circumstances of the other party at the time of the agreement were substantially better than those by reference to which the agreement was reached.

This remedy is, of course, in addition to the other types of remedy available to parties to a contract for setting it aside, such as fraud, duress, etc. The view was expressed on Committee Stage that the parties, particularly tenants who might be under pressure by the landlord in reaching the agreement, should be enabled to go back to the court in the event of any material fact coming to light which had been withheld at the time of the making of the agreement.

I think this meets the position pretty fairly.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, to insert the following paragraph between lines 55 and 56:

"(d) Where a notice is served under paragraph (c) of this subsection—

(i) either party to the agreement may, within three months after the date of the service of the notice, apply to the Court for an order altering the rent specified in the notice on the ground that he has, since that date, become aware of matters showing that the financial circumstances of the other party at the time of the agreement were substantially better than those by reference to which the agreement was reached,

(ii) if the Court allows the application, then, notwithstanding subparagraph (i) of paragraph (c) of this subsection, thenceforth the altered rent determined by the order of the Court shall stand determined as the basic rent of the dwelling and the dwelling shall be regarded as a dwelling to which section 9 of this Act applies as if such determination had been made under that section."

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, line 62, to insert "under paragraph (a) of this subsection" before "or" and in page 5, line 1, to delete "this subsection" and substitute "paragraph (c) thereof".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 5, line 28, to insert ", in the case of an application under paragraph (a)," before "the".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 5, line 31, to insert "landlord and the means of the" before "tenant".

This again, is an amendment designed to meet a point made in the course of the debate on the Committee Stage. The effect of it is to enable the court to have regard not only to the means of the tenant but also to the means of the landlord.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 5, line 33, to delete "section" and to substitute "subsection".

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 may be discussed together.

These are purely drafting amendments to delete the word "section" and substitute "subsection".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 5, line 37, to delete "section" and to substitute "subsection".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 7, to delete lines 14 to 25 and to substitute the following:

"(b) taking all the controlled dwellings, of which he is landlord—

(i) they exceed three hundred in number, and

(ii) either—

(I) during the period of three years ending on the 8th day of June, 1966, he has expended a sum exceeding onethird of the aggregate of the basic rents, or

(II) during the period of six years ending on that date, he has expended a sum exceeding two-thirds of that aggregate.

on maintenance such as is referred to in the paragraph of all or any of the dwellings,

the paragraph shall apply in respect of the controlled dwelling unless it is a dwelling for the repair of which he is not liable."

On Committee Stage there was a discussion on an amendment I moved to enable landlords of large blocks of property, who had been keeping the property in good repair, to qualify for the 15 per cent increase on the basic rent, provided that they had spent the prescribed sums in relation to the aggregate of the basic rents of their dwellings, on repairs in the period 1960 to 1966. My thinking in moving the amendment was that it would be unreasonable to insist on itemised evidence in the case of large properties where landlords did, in fact, carry out these repairs but due to the varied nature of the work did not have itemised accounts in each case. I held to that view in the course of the discussion but I think Deputies O'Higgins and Fitzpatrick were very strongly of opinion that while there was merit in it in the case of large landlords, it should not be the case where smaller landlords with a small number of houses were concerned and that these landlords should be able to itemise repairs. The danger in the amendment I moved on Committee Stage was that in such a case the increase might apply to a tenant in respect of whose house no repairs had been carried out.

I promised to look into the matter and decided that the best way of meeting it would be to specify a limit. I am specifying, therefore, in the amendment that to benefit from the provision the landlord must have more than 300 dwellings let. Landlords with estates over that number will have the benefit of the provision for the reasons I have given but under that figure the obligation is on the landlord to prove in respect of each tenant that the work was carried out to the extent necessary to qualify for the increase.

The second point made in this discussion in Committee was that the amendment would permit the landlord even though he might not be liable for repairs to a house, to increase the rent provided he had spent money on houses where he was liable for repairs. I accept the validity of this point also, although in the case of the large estates we are discussing there is no case where the landlord is not liable for repairs. The present amendment provides that the new provision cannot be availed of unless the landlord is liable for repairs.

The third point raised in this debate on the Committee Stage was that where, in fact, a landlord had not carried out repairs to a particular house in the estate that particular tenant should not be liable to pay the 15 per cent increase on the basic rent. I am satisfied after this further examination that it would be undesirable to have such a provision and I think the limit we have set of 300 houses and above it will provide a safety margin. We can take it as a matter of fact that any landlord dealing with property to the extent of 300 or more houses will, for his own very good reasons, maintain a sufficient repair and maintenance organisation. He will want to ensure that the houses in which he has equally a vested interest with the occupier will be kept in good repair. Broadly speaking, I think I have met with this amendment the views expressed in the Committee Stage and I ask the House to accept it.

The Minister has modified considerably the amendment as compared with the amendment which was produced on Committee Stage and, to the extent that he has modified it, I think this is a considerable improvement.

