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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Apr 1967

Vol. 227 No. 12

Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill, 1966: From the Seanad.

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

I take it amendments Nos. 1 and 11 are being discussed together.

Yes; amendment No. 11 is consequential on amendment No. 1.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 1:

Section 2: In subsection (4), lines 32 and 33, "or a separate and self-contained flat, being a house or flat" deleted and "the rateable valuation whereof exceeds ten pounds, being a house" substituted.

On the Committee Stage of the Bill in this House, I moved an amendment, which was accepted, to transfer from the protection of the Rent Acts to the protection of the Landlord and Tenant Acts any future tenancies of unmarried persons between the ages of 21 and 65. The object of the amendment was to reduce, as far as possible, under-occupation of the present stock of rentcontrolled houses. Under-occupation is an undesirable feature of rent control, which arises because controlled rents are well below economic levels. Accordingly, controlled tenants will tend to remain on in accommodation which has become far too large for their requirements, because it is more economic to do so. This is a wasteful use of dwelling space, particularly at the present time when there are large families in urgent need of such accommodation and who can pay the economic rent for it.

This is the thinking behind the amendment, which was accepted in this House, but it was pointed out in the Seanad that this might lead to some cases of hardship in the case of bachelors or spinsters in self-contained flats or in low valuation houses. Such dwellings could not be described as under-occupied, as larger houses could be. It might therefore be preferable to exempt such persons out of this desirable amendment — having for its purpose the maximum utilisation of what accommodation is available— who may come into occupation of self-contained flats and houses under a valuation of £10. I think it is a reasonable exemption and I would recommend it to the House.

What puzzles me about this is that I find myself in sympathy with the Minister's references to under-occupation of available accommodation in the circumstances set out by him and with his desire to encourage people who are hanging on to excessive accommodation — owing to the artificial rent they are paying — to move to adequate accommodation of a smaller character, thus making available the large area of accommodation at present reaping artificial rents for two or three families where in fact only one at present exists. I find it extremely difficult to reconcile that sensible anxiety on the part of the Minister for Justice with the action of his colleague, the Minister for Local Government, who makes a regulation permitting a property speculator from Soho to come in and buy the very kind of premises the Minister for Justice is talking about and knock it down without reference to anybody. How can you reconcile these two things?

I think the Minister for Justice might say: "Here you have a great big house which could easily be divided into four commodious flats and make room for four families, without upsetting anybody. Therefore, we want to encourage an elderly person who is living there on a low rent to move to a small bungalow or a small flat, which would be ample for him and where he would be much more comfortable at a reasonable rent." At the same time as he persuades the occupier of this excessive accommodation to move out, a Soho speculator can move in and instead of dividing it — as the Minister wishes to see it divided — into four units of residence for four families, he can knock it down with a steel ball and then go to the planning authority and say: "Will you allow me to erect an office building on this site, because if you do not, you can send down the corporation to cut the weeds because there is no house at all there; I have knocked it down".

I want to suggest to the Minister, if there is to be any coherent policy amongst the Ministers of the Government regarding the accommodation of the homeless, that he ought to approach his colleague, the Minister for Local Government, and say: "Look, if I stop this hole in the fence, and if I succeed in getting a number of large houses evacuated, in order to convert them into three or four flats, accommodating three or four families, will you take the necessary step to prevent them being knocked down?" At the moment, they are evacuated because I do not think the House realises — and I doubt if the Minister realises—that under the Town Planning Act, we believed, when we were passing it through this House, that demolition of such houses as the Minister speaks of could not be undertaken, except with the approbation of the town planning authority and that, subsequently, acting under his general powers, the Minister proceeded to make very sensible regulations excluding from the town planning authorities trivial matters such as painting the windows or putting a new knocker on the door, things which ought not to take up the time of the planning authority. But in that regulation, which set out all these minor trivia which he properly excluded by order from the jurisdiction of the planning authority, two words were added—"and demolition".

We can see in Dublin all around us fine, solid residential houses that could be sub-divided into commodious flats and which would release housing for the very poor. What is actually happening is that some fellow who wants to force the planning authority to give him the permission he thinks the planning authority would not give him if the house were standing, buys the house, calls for a fellow with a steel ball, knocks it down, and then goes to the planning authority. The planning authority then sees the crane arriving and remonstrates with the land speculator and the land speculator says: "Go fish; by order, the question of demolition has been removed from your jurisdiction." He then goes back to the planning authority, when he has knocked down the structure, and says: "Now, will you give me permission to erect the kind of structure you indicated to me you would not permit me to erect so long as the house was standing?"

