I welcome this opportunity to raise the concerns being voiced by some landlords at the Housing (Registration of Rented Houses) regulations, 1996, which come into force on 1 May 1996.
I know from various statements of the Minister of State that these regulations will be introduced following consultation with representatives of landlords. If that is the case, why are so many objections being raised? Was there broad general agreement on the concept of control, or was the £40 charge to be imposed per unit and other conditions specified in their drafting? While all landlords may not be members of their association, I emphasise the strong objections many of them have to the charge and the amount of detailed information sought.
There has been broad, general agreement in political circles for some years on the need for regulation of the housing private rented sector. However, have we moved from one extreme to the other? Landlords claim they will be badly hit by these regulations — first, by the passage of information from health boards to the Revenue Commissioners — approved in last year's Finance Bill — and by the provision under which tenants can claim tax relief on their rent.
While I accept that the mere existence of landlords remained unknown over many years, suddenly there is data emanating from three different sources, leading me to question whether we have moved from one extreme to the other.
I fully agree with the need for controls, proper standards, rent books and so on because we have all heard far too many stories of rogue landlords who cram tenants into little cubbyholes in substandard accommodation. Nonetheless, we must be careful not to tilt the balance too far in one direction as there are many responsible landlords providing good accommodation. Indeed this and previous Governments recognise that the private rented sector forms an integral part of Government housing policy. We need people to invest their resources in housing and the system must be seen to offer them an incentive to do so.
There is great concern being voiced at the proposed charge of £40 per unit. Can the Minister of State guarantee that this charge will remain unaltered because many landlords fear it will rise to £50 or £100 within a few years? Can the Minister guarantee that future increases will be linked to the prevailing rate of inflation or to the cost of supervision on the part of the relevant local authority?
I am disappointed the Minister of State did not avail of this opportunity to introduce regulations pertaining to the external appearance of rented houses. In many parts of flatland in my constituency and others in Dublin one hears constant complaints from residents' associations whose members are doing their best to compete in tidy towns competitions and the like. They know that the appalling external appearance of many rented houses drags down their areas — many are very shabby, curtains hang on windows that appear not to have been washed for five years, there is poor or non-existent paintwork and rubbish bags in gardens to be collected in four or five days time. I am sorry that issue has not been addressed.
Of course, there are also rogue tenants. Representations were made to me recently by a landlord in danger of losing all his other tenants because of the misbehaviour of one a couple of nights a week. That landlord is playing the game by the book, has issued his notice to quit — which has been totally ignored — and taken legal advice, although it may take him months to have his case heard in court. In the meantime his solicitor informed him he must put up with it and not take any rent from that troublesome tenant or he may jeopardise his legal case.
In recent years tenants have been given many new rights, which is their entitlement, but rights carry attendant responsibilities. Therefore, the right balance must be struck between the rights of the tenant and those of the landlord. I am nervous that these regulations, with which I fundamentally agree, will be perceived by some as tilting the balance too far in favour of the tenant.
I hope the Minister of State will consider the points I made, particularly the external appearance of rented houses. I had hoped that aspect would have been addressed in recent regulations. Perhaps the Minister will bear it in mind when they are next reviewed.