Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The past five years have been turbulent and traumatic in the housing market which has fed into and driven much of the current economic crisis. An obsession with residential property as an investment class rather than as a place of shelter, a home, was driven by the failed pro-cyclical policies of the past decade. Homeownership, a noble aspiration, was mutated into a speculative mania and a whole generation was forced, or encouraged, to chase an out of control housing bubble. When the music stopped, the damage to individual households and the wider economy was clear to see. Spuriously inflated property prices, lax lending policies and weak central oversight have bequeathed large-scale negative equity and the spectre of repossessions to a large segment of society.

Many people are struggling to pay their mortgages or at risk of losing their homes. What should be viewed as a place of comfort and shelter is now, for too many, a millstone, a cause for constant concern. In my first year as Minister of State with responsibility for housing, I have become acutely aware of the real difficulties people are experiencing. There is no question that we face a difficult path in finding a solution to the housing crisis. It will not be solved overnight. There are no magic bullets. What is needed is sound and humane decision-making, imaginative policies that produce the greatest possible housing yield for the widest range of people at the best return to the taxpayer and, critically, an understanding of and a learning from the mistakes of the past.

We must not return to the unsustainable, unprecedented growth that represented the boom years. The greater the boom, the worse the bust. We must seek to provide a moderating structure that allows for sustainable and long-term growth again. If we can do this, the suffering and hardship being experienced will not be in vain. For all these reasons, I am absolutely committed to the development of a genuinely sustainable approach to housing policy which will have the interests of communities at its heart, be based on choice, fairness and equity across tenure. It will be a policy that will enable all households access to good quality housing appropriate to their household circumstances and in their community of choice. I am committed to a vision of housing where people once again view their house as a place for hearth and home, not as a failed investment.

We must approach housing differently now. The Government's housing policy statement, published in June 2011, marked a profound change in the State's approach to housing policy. This short statement was based on several fundamental principles and goals that will form the basis for reform. It is a framework document that does not claim to contain all the answers to the issues it raises. It takes account of the dramatic cycle of growth and collapse in the residential property market. In that context, it charts a way forward for housing policy by placing explicit emphasis on choice, equity across all housing tenures and delivering quality outcomes for the resources invested. This will serve as the framework for a sequence of legislative and policy initiatives in the short to medium term. Key to these aims will be the move from a focus on the promotion of homeownership to a more equitable treatment of tenures. If there is one lesson this crisis has taught us, it is that homeownership need not be the ultimate goal. This does not mean the Government is turning its back on homeownership or that we are seeking to impede people from realising their valid homeownership aspirations. Far from it. The reality is that, for the majority of households, homeownership will continue to be the tenure of choice, a fact recognised and welcomed by the Government. However, there are other households that may not want, or may not be in a position, to own their own home. Our goal for such households is to provide for choice based on household circumstances and needs rather than the expectation of house price growth.

The current crisis has given us an opportunity to reassess our attitudes to housing and homeownership. The emergence of rented housing as a real viable housing option is part of this reassessment.

A well balanced housing sector requires a strong, vibrant and well-regulated rented sector and the rented sector is an integral part of our housing policy for the future. Naturally, important steps have already been taken to bolster the status and stability of the rented sector and this Bill is another important step on that journey.

The Residential Tenancies Act was passed in 2004 and represented the most significant legislative reform in the private rented sector in more than a century. Prior to 2004, the rental market operated in a crude and fragmented manner. There was little or no security of tenure for tenants and recovery of possession presented a nightmare scenario of long and expensive court proceedings for landlords. Even minor disputes arising during the course of a tenancy had no avenue of resolution other than the courts. Standards in rental accommodation were notoriously low and while minimum standards regulations had been in place since 1993 they were already out of date and characterised by low levels of enforcement. The combination of these factors resulted in the absence of a secure, regulated rental market that could offer a real, attractive longer-term housing solution to people searching for a home. Rented housing represented a tenure choice of last resort. It was perceived as being only for student housing, bed-sits, a short-term solution or the only solution for the most marginalised and vulnerable in our society who could not afford anything better.

Thankfully, this is not the private rented market of today. More people are renting now than ever before. Figures from the 2011 census show an increase of almost 64% in the number of people renting from private or approved housing body landlords since the previous census in 2006. Since the proportion of overall home ownership has declined by 5% the rental market now accounts for 29% of the total housing market. In the eight years since the passing of the Residential Tenancies Act and the establishment of the Private Rental Tenancies Board, PRTB, we have seen significant strides in the development of the private rental market and it is largely unrecognisable from what it was at the turn of the millennium.

The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 introduced real security of tenure for tenants in the private rented residential sector for the first time. It set out minimum obligations for landlords and tenants and provided access for tenants and landlords to a cheap, informal and independent dispute resolution service. The Act laid out conditions for rent reviews and prohibited the charging of rents in excess of market levels. It set out fair procedures for the termination of tenancies and provided for notice periods linked to the duration of a tenancy. Since a portion of the tenancy registration fees collected was set aside by ministerial order it has provided for the funding for an exponential increase in rental standards inspections by local authorities. In 2003 only 2,000 inspections of rented dwellings were carried out by local authorities, but by 2011 the corresponding figure was almost 20,000. This has contributed to a significant improvement in the standard of rental accommodation available to tenants today and the final implementation of the 2008 Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations in February next year will continue that work. Most important, the Residential Tenancies Act created the conditions for the growth and development of a sustainable, well-regulated rental market. This development has meant that rented housing today is no longer viewed as a tenure of last resort but as a tenure of choice.

The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 builds on what has been achieved by the Residential Tenancies Act and the Private Residential Tenancies Board and provides for the further development of the rental sector in future. The Residential Tenancies Act and PRTB have achieved considerable success since 2004 and the Bill will build on that success. While it contains several significant policy developments it is evolutionary rather than revolutionary legislation. The Bill is set out in five Parts with 43 sections. I will refer to the main provisions in some detail.

Perhaps the most significant achievement of the Bill, if enacted, would be the extension of the remit of the Residential Tenancies Act to approved housing body dwellings. Approved housing bodies generally provide rental accommodation for families and persons with specific categories of need who are on the social housing list. However, the relationship between these tenants and their approved housing body landlords is not generally provided for in either the Housing Acts or the Residential Tenancies Acts and they operate on the basis of lease agreements, the various Landlord and Tenant Acts and common law. Formal regulation of the tenant landlord relationship in the sector lags behind the private rented sector considerably and there is an urgent need for a modern legislative basis for approved housing body tenancies. The Bill will afford the same rights and obligations afforded to landlords and tenants in the private rented sector to those in the approved housing body sector. This is a logical follow-on from the June 2011 housing policy statement, which set out the key role envisaged for the approved housing body sector in the delivery of social housing. In view of the ongoing development of the approved housing body sector and its greater role in social housing provision, the Government is committed to improving governance and formal accountability generally in the activities of the sector.

Approved housing bodies are at the heart of the Government's vision for housing provision. As part of this process, it is critical that assurance is given to stakeholders in respect of the stability, viability and capability of the sector. Governing bodies, tenants and potential investors must have reassurance that the sector is well-managed and stable and is a good long-term investment. To this end, my Department is committed to the development of a regulatory framework for the sector that will support its long-term growth. The extension of a formalised structure for mediating the tenant landlord relationship is a logical corollary to this project.