If the Minister says to me: "My colleague, the Minister for Local Government, is going to amend his regulation and restore to the planning authority its demolition jurisdiction," then I think the Minister is following a logical and reasonable course of conduct, but, as things stand at the moment, it seems to me the two Ministers are vying in opposite directions, with the added evil the Minister for Justice is trying to prevail upon elderly people, our own neighbours, to adopt a reasonable course of action, with the kind of qualifications he is now asking us to accept from the Seanad. But he is allowing the Minister for Local Government to be frustrated in the realisation of exactly the same end by speculators from abroad who are presenting him with a fait accompli and then saying to him in that situation: “Will you now allow us to erect the kind of building which manifestly you would never have allowed us to erect if we had not got in under the demolition clause and cleared the site?”

I support the submission by Deputy Dillon in this regard because it conveys to me a clear indication of the lack of consultation and cohesion within the Government. Quite obviously there is great need for something positive to be done in regard to this matter. If this Bill is to bear any fruit, the obvious thing is to ensure we take every conceivable precaution that it be successful. Whatever we do in connection with this measure, it will be restricted in its operation by reason of the activities of another Minister. There is no denying the fact that the planning authority did have the desired powers but that subsequently they were nullified by ministerial order. It is obvious to anybody interested in the wellbeing of this city or any other part of the country that, when we make regulations, we should ensure that they can be carried out.

I submit that the Minister for Justice should have consultations immediately with the Minister for Local Government to ensure that the latter withdraws this particular order. At present we have many people speculating as to what should or should not be done with this city of Dublin. One of the most abhorrent things in the city is the situation where you have people acquiring property rights and indiscriminately smashing down buildings, which in some cases have been proved not to have required smashing down at all. This is done purposely because these people have something else in mind. Be they speculators from within or outside the country, they should be conditioned to the wellbeing of the people. It is not enough for somebody to create a derelict site and say afterwards: "What can you do about it now? In order to ensure it does not remain a derelict site, you will have to give me my way."

This highlights the problem. I would entreat the Minister to have regard to the seriousness of it and arrange to have the situation rectified by ensuring that this ministerial order is withdrawn.

Or amended.

Not only that, but let us know where we are going. There is little use introducing legislation today if we are to have it nullified by another Department tomorrow or the next day. That is what I mean by saying that there is an absence of cohesion and consultation. It is a clear indication of the absence of consultation between one Department and another and between one Minister and another. In saying that, I am not trying to score off the Minister for Justice. I welcome his good intentions, but I abhor what is behind the intentions of the Minister for Local Government. I hope the Minister for Justice will have second thoughts about this matter and will set it right.

This whole question of redevelopment, particularly as it relates to housing, has been the subject of comment by the Minister for Local Government very recently. I am aware that the problem referred to by Deputy Dillon and Deputy Mullen, particularly as regards speculation in the city of Dublin, has been engaging the attention of the Minister for Local Government. I am certain that remedial action will follow his investigation of the matter. However, I will bring what has been said by the Deputies to his notice; but, as I say, I am aware that he is fully alive to the problem already.

As we all know, flaws occur in legislation from time to time and come to light when that legislation is put into operation. Regulations are evaded. This can happen under any legislation passed by any House of Parliament. The matters referred to by the Deputies have come to the notice of the Minister and he has referred publicly to this whole question of redevelopment, property speculation and the need for rehousing. I have every confidence that he will adopt the necessary remedial action.

I do not want to appear unreasonably tendentious with the Minister for Justice, but I cannot permit him to say that this is an evil that has arisen as a result of some lacuna in an Act passed by this House. This is not so. The House provided that demolition was a subject reserved to the planning authority. But they left the Minister for Local Government a general power to exclude trivia from the general overseeing of the planning authority so as not to make his task impossible. The order to which I have referred, and to which Deputy Mullen has made reference, is a perfectly sensible order up to the last two words. The order excludes from the planning authority's jurisdiction painting of windows, changing door knockers, repairing gutters—the ordinary trivia of house mending. Then there are added at the end two words: "and demolition". It is like passing an Act of Parliament here dealing with the treatment of mange in horses and adding "and TB and the public health". Most of us would say it related to the medical aspects of animal life in this country. It is perfectly manifest that the words "and demolition" are as far removed from the rest of the topics mentioned in the order as animal diseases would be from human health.

I am constrained to say — it is my duty to say — that I believe the Minister for Local Government who made the order either made it with reckless irresponsibility, or else allowed himself to be influenced in his judgment by vested interests who should never have had access to his ear. In that I am passing a deliberate public stricture on the conduct of the Minister's colleague who made this order. The House ought to face up to this fact. I want to say the order made in the circumstances I now describe and on which I animadvert is at direct variance with the purpose which the Minister for Justice asks us to serve in the amendment he has before us now and which was presented to him by the Seanad.