Just so that we may get our minds on to what is involved here, it was suggested by the Committee Stage amendment, which the Minister proposed, that, where a landlord was a landlord of a plurality of properties, of more than one property, if he carried out the repairs to the prescribed minimum value within the prescribed period, he would be entitled to increase the rent on all properties and that was there, simpliciter, whether or not he had done repairs to a particular property and even, as I suggested on Committee Stage, if his arrangements with the tenants were such that he was not responsible for the repairs to some of the properties. It was pointed out that a landlord might have as many as half a dozen properties in different parts of the city and that he might spend a considerable amount on the repair of one of those properties alone and would therefore be entitled, under the Minister's amendment, to increase the rent of all properties.

The Minister made it clear that he was not thinking in terms of a landlord who owned maybe up to a dozen properties but that he was thinking in terms of the kind of estate landlord who had an interest in several hundred houses, who maintained a proper maintenance unit and who kept the property under repair, going on right through the year, from week to week and from month to month. He made it clear that, from information he had obtained, in the case of these concerns it had not been the practice to keep detailed schedules of repairs relating them to individual properties. I accepted on the Committee Stage that that was the position in relation to the estate landlord, to describe him as that for want of a better word. But I did see two dangers.

I think it was Deputy Fitzpatrick of Dublin who suggested the compromise that the Minister might reconsider the matter and introduce an amendment on Report Stage which would make it clear that this particular operation would be limited to these cases of the estate landlord who had several hundred houses. The Minister indicated that he would consider that favourably. I felt there were still two dangers, one of which was that, if an amendment were passed in that form, even though regulated as regards the number of dwellings to the higher category, there was still the danger that some tenants, who, by reason of their agreement with their landlords were themselves responsible for their own repairs, would find themselves billed with an increase in rent because other property of the landlord was repaired.

I suggested there was a second point the Minister should look at. I think he has dealt fairly with the case up to this, that is, with the first points that were made to him. The second danger I saw was that unless the Minister were prepared to modify his proposal, making it clear in some way that if it could definitely be established that repairs were not done, that not one penny of repairs were done on a particular house, the tenant in question should not become liable for an increase in rent and that, unless we did that, we should still be falling short of what was required. That is still my view.

It seems to me that, under the proposal the Minister has introduced now, a situation can arise—I am nearly certain it will arise—where the rent will be increased on some tenants to whose houses no repairs at all have been carried out. The tenant, for example, who keeps a house, the subject of the tenancy, and who himself takes a certain amount of trouble with it, who takes pride in the house and carries out small repairs that may be necessary and relieves the landlord of the burden of doing that type of small repair, will now find that his rent can go up even though the landlord has not spent a penny piece on repairs as I understand that the whole principle in this section is to relate the rent increases to repairs carried out. There is machinery in the Bill—indeed, it was in the 1960 Act as well—whereby the landlords can find the increases taken off them if the repairs are not carried out so that clearly the principle is to relate the rent increase to the repairs carried out.

It is being suggested in this amendment that that principle is all right, so far as the small man is concerned. However, in the case of the big landlord, it does not matter whether he actually repairs particular houses or not, provided he has spent the prescribed minimum within the prescribed time over the entire of the property. I know that the Minister is trying to be fair in this. I appreciate the problem of these landlords. I imagine that the legislation envisaged in this particular amendment should be purely temporary because I think they should be put on notice that in future they will be required to schedule in some way the houses on which repairs are carried out. If the Minister agrees with me that something like that could be done, that they would be put on notice, I would think that it would not cause hardship to them if the Minister were also to except from this amendment the cases of houses where it is admitted by both sides—where it is claimed by the tenant and admitted by the landlord—that no repairs were carried out. In such a case, I would suggest that the tenant should not find himself liable for the increase.

I am talking about the case where the landlord is not making any case that repairs may have been carried out to a house but, unfortunately, in the absence of a system of listings these repairs might have been forgotten. I am talking about the case where it is conceded on both sides that no repairs were carried out. In such a case, I think the principle enshrined in the Bill dealing with the repairs—in other words, that increases should be related to repairs—should prevail. I would strongly urge the Minister that in those cases the principle should be adhered to.

At this stage, having regard to the fact, of which I am satisfied, that these itemised accounts were not carried out by these people during the period in question, 1960 to 1966, I prefer to leave the amendment as it stands, but I shall certainly bring it to the notice of the companies concerned—there are very few of them——

There are only two that I know of, but there may be more.

Yes, there are two main ones. I shall certainly bring to their notice the views expressed here. From their own point of view, having regard to the possibility of rent legislation in future years, it is very desirable that they should have more specific itemisation.

This is not to be regarded as precedent to be strictly adhered to.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 10, line 34, to delete "this" and substitute "that".

This is a drafting amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration and passed.