Part 2 amends the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and provides for the application of the Act to dwellings let by approved housing bodies to tenants who have been assessed under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 as having a housing need. Section 3 as published provides for the exemption from the provisions of the Act of tenancies in which care and support services are provided to the tenant as part of the tenancy agreement. The decision to exempt these types of tenancies was made after extensive consultation with the sector and on the basis that the services provided could be more effectively delivered outside the confines of the Act. However, as a result of further consultation with the approved housing body sector following the publication of the Bill, I have decided that it will be possible to extend the remit of the Act to even more of the approved housing body sector than originally envisaged, and I propose to amend the Bill on Committee Stage to provide that there will be no additional exemptions for approved housing body tenancies, save those provided for in the 2004 Act. The result of this amendment would be to extend the rights under the Residential Tenancies Act to an ever greater number of approved housing body tenancies, in the order of 20,000. It should also simplify the wording by which extension of the Act to the sector will be achieved.

Section 3 ensures the 2004 Act will apply to dwellings let by local authorities to approved housing bodies when they are sublet to social housing tenants, notwithstanding the fact that local authority dwellings are exempt. Sections 4 and 6 place restrictions on approved housing body tenancies to certain entitlements under the 2004 Act. Specifically, section 4 provides that tenants in approved housing body dwellings may not assign or sublet their tenancies and section 6 provides for a similar restriction in respect of succession rights. On foot of this initiative to bring the approved housing body sector within the remit of the Residential Tenancies Act, and in recognition of that fact that the legal framework no longer applies solely to the private rented sector, the Private Residential Tenancies Board will be renamed as the Residential Tenancies Board.

Extending the 2004 Act to approved housing body tenancies will create a unified legislative base for the private rented and approved housing body sectors, assisting movement between tenures and making more efficient use of rental stock throughout the public and private sector. Creating a unified legislative basis will assist in the objective of affording equal treatment to households in similar economic circumstances and is consistent with my belief that broadly similar rights and responsibilities should apply to all forms of rented accommodation. I am seeking to accommodate households on waiting lists in all tenures using excess private housing under leasing schemes and other such initiatives. Movement between tenures for such households is greatly facilitated through a common legislative base. Naturally, this progression raises the inevitable question of how best to deal in the long term with local authority tenancies. While the Bill will not address this issue, it is clear that further specific action will be required in this area and that a great deal of further thought, research and consultation will be required before proposals are produced in this regard.

The PRTB was established as an independent statutory body under the Residential Tenancies Act on 1 September 2004. The principal activities of the PRTB include the registration of private residential tenancies and the resolution of disputes between tenants and landlords as well as the provision of information, assistance and advice to the Minister on the private residential rented sector.

The PRTB has achieved much since it was established, but more remains to be done. It is recognised that it can take a considerable time before cases are heard by the PRTB and it is essential that we supply the board with the necessary tools to reduce delays as much as possible. However, it must also be acknowledged that the number of dispute cases referred to the PRTB has grown by 25% since 2008. At the same time, staff numbers have decreased by 53% from their peak as a result of the relentless downward pressure on public service numbers.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the PRTB is actively pursuing a range of modernisation initiatives such as outsourcing of work and shared services, and it is hoped that in the longer term this will enable the PRTB continue to do more with less and significantly reduce delays. The PRTB's investment in ICT is a key element in its corporate plan and modernisation agenda under the Croke Park agreement. A new tenancy management system came on stream in mid-2012 and will considerably reduce processing times in 2013. This Bill will also contribute to reducing delays by streamlining procedures wherever possible. However, it must be recognised that there will be considerable challenges for the PRTB in the years ahead in dealing with an increasing workload as well as the addition of some 20,000 approved housing body tenancies to its remit. These are challenges that the Government is committed to helping the PRTB to meet.

Part 3 of the Bill provides for the separation of the quasi-judicial and administrative functions of the board and for a reduction in the maximum number of board members from 15 to 12. The purpose of this amendment is to allow the board to focus exclusively on the corporate governance, financial management and wider policy issues affecting the PRTB. The 2004 Act provides that the PRTB may offer a mediation service to landlords and tenants who wish to resolve disputes. Part 3 of the Bill includes amendments to sections 95 and 96 of the 2004 Act, the aim of which are to encourage the use of mediation. The amendments simplify and streamline the mediation process by removing unnecessary procedural steps and it is hoped that as the rented sector continues to mature and landlord and tenants work together to sustain long-term tenancies, there will be an increasing interest in the less confrontational mediation stream of the board's dispute resolution processes.

Part 4 of the Bill provides for the merger of the rent tribunal with the residential tenancies board. The rent tribunal was established under the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) (Amendment) Act 1983. The role of the tribunal is to determine the terms of the tenancies, including the rent, of dwellings formerly controlled under the Rent Restrictions Acts. The merger of the rent tribunal and the PRTB was announced in 2009 on foot of the Government decision on the rationalisation of State agencies. The merger of these two bodies has been in place on an administrative basis since 1 October 2009; administrative support services to the rent tribunal are provided by the PRTB, and the chairperson of the PRTB is the chairperson of the rent tribunal. The Bill gives legislative effect to that administrative arrangement and provides for the dissolution of the rent tribunal.

While the Bill addresses a wide range of issues, there are some other aspects still under development which I hope to bring forward for consideration during the Bill's passage through the Oireachtas. In particular, I am keen to progress a number of key ongoing concerns within the private rented sector, such as the illegal retention of tenants' deposits by landlords and the over-holding of rented property by tenants. We have made significant progress in dealing with the complex legal and policy issues arising on these and other topics but it was not possible to finalise the necessary provisions in time for inclusion in the published Bill. I look forward, however, to tabling detailed amendments on these topics later in the legislative process.

I look forward in particular to making progress on the programme for Government commitment to establish a tenancy deposit protection scheme. Only this week I received a detailed research report on this topic that was commissioned by the PRTB and I expect that this will guide my thinking on how best to offer the greatest protection to tenants in this area at the least cost to the Exchequer. The report flags a range of complex issues on which decisions will be required but, with careful planning, a sustainable scheme can be developed to further boost the operation of the Irish rental market. I am hopeful that I will be in a position to make specific proposals on this matter in the context of the current Bill. I have arranged for the report to be published on the Department's website today, if anybody wishes to read it.

The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 represents a significant evolutionary step in the development of the residential tenant-landlord regulatory environment. The extension of the Residential Tenancies Act to approved housing bodies is an important step towards achieving a wider regulatory framework for the voluntary and co-operative housing sector in the coming years. This will bring greater transparency and accountability to this important sector, which is playing an increasingly active role in social housing provision. The extension of the regulatory framework to cover the tenant-landlord relationship in the local authority rented sector is a logical further step, though one for another day.