I do not want to appear to hypocritically accept the Minister's explanation. I do not accept it. I am undoubtedly animadversive on the point of the Minister for Local Government adding the two words "and demolition" to a statutory order which, except for these two words, was unobjectionable and was clearly in accordance with the intentions of this House in regard to the general powers conferred on the Minister. I would say that the words "and demolition" were never intended by this House and could only have been incorporated in such an order either by reckless carelessness or by allowing the influence of a vested authority to bear upon him in a way that no responsible Minister should have done.

I appreciate the expressed intention of the Minister for Justice in connection with this matter, and let us hope that what he intends to do will bear fruit. It is merely a matter of bringing the other Minister's attention, as the Minister said, to the views expressed in this House. We must remember, however, that this is not an old-fashioned business. The order to which Deputy Dillon and I have referred is not old — it is recent — and the activities of the speculators are not recent but fairly old by comparison. One can say that the order was made in the full knowledge of the behaviour of the speculators. That being so, what we have been saying here this afternoon is an expression of the urgency of this whole matter. Maybe it is a case of locking the stable door when the horse is gone, but at least let us do something positive about this matter. It may be also that the people who are trying to make a kill have already been satisfied, but it still does not prevent our doing the obvious, that is, removing this horrible restriction which prevents what the Minister for Justice is attempting to do.

I should like to see a situation where, if necessary, the Minister for Justice will have it out with the Minister for Local Government. This would be good democratic procedure. If the present situation is allowed to continue, we are merely giving lip service to legislation. We are creating a contradiction if we pass legislation here and then allow it to be contravened. Certainly the people in the country are sick and tired of the speculators riding roughshod over the people's desires, irrespective of where these speculators come from. Unfortunately the majority of them are found to come from outside. The ones we have within the country are afforded a certain amount of protection. We are inclined to regard those who come in as innocents until we find them out, and then it is too late. I hope that not only will the Minister for Justice bring this important matter to the notice of the Minister for Local Government but will fight tooth and nail with the Minister for Local Government to ensure that the obvious will be brought about.

There was a question down here yesterday from Deputy O'Leary on this matter. The Minister for Local Government in reply to him said he was considering an amendment to the Exempted Development Regulations to which the Deputies referred. The amendment would bring the demolition of certain categories of buildings, including dwellings, under control and would deal with the difficulty referred to by the Deputies and particularly the words referred to by Deputy Dillon.

I venture to say that before the amendment is made, there will be a long list of fellows——

Even at this late stage, I want to assure the House that what Deputy Dillon suggests to be the reason for this problem is not correct——this is purely a matter of inadvertence which can be remedied.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 2:

Section 2: The following subsection added to the section:

"( ) The application of the Principal Act to a house shall not be excluded by reason only of section 3 (6) of that Act in a case in which, at the passing of this Act, the house is occupied for the purposes of his own residence by a person who holds it under a lease the term of which is more than twenty-one the expiration of that term, neither years, but if at any time before he nor any other person having the lessee's interest under the lease is in occupation of the house for the purposes of his own residence, the Principal Act shall thereupon cease to apply."

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 3:

Section 4: the following subsection added to the section:

"( ) No application shall be made under section 8 of the Principal Act after the expiration of two years from the passing of this Act."

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 4:

Section 6: in page 7, line 40, "three" deleted and "one" substituted.

The reason we are doing this is to bring some finality to the matter. It is desirable to lay down a period within which landlords or tenants may have their basic rents adjusted, and I think two years is a reasonable limitation period.

I have no objection to that. That is sound enough reasoning, but what we have been discussing is small landlords in the sense of this section. I am thinking of the kind of case where a person only goes into that category after the passing of the Act. As it stood, was he not covered? What happens to him now?

He must have been the landlord on 8th June, 1966. That covers it.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 5:

Section 6: in page 7, line 54, "or 1967" inserted before "such".

This is a matter which we discussed on Committee Stage here, and we put a limitation of 300 houses in deference to the wishes of the large landlord companies. I have since had representations that that figure is too high, so I have reduced it from 300 to 100. Therefore, under 100, repair bills must be itemised, and over 100, no.