This is a forward-looking Bill that recognises the need for additional operational efficiencies by the PRTB in the delivery of its functions and the broadening of its remit in order to ensure the good working of the private rented sector. Most of all, it will contribute to the continued development of the rental sector as an attractive long-term housing option and a crucial factor in the development of a sustainable housing policy as we continue on the road to economic recovery. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister of State for her presentation of this Bill for Second Reading. I acknowledge her praise and appreciation of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, which was initiated by Fianna Fáil. I also acknowledge her appreciation of the will expressed in the setting up of the PRTB. I appreciate the willingness she mentioned during the course of her speech to consider amendments on Committee Stage and I hope that will allow for agreement and support by consensus among all parties here in supporting the Bill. My party acknowledges that the aim of the Bill is to build on what was initiated in 2004. It also takes cognisance of the 2009 review of the workings of that Act with a view to introducing more up-to-date legislation that is more in tune with the position on the ground.

The rental market in Ireland, as the Minister correctly stated, has changed dramatically in recent years. This is hardly surprising in the context of the housing bubble and its subsequent collapse. Some of the statistics that have been published since then only highlight the need for this legislation. The number of households in rented accommodation has increased by 47% since 2006. Across Ireland, 29% of all people now rent, with 63% of these renting in the private sector; the number of people renting in the private sector has increased by a whopping 86% since 2006.

When one contrasts the statistics of the PRTB with those of the recent census, one finds a 30% discrepancy between the number of those who stated on the census form that they were renting and the corresponding figure from the PRTB. That is worrying. It tells us there is a need to beef up the regulation, and it may tell us there is some fear of the existing regulation or intended future regulation. It tells us there are obvious problems with the regulation of the sector. This is something we must take note of and react to in order to ensure it is not the case come the next census. Whether these discrepancies are a result of poor regulation or a hands-off approach by the Government, or whatever may be the case, that reality needs to change.

Regulation that provides empowerment will strengthen the market.

An effective regulatory regime should protect tenants and give greater certainty to landlords, which in turn leads to a stronger market, benefiting landlords and tenants and obviously benefiting the State and the providers of housing accommodation.

There are obvious strains on the PRTB dispute resolution process caused by sheer volume and increased demand, to which the Minister of State alluded. Demand for the board's services increased by 20% in 2010 and by a further 25% in 2011. Analysis of the process highlights the deficiencies in the existing legislation and regulation. Outcomes to disputes are too slow and too laboured and that diminishes trust in the procedures. Rules, for example, for the termination of tenancies are a legal minefield and resolution procedures are thought to be multi-layered. The most common complaints must be identified and reacted to in this Bill. The refusal of landlords to refund deposits was the reason 72% of tenants sought resolution. Rent arrears and breaches of tenancy obligations amounted to 68% of submissions on the part of landlords.

It is our duty to highlight deficiencies and to seek to improve the Bill, by consensus. The addition of voluntary housing associations may stretch the scarce resources of the board. I hope, with that being the case, adequate resources, training and efficiencies will be built into the board to deal with its heightened role. It is estimated that there are 700 voluntary and co-operative bodies that have approved housing-body status. A total of 443 of these have completed one or more housing projects and it is estimated that they contribute 25,000 housing units to the existing stock. Their tenants are taken from local authority waiting lists. When such people take up a tenancy under these agencies, the reality is that many of them are short term, either weekly, monthly or periodic and can be terminated with 28 days notice. Tenants cannot, as we know, ever buy out the unit and if and when they vacate, in certain instances they will never be considered for local authority housing again.

A number of days ago we spoke about the budget within the Department for social housing, for which the Minister of State is responsible. I recognise that local authorities cannot, in the current economic circumstances, provide capital construction programmes as they did in the past. I acknowledge that housing provision must be carried out in a more innovative way and part of that can be, and is in many cases, by means of rental accommodation schemes, RAS and by local authorities rather than the HSE managing the rent allowance scheme. However, part of that should be also by means of the State deriving, as was intended, a social dividend from NAMA. Part of that can be also by means of the State, in conjunction with local authorities, auditing the land bank, releasing land to the market and using funds derived from that release to obtain value from the market.

I admit that I am straying somewhat from the content of the Bill but I caution the Minister of State against blindly, if not intentionally, allowing the voluntary housing sector to increase its stake to a dangerously high level and to become, in effect, the housing authority. Unless there is proper legislation attached to that in its own right, it will undoubtedly alienate local authorities and by doing so, alienate local authority members throughout the country. It would undermine their representational role in this area and diminish local democracy, taking powers from them and contradicting the myth that documents such as Putting People First empower local authorities. That is my fear in that regard and perhaps the Minister of State can satisfy me that it is not the case. I suspect it is not the intention but I would also hope it is not the result of pursuing that policy to the nth degree.

The streamlining efforts of the Bill focus on changing names, the removal of the €25 mediation fee and tinkering around with the number of days given to the dispute resolution process. This does not necessarily constitute decisive action in reforming the work of the board and accelerating the process. There is nothing in the published Bill dealing with tenants who are in rent arrears, although I acknowledge the indication that this will be dealt with on Committee Stage. In that context, I will hold my fire for now but I expect to see proposals which will satisfy us all in that regard. The Bill does not attempt to simplify the intricate rules governing the content of notices of termination. Nor does it attempt to set any statutory timeframe within which a determination order should be issued following an application to the PRTB for dispute resolution. No changes are proposed to the controversial provisions on anti-social behaviour. Apart from the proposed amendments to the rules on mediation, there are no plans to streamline the dispute resolution process more generally or to address the significant problems, in practice, of enforcing of PRTB orders. I ask the Minister of State to be cognisant of the fact that many people who wish to make a complaint regarding anti-social behaviour do not want to be named and do not want to be victimised as a result of making such a complaint. In that context, there should be some mechanism within the Bill to allow a third party to act on their behalf, whether it be local gardaí, local representatives or others.

Revision is needed together with adequately resourced supporting measures to promote an awareness of rights and obligations among landlords and tenants to reduce the scope for disputes. I ask the Minister of State to comment on that area in particular. A greater understanding, appreciation and knowledge of the whole system on the part of both parties would alleviate, to some degree, the potential for disputes to arise.

There is a real need for a deposit retention scheme as a vital component of any fully functioning, vibrant rental market. Given the high volume of complaints brought by tenants because of the withholding of deposits, an effective scheme would have a far greater impact on speeding up the work of the PRTB than any name changing or other tinkering mentioned earlier. A new scheme would further stabilise the rental market and bring greater certainty to both tenants and landlords, thus creating a stronger overall housing market.

The Bill must be amended to adjust to the changed reality of the rental market in Ireland and to the experience of the operation of the board for the past eight years. As the Minister of State said, the rental market will become increasingly important in the coming years, particularly due to a young, urban demographic and it must be adjusted to encourage a balanced menu of accommodation options.

We acknowledge that the Bill is necessary to take account of the changing circumstances in the market as a result of the relatively youthful demographic of the population. We wholeheartedly agree with parts of it and I hope there is scope for agreement on other facets. The Bill is an evolutionary development of what went before it, but certain parts need to be amended and we need further clarity on the deposit retention scheme. If there is engagement on Committee Stage and a will to reach consensus, I have no doubt the Minister of State will have our support in addressing the issues she has identified. By doing our job in a correct and proper manner we can address the difficulties that people face.

I have received numerous representations from landlords as well as tenants expressing their frustration with the multi-layered PRTB resolution system. The Bill offers us an ideal opportunity to address these frustrations. If we get this right we will resolve the discrepancies between recent census surveys and the PRTB's figures in respect of tenure patterns.

This is a timely and important Bill. While there are several missed opportunities in the legislation as it stands, I hope that reasonable changes can be made in order to improve the conditions enjoyed by people seeking to rent their homes. It is important to remember that when a tenant rents a home it is not simply a place to sleep but also a place to live in comfort and security. For too long renting a home has been seen as a short-term practice engaged in by younger single people or low earners, with the result that policy has not focused on creating a rental market that provides sufficiently for the everyday needs of working people. This has become particularly challenging for many people because of the collapse of the property market and the difficulty in obtaining loans. People who would otherwise be leaving the rental market to buy homes are instead staying on as tenants, which drives up demand while supply remains constant. Tenants are now paying more and, in many cases, receiving less for their rent but they have limited choice to go elsewhere.

This problem was created by the policies of successive governments which sought to remove the role of the State in providing housing. Government policies subsidised private landlords at the expense of the public and local authorities, which put little effort into ascertaining the quality of the homes for which they were paying. People were told they were foolish if they did not purchase homes and governments made every attempt to encourage home ownership, to the extent of depleting the social housing stock and giving developers free rein to build what and where they pleased.

It is with this in mind that I welcome these developments on the legislative protection of rights in the tenant-landlord relationship. It is welcome that some tenants of approved housing bodies will come under the legislation. The 10,000 NAMA properties to which Threshold referred should also be taken into account. I understand that certain local authorities have a role where properties are provided on leasing schemes but we should pay careful attention to this area. Over the past decade housing bodies have become a crucial part of the Irish housing system, partly because of their dedication in providing tailored housing to those in need but also due to the abject failure of the State to provide adequate housing. I commend Focus, Respond, Clúid, Sonas and others for doing fine work with limited resources and for their constant advocacy of people's rights to housing. Housing bodies have also welcomed the move to bring them under the residential tenancies legislation. These bodies want to have the mechanism of the new residential tenancies board to help them work with their tenants and clients to resolve issues and ensure just resolutions. No tenant should have fewer rights than another simply because his or her landlord is generally accepted to be a good landlord, which is essentially the idea behind the exclusion of approved housing bodies from the board's remit.

Focus Ireland stated in a recent submission that while approved housing bodies generally operate as good landlords, offering secure homes and fair and transparent terms to their tenants, the argument for tenants' rights derives not from the weaknesses or strengths of their landlords but from their rights as citizens requiring security in their homes and access to impartial dispute resolution where necessary. While the Bill starts strongly in this regard, unfortunately it fails to go far enough. It makes two important exclusions which should not be permitted. The first is the exclusion of very broadly defined receivers of care services. This definition is unlikely to cover everyone in receipt of HSE-funded care, but that is implied in the Bill. Regardless of intent, this provision needs to be redrafted to ensure that people in housing supplied by approved housing bodies are included in the Bill. The provision as it stands draws an arbitrary line in the sand and excludes vulnerable tenants who need and would greatly benefit from the support of the PRTB. It is also discriminatory in that it refuses the rights afforded to others to tenants with physical or mental health issues. This oversight could affect a large number of people and as such render the Bill much less valuable to tenants than originally envisaged. The issue could be addressed very simply by stating exactly what groups are excluded from the remit of the board. These could include those in short term emergency or hostel accommodation and high-support residential care, having due regard to legislation on mental capacity.

The other exclusion in the Bill is for local authority tenants. I do not understand the reason for this exclusion. It is obvious that the Department wants to provide the services of the residential tenancies board to as many tenants as possible, and local authority tenants should be in that cohort. Every Deputy could speak at length on the many housing issues that residents raise about their local authorities, including rent arrears and landlord services. The inclusion of local authority tenants in the Bill would assist in the resolution of issues that arise regularly. All tenants should have the same rights. To leave out a large portion of the Irish renting population is a missed opportunity. If I were more suspicious I would say the Government feared the repercussions of giving such a tool to a group of people who have often been poorly treated by the State and local authorities. Perhaps it feared that it would shine a light on the great inadequacies of the State's half-hearted attempts to house the most vulnerable in our society. It may also fear that providing this service for so many people would be expensive.

If the Government is good at one thing, it is at talking up people's rights but without being willing to fund them. Right now people in need of help, advice and advocacy struggle to get through to someone on the PRTB telephone lines. I can only imagine what it would be like if local authority residents were included among these and if the Government's cut and slash policies continue. Housing bodies and local authorities are struggling, but the Government has no desire to spend money where it is needed. As a result, here we are with a Bill that is positive but far less so than was possible.

The Government needs to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to improve the rental market for tenants and to make it easier to deal with bad landlords who disregard their duties to their tenants and the law. A big part of the problem is that tenants are confused by the laws protecting them. They are complicated and the landlord generally is able to convince them that they are in the wrong. Tenants need better, more accessible information on their rights and the ability to report unscrupulous and law-breaking landlords with confidentiality and ease.

The most glaring absence from the Bill is the lack of any deposit retention powers for the PRTB. As we heard earlier today, deposits are being unfairly held by landlords and this is the single biggest reason people contact many of the bodies which offer advice on housing to tenants. Threshold today reiterated this point in its annual report. In 2011, Threshold dealt with 3,259 cases of unreturned deposits. People cannot afford to leave a place of residence for another with an extra month's rent taken from their pockets because of the intransigence of an unscrupulous landlord. The PRTB estimated there is one dispute for every 100 tenancies.

There has been much talk with regard to awaiting research on the issue of how a deposit retention scheme would work and whether it would work in Ireland. The PRTB recommended this research three years ago. Where is it? When will we have the research to allow us to implement something we already know we need? Ireland is not that wildly different a jurisdiction from others and could operate a similar scheme to that operated in other countries. The only question is whether such a scheme would reduce the number of disputes. Given the fact that many disputes are probably not reported by tenants, who simply accept their mistreatment and move on in ignorance of their rights, I doubt that the scheme would reduce the number of cases we know about, but it would certainly provide a framework for resolving issues and give tenants the ability or chance to get their rights vindicated.

I welcome the Bill but hope that when it is finally passed through the House, it will be more robust and have made an important move for tenants' rights and the tenant-landlord relationship. One of the main issues highlighted today concerned the topping-up of rents by people availing of rent supplements. We need a robust mechanism in place to prevent this. This practice is quite widespread. People are topping up rents and driving themselves into poverty and creating a new poor. In many cases, due to the constant cuts in rental supplement, people are being driven into homelessness. This is a new problem for us.

We need greater enforcement with regard to registration with the PRTB as many people still do not register. Whether it can be provided for in this Bill, we need to find a means to oblige people to register. Penalties or something else must be imposed in order to persuade people to sign up to the system. It is unfair to others if they do not. Registration would also help improve standards on the condition of rental properties. If they do not meet a certain standard, they should be blacklisted or we should have some other mechanism to deal with them.