It is reasonable enough to regard a landlord owning 100 houses as being in the category of a large landlord in the context in which it was discussed before. I am not terribly keen on making the change, nevertheless, because at the time it was discussed here in the Dáil, I think the Minister had—I forget whether he mentioned them in the House—particular concerns in mind, and we were discussing the amendment on the basis of knowing who the concerns were, knowing the particular type of business they carried on, knowing that they were conscientious and all this kind of thing, and that they had particular difficulties because of the vast amount of property they held. I do not know what further evidence the Minister has had since to induce him to cut this down by two-thirds, but it would seem to me offhand—I may be wrong—that it would let in some further concerns which no one had in mind at the time. If it can be shown that they are in the same boat, that they have proper maintenance teams, that they look after their property but do not itemise the work house by house, then a case should be made for it in the same way as it was made for the others. Possibly that case was made in the Seanad, but it has not been made here.

One city firm came to my notice since the Dáil amendment was passed. It was for that reason I reduced the limit to 100 houses. The three cases already covered were in the city, and one of the three was just over 300, but there was one under three hundred, so I think it is better to keep it that way. One saving feature is that the provision as to averaging repair costs applies only to expenditure incurred up to 8th June, 1966. That is an important matter. As far as the future is concerned, these people now know that they must keep their accounts itemised and, if they do not do so, they will be in jeopardy whenever we have another Rent Bill. But before 1966 these companies were not on notice that they should itemise such accounts and it would be unreasonable to deny them the increase merely because of this.

I said on Committee Stage that I regarded that as an influencing factor from my point of view. If that were not the position, I should not like the arrangement at all, even though I sympathise with these firms in the position in which they will find themselves. It is a bit anomalous that one can, as a result of this legislation, have rent increases in respect of repairs which were not, in fact, carried out. I think that is the situation.

That is the trouble.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 6:

Section 7: in page 8, line 5, "At any time after the expiry of" deleted and "Where" substituted.

This is a minor amendment. We are merely bringing the provision up-todate because we are now in 1967.

Question put and agreed to.

With amendment No. 6, the House might, perhaps, consider amendments Nos. 7 and 8; they are related.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 7:

Section 7: in page 8 line 7, "which has expired is a notice" inserted before "increasing".

This again, is designed to secure finality and we regard 12 months as being a reasonable period in which to have the increase disallowed or reduced on the grounds set out.

We are dealing here, are we not, with the application of the tenant?

It is, I suppose, reasonable enough. Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 must go together because, if they do not, the section will not have any sense. We cannot pass amendment No. 6 and not pass amendment No. 7.

That is correct.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 8:

Section 7: in page 8, lines 11 and, 42, "the application of the tenant" deleted and "application made by the tenant not later than twelve months after the expiry of the notice" substituted in each case.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 9:

Section 11: in subsection (3) line 51, "the tenant has covenanted in writing" deleted and "there is a covenant under which the tenant is obliged" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 10.

Section 11: in subsection (7), page 10, line 24, "by the landlord or the tenant" deleted and "under which the landlord or the tenant is required" substituted.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are drafting amendments which, I think, improve the reading of the two subsections.

The Minister may be right in that, but I am not altogether happy about it. I am referring now to amendment No. 9. The position under section 11, as it is stood, was a considerable improvement on the law up to now because we were providing in section 11 that there would be implied covenants with regard to repairs on the part of the landlord and the covenants were "to keep in repair the structure", etc. and the only exclusion from these covenants was where the tenant had "covenants in writing to carry out any or all of the repairs". In that event, the implied covenants being imported into the arrangements between the landlord and tenant obviously went by the board. We are being asked now to get away from the very clear wording of the section which required the tenant to covenant in writing to do the repairs before the implied covenants of the landlord would go and, instead of the section reading "Where the tenant has covenanted in writing to carry out any or all of the repairs" the Minister suggests we should put in "Where there is a covenant under which the tenant is obliged".

At first glance that may seem to amount to the same thing, but I do not think it does because we are now going to get into the area in which you have the possibility of implied covenants by the tenant as well as clearly implied covenants which are being imported by statute into the responsibility of the landlord. As the section stood, it seemed to me to remove doubt. The position was quite clear; the landlord had to do the repairs unless the tenant covenanted in writing to do them. By getting away from that wording we are, I think, now entering into an area of doubt and legal argument may exist as to whether or not the tenant was obliged under some other implied covenants, under possibly a verbal agreement, to do the repairs. As the section was worded, there was no doubt; it had to be a covenant and it had to be in writing. Why are we getting away from that unless we want to diminish the strength of the requirement? I am not at all keen on this. There may be a good answer to it.

Perhaps I was not strictly fair to the House in saying this was largely a drafting amendment. There is a little more to it. It can be argued — representations were made to me to this effect — that the reference to the tenant in the section as it stood might not be adequate to cover the predecessor in title where he may have covenanted in writing to do particular repairs. It is arguable as the section stands that it does not apply to a subsequent tenant.