I support the Bill, despite some inadequacies in it. In general, it is a good one.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill as this debate gives us a great opportunity to deal with the issues of homelessness, tenants' rights, rents and dispute resolution services. It is ironic we now live in a State with ghost estates and empty houses while many families and children are homeless. This is madness and providing just a couple of houses or apartments for families in need is an insult to the people who need help most.

Last night, at a student union meeting in UCD, I spoke in an important debate on homelessness with Fr. Peter McVerry. We won that debate against some Government Deputies. My colleague, Deputy Dessie Ellis, was also a speaker at the debate.

Was he speaking on the Government side?

No, he was on the Opposition side. The debate was interesting, because on one side we had Deputy Ellis, Fr. Peter McVerry and me and on the other we had members of the Labour Party, Deputy Ó Ríordáin and some members of Labour Youth taking the Government position. The subject of the debate was that the Government's policy on homelessness seems to be all talk and no action. Last night's debate is relevant to this legislation. I welcome the fact that a group of students got together to organise a debate on an issue such as homelessness and housing, because, sadly, this issue seems to have slipped down the political agenda. I accept there is an economic crisis and we face banking, EU and ECB issues. However, issues such as homelessness should not be allowed to slip down the agenda.

It is not slipping down the agenda.

I am making the point that I hope it does not slip down the agenda. I have not heard much discussion of the issue recently. The political system needs to wake up to the fact it is an issue and to take account of the reality for many people.

While the figures produced recently by the Minister of State, who has responsibility for housing, are very accurate, the Minister and the Government must wake up and deal with them. We need action. A recent special Consensus report on homeless persons in Ireland indicated that some 3,308 people are sleeping rough or in accommodation designated for the homeless. Of these, some 2,539 were male and 1,269 were female. The Minister of State spoke about choice, equity across all housing tenures and delivering quality outcomes for resource investment. Part of dealing with that means the Government must dig deeper into the causes of the problems for the homeless and people seeking housing.

When we examine the facts in the report we see that more than one in four of homeless people aged between 15 and 59 did not have a qualification higher than primary level, as compared with 8% of the general population of the same age. Some 1,439 homeless people did not have an education qualification beyond lower second level, representing 48.5% of the homeless population aged 15 to 29, as compared with one in four in the general population of this age.

Another issue that is never heard about or discussed in this debate is the issue of health and disability among the homeless. Almost one third of the homeless population indicated its general health was fair, bad or very bad, as compared with 10% of the general population. A total of 1,581 homeless persons had a disability, representing 42% of the total, in sharp contrast to the general population where the rate is 13%. In dealing with and attempting to resolve the issue of homelessness, we must face up to the reality that some 42% of the homeless population has some disability. This is something that has been ignored. The rate of disability among the general population is approximately 12.9% or 13%. The most common type of disability among the homeless population is a psychological or emotional condition, with almost one in five indicating he or she had a disability in that category. It is important to consider this in the context of this legislation and to prioritise it.

I am pleased the Minister of State is present for my contribution and I would strongly like to receive her support.

I refer to a health issue that has emerged in the past couple of weeks, particularly in Dublin. I do not know about Limerick or Cork. The rate of TB among homeless persons has increased to such an extent that it is a potential epidemic. A group of GPs who work with homeless persons have suggested this issue can be resolved at a cost of €50,000. The provision of two tranches of €25,0000 - one now and one six months from now - would allow them to eradicate TB among the homeless population. If we do not take such action, there will be serious trouble among homeless persons and a public health issue will arise. I am making this point from a compassionate humanitarian perspective, but I am also making an economic argument. I am sure the Minister of State will agree that early intervention saves more money for the State and citizens in the long term. If €50,000 was made available now to tackle the incidence of TB among homeless persons, it would prevent many people from ending up in accident and emergency units and a crisis 13 months from now. That is important.

The Simon Communities of Ireland has stated 4,090 people who access its services have been homeless for over five years. Therefore, this problem has been ongoing for five years. Before the last general election, the Government signed the Simon pledge on homelessness. I hope it is not a broken promise like the promise made with regard to education services. Perhaps the Minister of State might confirm who signed it.

It was signed by individual Deputies at a time when we were not in government.

They signed the Simon pledge when they were in opposition. We all signed it. I remember signing it, but I did not know how many were involved. The Minister of State now has a chance to take action and it is up to her to take that opportunity. From what I have heard, no major attempt is being made to slash the budget in this area, which I hope is true. I wish the Minister of State well in this regard.

Certain issues should be treated as priorities in an economic downturn. Homelessness and the housing of poorer families and the 97,000 receiving this form of welfare assistance are of particular relevance in this regard. We need less talk and more action to deal with these matters. I have already made the economic argument, which is that if we do not take action now, it will cost more to do so in the future. A very good recent survey in the United States which tracked a homeless person found that the failure to take action in that case ultimately cost the US taxpayer $100,000. If the man in question had been placed in an apartment, with a small level of support, it would have cost the taxpayer just $25,000. There is an argument that not intervening to help homeless persons will ultimately cost the taxpayer more because the State will have to spend money to provide other services.

When we talk about this legislation, it is important to refer to tenancies and persons in rented accommodation. It is all very well to complain about these matters when one is in opposition, but it is important to make suggestions, too. I ask the Minister of State to consider three or four proposals to deal with the housing and homelessness issues. I will refer to some other issues after I have focused on these recommendations. First, I urge her to consider the provision of 24 hour accommodation with on-site staffing support for those in emergency accommodation. Second, I would like the resources allocated for visiting supports, to help people moving from homelessness into their own homes, to be increased on the basis of the SLI initiative in the Dublin region. Third, I am calling for long-term supported housing to be provided to support those who are unable to live on their own and require ongoing support. Fourth, I would like homeless action teams to be allowed to develop a case management process, providing for move-on options for persons who are homeless, on a pilot basis. I ask the Minister of State to consider my proposals.

The Bill seeks to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. Its objective is to streamline and simplify these Acts and reduce delays in the disputes resolution service of the PRTB. It also provides for the inclusion in the remit of the Residential Tenancies Acts of tenancies in the voluntary and co-operative housing sector, to which I will refer. The Minister of State has said the issues of rent arrears and deposit retention are not addressed in this legislation, but she intends to deal with them at a later stage in the legislative process. If that is true, I welcome it. I stress that we need to stick to the plan, as we need action rather than words. The Irish are a great nation to talk. The Government is great to talk, as Deputy Paschal Donohoe would tell anyone in Dublin Central, but we need more action on the ground. We must deliver on these issues.

We have to look at the debate about rents, tenants and allowances. We should talk about it, rather than run away from it. I believe strongly that cuts and changes in the payment of rent allowance to the poorest tenants in the private rented sector have been very bad for many of the people in question. In recent years average cuts of 28% in the maximum rent a person on rent allowance can pay have created real difficulty and hardship, including homelessness, across the State. I ask the Government to keep an eye on this issue. Focus Ireland and the Simon Communities of Ireland are very concerned about it. They are worried that rent supplement has been cut by too much in the past couple of years. As the Minister of State knows, this payment is made to 97,000 people on social welfare who are living in the private rented sector. It costs the State approximately €500 million per annum. I refer to the reported comments of a former general secretary of the Minister of State's party:

Mike Allen, head of advocacy with Focus Ireland, said rents had not come down and in some areas had gone up, forcing significant numbers of tenants into housing that did not meet legal standards and others into homelessness. The cuts were also preventing homeless people finding accommodation.

The people working on the ground are telling us the real story about the scale of the problem.

I would like to focus on some aspects of the legislation. Section 3 amends section 3(2) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to provide that dwellings let by approved housing bodies will be exempt from the provisions of the Act where the dwelling is occupied by a household that has been assessed as having a housing need, and a member of that household is in receipt of care support services. Under the current legislation, all dwellings let by approved housing bodies to households assessed as having a housing need are exempt from the provisions of the Act. A definition of "care support services"’ is also set out for the purposes of the exemption. When we talk about "care support services", it is important that we focus on efficient services. When I talk about care support agencies, I always emphasise that we can have all the legislation and wonderful policies in the world, but we must also have the right people doing the right jobs to serve the people. The right people of the appropriate quality are needed to work as teachers, gardaí, care support workers and special needs assistants in order to prevent the cock-ups, hiccups and problems for which politicians are often blamed. The point I am making about section 3 is that the care support agencies have a responsibility and a duty to ensure the right people are working in the right places.

It is important for us to adopt a common sense approach when we talk about what the PRTB has done since it was established in September 2004. One of its main functions is to mediate where there is disagreement between landlords and tenants. When a landlord takes on a new tenant, he or she is legally required to register the tenancy with the PRTB and include the names and details of the tenants in that documentation. The landlord pays the PRTB a fee per tenancy. It is important for us to focus on the fact that the most common complaint made by tenants relates to the refusal of landlords to refund deposits. Such complaints accounted for 72% of all cases taken by tenants in 2010. The most common complaints made by landlords relate to rent arrears or breaches of tenancy obligations. Such complaints accounted for 68% of all cases taken by landlords. Orders made by the PRTB are legally binding. If a landlord or tenant is dissatisfied with a decision of the board, legal recourse to the High Court is permitted on a point of law only. The costs involved in taking such a court action may be prohibitive for many landlords and tenants. I mentioned the issues involved in 72% of cases taken by tenants and 68% of cases taken by landlords. I suggest something is being ducked and dodged. There are major problems in this regard. Last week I dealt with the horrific case of a mother of three children who had been thrown out by her landlord without proper notice. They had to go to Threshold and the PRTB to complain about the way the matter had been dealt with. I had to deal in my clinic with a major child abuse issue in addition to a housing need. This should not be allowed to happen. They ended up going to the homeless section of Dublin City Council and were placed in bed and breakfast accommodation with people who were dysfunctional.

It just did not work. The poor mother of three just walked out and is currently living with a family member, although I am currently trying to push for housing to be found for her. The landlord knew the situation and the person was paying her rent, yet he acted in this cold-blooded manner. That is one example from the landlord perspective. Equally, I know of a tenant who was violently threatening a female landlord on the north side of Dublin. In that situation, he did not even bother paying his rent although he was getting the rent from the State. That is also going on out there.

I make the point that there is no simple cure. The Minister said there is no magic bullet and she is right. It is a complex issue and difficult situations arise. There is a lot of bullying and intimidation happening in the private rental sector, which is why we need policing and regulation. God knows, we all know about regulation and this country has suffered from the lack of it in recent years. People might call it regulation but I see a need for good old-fashioned public servants, people who are doing their jobs effectively. We need to watch this issue, and it is not just a matter for the Government or for the Minister but for all of us. Tenants who are getting money from the State through rent supplement or landlords receiving rent need to act with respect and in a dignified manner.

"Magic bullets do not exist" is the exact quote.

I thank the Chair for that intervention. With regard to the resolution issues dealt with in the Bill, in 2010, 59% of applications for dispute resolution were from tenants and 37% from landlords, with only 4% from third parties. Therefore, a substantial number from both sides are not happy with what is happening on the ground. I assume the third-party applicants who represent 4% of the total are there because of anti-social issues, which is not acceptable. People who are getting rent from the State should respect the fact they are getting money, and they should use it wisely and try to do their best to get on with their lives. From 2000 to 2010 there was a 93% increase in tribunal hearings and, despite the increase, waiting times for tribunal hearings decreased from six to eight months in 2007 to two to three months in 2009 and 2010. It is clear many cases are being dealt with under the legislation.

It is important to note the intention of the Bill, which has five main sections. Those tenancies in the voluntary and co-operative housing sector that most closely parallel private rented tenancies are being regulated under the Act. This will give tenants in the voluntary and co-operative sector the same rights as tenants in the private sector, which is a positive aspect of the legislation that I strongly welcome. We need to give all tenants in the voluntary and co-operative sector these same rights.

The agency responsible for regulation of the tenant-landlord relationship, the PRTB, is being renamed the residential tenancies board, or RTB, which makes it shorter and sweeter. Formal effect will be given to the merger of the rent tribunal with the residential tenancies board. I note there is a reduction in the size of the board from 15 to 12 members. Measures to increase the take-up of mediation as a key dispute resolution mechanism are proposed; this is also important. When issues can be resolved through mediation, this must be welcomed. We need to stop the spending of money on crazy situations so I welcome these measures to increase the take-up of mediation.

There are several main themes running through the legislation, including dispute resolution services and statutory regulation of the voluntary and co-operative housing sector. Section 6 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 enables housing authorities to provide assistance to approved housing bodies, limited companies and trusts incorporated under the Charities Acts. Under section 6 of that Act, a housing body must have as primary objects the relief of housing needs, poverty, hardship or the welfare of Travellers, and the provision and management of housing.

This brings me to the issue of poverty and Travellers, and we must face up to the reality of this. It is not acceptable for a Minister or Deputy to be involved in any situation that damages the prospect of accommodation for Travellers who genuinely need housing. I do not play the blame game, as many others do. If some Travellers are involved in anti-social behaviour and crime, that is their problem, but one cannot label the whole community because of the actions of a minority. Some members of the settled community are involved in drug gangs and crimes in Dublin city, as I know well, but we do not blame the whole community on the north side of Dublin. I was extremely disappointed to see the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, and other Ministers taking a very anti-Traveller line. This is not acceptable from a Minister responsible for the environment and for housing itself. People have rights and deserve to be respected. By all means, if somebody is involved in anti-social behaviour or crime, he or she should be hammered as in any similar situation and the law should apply equally. However, the minorities within this State have to be protected and I would challenge any prejudice against them, although it might not necessarily be politically correct to stand up for the vast majority of Travellers in Irish society who are trying to be fair and decent. I commend groups such as Pavee Point, which have done much in the area of education for Travellers as well as in the area of housing, and which work closely with different bodies. Politicians should be dealing with racism and prejudice and should be trying to help people move away from these attitudes. We should also focus on education. Pavee Point has done fantastic work with groups of women and some fantastic people have passed through the centre in Dublin due to the old-fashioned idea that education leads to the liberation of such people. We should be encouraging this, not cutting back on it.