I do not think the alternative wording covers that. If the Minister wants to cover that position surely he should say "where the tenant or his predecessor in title covenanted in writing". Does that not put it beyond doubt?

It may, but we chose this wording.

The Minister's case is that a tenant may not be obliged if the covenant was made by his predecessor in title.

Under the paragraph as it stood.

Even under the amendment, surely that position is not altered?

The amendment substitutes for the words "where the tenant has covenanted in writing" the words "where there is a covenant under which the tenant is obliged".

The obligation passes on.

I agree, but it is more likely under the amended wording that it would cover a covenant by the tenant's predecessor. It is, I think, put beyond doubt if it is left "Where the tenant or his predecessor in title has covenanted in writing". I am keen on keeping the requirement that the covenant must be in writing.

Yes. Of course, it is a covenant and it must be in writing as opposed to an implied covenant. It closes the gap, I think, in regard to the criticism made of the section as it stood.

If the Minister put "where there is a covenant in writing under which the tenant is obliged"——

I think we can do that.

It could be of importance. I should like the Minister to think about it.

If the House is satisfied, I will agree to that. That would close it finally.

I think it would.

The House will pass the amendment then with the words "covenant in writing" added.

"in writing" added after "covenant".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 11:

Section 13: In subsection (2), line 25, "or a separate and self-contained flat, being a house or flat" deleted and "the rateable valuation whereof exceeds ten pounds, being a house" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment No. 11 was discussed with amendment No. 1.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 12:

Section 13: in subsection (3), page 11, lines 52 and 53, and in page 12, line 7, "expiring on any gale day" deleted and "(expiring on any day specified in that behalf in the notice)" substituted in each case.

It was said in the Seanad that "gale day" is a relic of the past and that the actual date should be put in plain English which is what we have done.

With respect to the Seanad——

The Deputy's colleague, Senator O'Quigley, was very strong on this point.

It is an expression that comes out of the past, I suppose, but I do not think it is a relic of the past in reality.

It is understood by the courts what it means.

Not alone that, but the Minister will appreciate that the position is that the notice must expire on a gale day and that may be to the benefit of the person on whom the notice is being served because if the particular gale day has passed and it is a three-months notice, that may in fact convert it into five months notice because it must go on to the next gale day, so that it is of importance in that sense. By providing that a notice may expire on any day specified in the notice while you are ensuring that you get the particular notice given, you my very well be cutting down on the original provision. I am not arguing that it might not be better to be definite and if you have a three months notice, everyone should know that that is three months from the day the notice is served. Possibly it is better to be definite about it but I think we should recognise that in some cases we may be diminishing the period by departing from the gale day requirements.

Yes, but at the same time, I think it is possibly better to have it more specific. I argued the point being made by Deputy O'Higgins now in the Seanad and I was persuaded by Senator O'Quigley to put in what is here.

I will not argue with Senator O'Quigley.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 13:

In subsection (3), page 12, line 34, "including any hardship to the landlord," inserted before "the tenant".

This is just to put the landlord and tenant on the same basis in regard to hardship. It is a possibility that hardship could be involved as far as the landlord is concerned too.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 14:

The following subsection added to the section:

"( ) (a) The application by virtue of subsection (3) of this section of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931, to a dwelling shall cease upon the landlord's coming into possession of the dwelling.

(b) In the foregoing paragraph `possession' means actual possession, and a landlord shall not be deemed to have come into possession by reason only of a change of tenancy made with his consent."

Will the Minister explain this?

As the Bill stands, it was pointed out to me in the Seanad that the right to a new tenancy being given to decontrolled tenants was not limited to those tenants but could be availed of in the future by any tenant taking out a fresh tenancy of the premises, irrespective of the length of time he would be in occupation. For example it might happen that a decontrolled tenant would avail himself of the right given by this section to obtain a new tenancy under the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931, and then surrender the tenancy. Some years afterwards the landlord might make a fresh letting and it could be said that the new tenant would automatically receive the right to renewal immediately the new tenancy was created. This would be an undesirable anomaly because, as the law stands, other tenants have to have certain prescribed periods of occupation or of carrying on business before they can qualify for renewal of their leases.

Am I right in saying that this does not in any way affect or diminish a tenant's rights which he had ab initio under the Act, irrespective of rights conveyed into this Act.

That is right. This is to get over the anomaly that would occur when a new tenant took out a fresh tenancy of the premises.

We are only talking about the compensatory rights?

Question put and agreed to.
Seanad amendments reported and agreed to.

Dáil Éireann has agreed to amendments Nos. 1 to 8, has agreed to amendment No. 9, as amended, and has agreed to amendments Nos. 10 to 14.