Much similar work on tenancy legislation was undertaken in New Zealand, where the law requires that a landlord who takes a deposit, sometimes called a bond, from a tenant, must lodge it with the Tenancy Services Centre within 23 working days of receiving it. When the tenant wants the bond back, both the tenant and the landlord must complete a bond transfer, which is sent to the Tenancy Services Centre. Tenant and landlord must state on the form the amount they agree to be refunded to each party. Many disputes between tenants and landlords in New Zealand are resolved by mediation, which is organised by the Tenancy Services Centre to help landlords and tenants talk about and solve their problems. A mediator helps tenants and landlords discuss the problem, identify the issues and reach a workable solution. If agreement is not reached, the next step is to go to the Tenancy Tribunal for a court hearing.

The PRTB report of 2009, which is independently authored, cites the successes of the New Zealand scheme and states that it supports the effective operation of the residential housing market, supports tenants and landlords in making well-informed decisions and operating with confidence in the rental housing market, and resolves disputes. Online applications to the dispute service and an online registration system are currently being developed. Some 72% of applications for dispute resolution were resolved out of court, which is a fantastic achievement. The increasing use of telephone mediation services results in the resolution of disputes without the need for landlords and tenants to physically attend appointments. The majority of bonds, some 82%, were refunded, and speedy resolution of disputes was achieved. What has happened in New Zealand is important for us to consider.

I referred earlier to Focus Ireland and Simon Ireland, as it is now called, but there are also many smaller groups that do great work on homelessness. One voluntary group I encountered recently is Stepping Stone, which has been providing homes to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Perhaps the Minister of State knows of the group. I suggest it would be a good idea to work closely with it.

We must face the reality that 2,366 adults accessed homeless services. The Minister referred to the low number of people sleeping rough. On 7 November I asked the Minister in the House about the number of homeless people. The response was that on 6 September 2012 the Central Statistics Office published its special census report, Homeless Persons in Ireland, which indicated that 3,808 persons were either sleeping rough or in accommodation designated for the homeless on the night of 10 April 2011. The rough sleeper count was 64, with 59 of those people located in Dublin. The Minister said that it is not tolerable that anyone should sleep on the streets but that it is important that homeless figures released are not confused with the number of people sleeping rough. The vast majority classified in the Central Statistics Office’s report as homeless are in long-term emergency accommodation. In a previous life I was a full-time worker with the Simon Community, now called Simon Ireland. I was also a soup-runner in Dublin for a couple of years in my youth. Three of us used to go around in a car and make calls. We would get between seven and ten calls a night. We used to do it on Thursdays. Sometimes one would come across nine or ten other cases. When I hear that the number for people sleeping rough in Dublin is 59, I know for a fact that the figure is higher.

It was very carefully counted.

From my experience we always came across extra homeless people. We had to log how many people we met on a given night and that information was given in to the office on our return.

Such figures are precisely the ones that would be used.

The Minister of State might say that but Fr. McVerry agreed with what I said in last night’s debate. That is another trump card for me.

Organisations such as Simon Ireland provide the Central Statistics Office with figures.

There is no point in the Minister of State trying to cover up. I am trying to be fair in the debate.

I am not covering up.

The Minister of State indicated that 59 people are sleeping rough in Dublin. I would say the figure is at least 150 but that is just my estimate. I would welcome it if the Minister of State could prove me wrong. In dealing with the issue, one must deal with the facts. We do not need talk; we need action. Enough talk goes on in this House.

It certainly does.

Overall I welcome the discussion. I urge Deputy Donohoe, a man in power and possibly a future Minister, the Minister of State and the Government to make homelessness a major political issue and to deliver to the people who need it. Homelessness is an issue that can be tackled with common sense and an open mind. It is also one of the issues that can be tackled with a small amount of extra money. I accept that we have an economic crisis. If the Minister of State is short of money, as I said previously, the solution is to tax the people who have money and pay for the services for those who have not. Overall, I warmly welcome the discussion. I welcome many aspects of the legislation. I hope the Minister of State will be amenable to amendments on some of the issues I raised. I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on the legislation.

I thank Deputy Finian McGrath.

I wish to share time with Deputy Donohoe.

I cannot speak for as long as Deputy Finian McGrath.

I know. I was running out of steam.

I was going to say that I cannot waffle for that long. Perhaps it is not the right place to say that.

I was running out of steam.

I will speak for approximately ten minutes.

I will let the Deputy know when two minutes remain.

I will probably be finished by then. I welcome the debate on the Bill which was brought to the House by the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O' Sullivan, this summer. The debate on residential tenancies is timely. The Bill provides for significant reform of residential tenant-landlord agreements and will also bring the voluntary and co-operative housing sector under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004.

Most, if not all, of us are familiar with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, and the work it does in assisting tenants who are in dispute with landlords for a variety of reasons. The principal causes of disputes are the refusal by landlords to return deposits and the failure of tenants to pay rent on time. The PRTB has helped many people on both sides of rental agreements since it was first established in 2004. The Bill is the first step towards the statutory regulation of tenancies in the voluntary and co­operative housing sector under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004.

Tenancies in the voluntary and co-operative housing sector will have to be registered with the PRTB, and the PRTB will then be responsible for the regulation of the tenant-landlord relationship in those properties. It is a two-way track and tenants must adhere to the rental accommodation rules. Likewise, landlords must treat residents as human beings, and look after their welfare and care. The change will bring greater transparency and accountability to the rental sector, which is badly needed. However, it is important to note that the addition of the voluntary and co-operative housing sector will further stretch the PRTB's scarce resources. In 2010, the PRTB received 2,230 applications for dispute resolution, and I can only imagine that including tenancies from the voluntary and co-operative housing sector will put significant pressure on the service when its staff numbers are being reduced. As a public representative I am familiar with people coming to my clinics who have problems with landlords and vice versa. The legislation we introduce will allow for more transparency and accountability for both landlords and tenants.

Voluntary housing associations are non-profit organisations. I am familiar with the work they do in Dublin. They play an increasingly active role in social housing provision right across the country. There are 700 voluntary and co-operative bodies in this country with approved status as housing bodies, but the ones with which I am most familiar in my area are the Iveagh Trust; Clúid Housing; Circle Housing; Oaklee Housing; Sophia Housing; Habitat for Humanity, which recently refurbished two beautiful houses in my constituency; and Fold Housing, which recently opened lovely apartments in Terenure. They all provide a high standard of accommodation and have a good relationship with their tenants. However, at present, those tenants do not have the same rights as private tenants, which is why the Bill is so important.

I have encountered a number of issues concerning tenants of voluntary housing associations, which are important to mention. If the Minister of State is not aware of the issues I encourage her to examine them. There must be clarification on how voluntary housing organisations assess tenants for rent if they are participating in community employment schemes. Some tenants are encountering problems with their rent being increased as their income from CE schemes is being taken into account. That does not happen in Dublin City Council because it does not take income from CE schemes into account. The practice is unfair as income from CE schemes is low and it is hard enough for people to get by without voluntary housing associations adding an extra burden on them.

Unfortunately, there is no provision in the Bill relating to rent arrears. I might have missed what the Minister of State said on the matter in her introduction. I believe she will address the issue on Committee Stage. Rent arrears are a problem for many housing agencies and landlords. A total of 31% of all disputes at the PRTB concern rent arrears, which is consuming a huge portion of PRTB resources. Furthermore, once a formal dispute is registered with the PRTB, tenants can remain in their rented property until the dispute is resolved, and are likely not to pay any rent during this period, which presents a major problem for the landlord. This anomaly must be addressed.

One further issue which is omitted from the Bill, and which must also be addressed is the lack of a deposit protection scheme. That would help to alleviate the frequent occurrence of landlords withholding deposits. I understand the PRTB was commissioned to carry out research on such a scheme and report back to the Minister of State with responsibility for housing. I sincerely hope she will act on the findings.

I note the Bill does not deal with the issue of anti-social behaviour problems in rented properties. This is a very serious matter and I have encountered it on many occasions. When people come to me, their public representative, with a complaint about a city council tenant living next door we always seem to be able to contact the city council and deal with the issue. Most times the problem is resolved. However, if there is a private tenant living next door who causes trouble it is very difficult to find anybody who will take responsibility. I know the Minister of State will consider that point. In private tenancies, there are no guidelines or provisions to deal with such problems and this can cause great upset for every neighbour on the road. Recently I met a lady who had such tenants living beside her. She told me she was considering selling her house because of what was happening. She had been trying for a number of weeks to contact the landlord and was still having difficulty. When people have lived in an area for a long time this is most disheartening. The problem was that the people in question were not city council tenants and therefore it was very difficult to deal with the situation.

I fully support the establishment of a voluntary housing organisation, especially as the city council and local authorities no longer have the same housing stock to give out as they had in the past. There are good reasons for that - people are now able to buy homes at reduced rates and families can stay in the community where they were born, thereby becoming extended families. Most public representatives will find significant problems in the area of housing because there is not enough social housing stock. I welcome organisations such as Clúid Housing and Circle Housing and all the others I mentioned because they are an alternative and offer people an opportunity to get good accommodation and decent living quarters with, for the most part, fair management. There are some problems here and there.

I welcome the Bill and hope that all the little problems that speakers have highlighted will be taken on board when it is examined on Committee Stage. I thank the Minister of State for her honesty and her earlier words. I commend the Bill to the House.

I join Deputy Byrne in welcoming the Bill and I thank the Minister of State for attending. I approve of everything the Bill contains and hope it will make a contribution to the proper and efficient regulation of the sector.

The issue I wish to raise was touched upon by Deputy Byrne, namely, anti-social behaviour within the private rental sector and the broader issue of maintenance of private rental properties and the standards they are meant to attain. I acknowledge a point made by the Minister of State, namely, the exponential improvement in the regulation of the private rental sector in recent years. Her Department publishes a spreadsheet on a regular basis which details the number of inspections of private rented property and the consequent number of prosecutions or actions that take place, breaking these figures down by local authority areas across the country. This allows us to see that the number of inspections has greatly increased in recent years, as the Minister of State noted, and also that the number of actions taken in consequence is also increasing. In the same period regulations in respect of the quality of private rental property have been modernised and updated. I very much welcome the two developments and can see the impact they are having on the ground.

Given all of that, nonetheless anything between one fifth and one third of all my constituency work, particularly in respect of anti-social behaviour and standard of living, relates to the private rented sector. Week after week, when I go to community meetings in Dublin Central - I am sure it is the same for Deputy Byrne - I repeatedly hear about the difficulties residents and tenants face in regard to the quality of private rental property and the behaviour that goes on inside such property. People report considerable difficulty in doing anything about it.

I stress that the percentage of properties involved, whether they are reported for tenant behaviour or for appearance and upkeep, is small but not as small as I would like it to be. It is enough that it causes gigantic issues for people who live near or alongside these properties. I offer as illustration two examples I have been involved in in recent months. The first is a property in my constituency at which there was sustained and regular anti-social and criminal behaviour. This required a considerable effort on the part of the city council and the Garda. They could identify quickly enough who the landlord was but they could not discover how to contact him. They had an address and a telephone number but although they wrote and called repeatedly they got no response. Gardaí put in a considerable number of man hours before they could communicate directly with the landlord to tell him that his tenants were causing havoc in the local community and that he would have to take action and responsibility for what was happening. This took a gigantic amount of time on the part of the local Garda inspector. What people had to deal with was not only the sustained anti-social behaviour coming from the property but also its appearance, which was diabolical. They had to try to ensure that the tenants would act on the complaint and that the landlord would care enough about what was going on to hold the tenants accountable for what they were doing. It was enormously difficult to achieve this. Deputy Byrne mentioned a constituent who told her she was seeking to move from the area because of difficulties relating to a property. I encounter that complaint on at least a monthly basis from residents in any given area. I can offer a second illustration. On the North Circular Road in Dublin, which is part of my constituency, there are absolutely beautiful homes and houses. However, over time, a steady number have been degraded and allowed to descend into terrible condition because a small number of landlords have completely abdicated their responsibility towards their property.

I can bookend those negative examples with another, which shows how local authorities are seeking to respond to this problem. I cannot praise enough the recent action taken by Dublin City Council and the Garda who have gone from door to door in an intensive attempt to try to identify how many tenants are in a property and the conditions within it. They ask if there is tax compliance and whether the social welfare payments that go into a property are going into places that are fit for accommodation and meet proper rental standards. However, the amount of activity that has to go into doing this work is unsustainable. As much as I would like the city council to continue doing this kind of work, it is too much to ask of either the council or the Garda. We need to look at the regulations and laws that relate to these two areas of the rental sector and I ask the Minister of State to act on this. I believe she is considering the first, namely, the appearance of residential property and where responsibility for the waste management of a property lies. Time was when, if one wanted to find out if a large house was being rented out, one would look at the number of doorbells on the front door.

One can now establish this by counting the number of bins outside a property and seeing how regularly they are filled to overflowing.

These matters may appear inconsequential but they have a colossal impact on the way people feel about the communities in which they live and on how those communities present themselves to the outside world. The number one issue with which so many of the communities I represent in Dublin Central regularly deal relates to their inability to ensure that a small number of private rented accommodation units - either apartments or houses - are maintained in the way they should be. I am only referring to a small number of landlords in this instance. However, as stated earlier, that number is not as small as we would wish and it is big enough that it is having an utterly disproportionate effect on the quality of life of people who live in all areas of the city centre, particularly those located in the constituency I represent. Deputy Catherine Byrne also referred to this matter.

The second issue to which consideration must be given is anti-social behaviour on the part of tenants. There are two particular difficulties which arise in this regard. The first is the difficulty in contacting landlords when issues emerge. Ultimately, landlords must take an interest in what is happening on their properties and they must be willing to respond to any anti-social behaviour. I deal with a certain Garda inspector who does Trojan work in this area and I am aware that members of the force are obliged to spend hours or days trying to make contact with landlords. In my experience, landlords do two things in cases of this nature. They either ignore repeated efforts to contact them or, if contact is made, they inform the officers involved that the amount of effort being made to contact them is tantamount to harassment.

In some parts of our city, tenants are living in slum conditions and this is having a desperate effect on the people who live nearby. I want to ensure that more will be done in the future to protect the quality of life of those in private rented accommodation and other residents.

Debate adjourned.