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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and I am glad it will amend the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 and 2009 and provide for the application of those Acts to dwellings let by voluntary and co-operative housing bodies to tenants who have been assessed under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 as having housing need. It also provides for the dissolution of the rent tribunal and provides for the transfer of its functions to the Private Residential Tenancies Board. The Bill further amends the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 by changing the name of the Private Residential Tenancies Board to the Residential Tenancies Board.

I welcome this debate. I hope, however, we are dealing with more than name changes. It is important we have a safe and stable way to find accommodation for those who are renting. More people are renting according to the figures and this Bill draws on work initiated by the Fianna Fáil Government in 2004. We must make changes to tackle the problems and the challenges faced by a very different Irish rental market. We must also put in place additional resources for the PRTB and we need more clarity on the deposit retention scheme. There are complex issues in this law that could undermine the potential of the Bill and I would like to see changes made on Committee Stage to address the concerns I have.

The figures mentioned for the increase in the numbers of tenancies are very important. It is interesting that the commonest complaints made by tenants are the refusal of landlords to refund deposits. Almost 72% of all cases taken by tenants in 2010 related to a refusal to refund the deposit. The most common complaint from landlords concerned rent arrears and breaches of other tenancy obligations, with those being the cause of 68% of all cases taken by landlords. How will the Minister of State deal with the issue of rent arrears and the return of deposits? These are the two big issues that have been highlighted by constituents, and we need more clarity about how this will happen.

I met a number of housing organisations and I am always very impressed when I meet the Simon Community. I have seen its work in Galway, especially that of Bill Griffin and Joan Gavin, who have been to the fore in trying to provide services other than housing for the homeless. In particularly, a chiropody service has been undertaken by the Simon Community with assistance from the HSE, and the Simon Community also sought dental services for the homeless. I was glad when I raised this issue as a Topical Issue matter and the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, told me six extra dentists would be appointed nationally, with one of them operating in the HSE western region to deal with this issue. That issue should be to the fore because there are so many areas that must be examined when discussing the homeless. From what I know of the organisations I have met and from talking to people who work with the homeless, the issue is much bigger than we think. The figures for homelessness, particularly in Dublin, are higher than we think. That should be to the fore of the Department's consideration of these questions.

I put some of those points to Focus Ireland, an organisation that has done considerable work on homelessness. Focus Ireland pointed out the issues relate to how quickly people can move into homelessness. The organisation has proposed a number of actions, including the causes of new homelessness being kept under review and amending public policy that pushes people into homelessness. It advocates preventative advice, information and family mediation, raising the question of services such as the money advice and budgeting service, and a new household debt adviser linked to homeless prevention services. Those issues and getting people into private rented accommodation are very important, as important as rent supplement, and should be targeted at those who are homeless, and they must reflect the rent levels they must pay.

We must also consider the question of providing social housing and ensuring 30% of social housing goes to the homeless. Focus Ireland also mentioned investment and the Pathways Housing First approach for chronic homeless people and the targeting of services for families in homeless accommodation to link them with mainstream housing and negotiate with community welfare officers, provide tenancy sustainment and support for adults and children. Focus Ireland has supported more than 70 families to move from homelessness into mainstream accommodation since last March. Those initiatives are welcome and the organisation deserves credit for that.

Another important issue is the anomaly whereby in a county like Galway, people in the city and in the rural areas get the same payment. That does not reflect local reality. Rents are higher in the city than in the county so there should be an independent, transparent process which uses rental data and does not use this one-size-fits-all approach.

I have also raised the issue of sheltered accommodation for the elderly, both with the Minister of State and the housing organisations.

There is very low priority for single people on low incomes. Obviously local authorities do not seem to have the resources to deal with this nor does the private sector or the Department. However, in a very welcome development in County Galway, Clúid, the housing organisation, has provided sheltered housing. There are many more such schemes and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Ballinasloe has submitted an application to the Department which should be considered because sheltered housing has not been given priority either by local authorities or by the Department.

The Deputy has just over one minute remaining.

I am very disappointed at that, but I am getting good support from Deputy Browne.

The Minister of State launched Threshold's report. It made the point about NAMA having 10,000 units that could be utilised. It also raised the problem of deposit retention and the difficulties people are having in getting accommodation.

While it may be featured in the news, we often forget about the issue of the lack of student campus accommodation. Even if this is not in the Minister of State's area of responsibility, it should be looked at by the Minister for Education and Skills. Students find it difficult to get accommodation because they need it for eight to nine months whereas landlords tend to offer 12-month leases. Those who are not students will find it easier to get such accommodation because it is more lucrative for a landlord to get a 12-month lease. I am glad more landlords and students are coming together, even to arrange an inspection per term, in order to clarify some of the outstanding problems. If one were to read e-mails from students and landlords or if one were to listen to Joe Duffy on "Liveline", one would be aware of the problems of anti-social behaviour, breakages and cleanliness in student accommodation. I could go further, but I know Deputy Browne wishes to speak.

I welcome the Bill provided we can make changes on Committee Stage. We have made some progress but many issues remain to be addressed.

I welcome the Bill, which gives an opportunity to make some points about housing and rent subsidies. It is an area that has changed dramatically in recent years. The legislation needs to work for tenants to ensure renting is a safe, stable and secure way to get living accommodation, and this Bill moves in that direction. Sometimes we introduce Bills but then we find it very difficult to get the resources required to implement the provisions of such legislation. I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to ensure the Private Residential Tenancies Board is fully resourced in the future because it seems to be under-resourced at present, resulting in delays in making decisions.

As the Minister of State said, the Bill's aims are to speed up the resolution service provided by the PRTB by encouraging mediation and bringing the voluntary and co-operative housing sector under the governance of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. I ask the Minister of State to explain how that will happen because I find that many of the voluntary and co-operative organisations are stand-alone and independent and make their own decisions with regard to rent and how they run their organisations. We always found it very difficult to get a handle on how they operated in the past. I am sure the Minister of State is working with these organisations to ensure they are on board.

The Irish rental market has changed dramatically in recent years. Local authorities are no longer building houses, which is strange considering the Labour Party is in government. The Minister of State might clarify whether she will have any allocation in 2013 for local authorities to build houses.

We would need to have some money in the public purse to build more houses.

The Wexford County Council housing officer informed me that in 2011 and 2012, and possibly in 2013, no house will have been built by the local authority, which is a change compared with what we were used to as members of the council and as Members of the Oireachtas in recent years when a significant number of houses were built by local authorities.

There have been many changes since then.

Unfortunately the troika has obliged us to cut our capital budget.

I am about to offer the Minister of State a solution to the problem by referring to NAMA. She might have more influence with NAMA than people such as us, who continually contact NAMA about its housing stock. In December 2011, NAMA drew up a list of 2,000 properties for social housing and I believe it has not allocated any social housing thus far. I understand it may do so in 2013. We are all aware of the substantial number of houses on NAMA's books. While some of them are obviously not suitable for reallocation, a substantial number of completed houses are lying idle and they should be brought into play as quickly as possible. I am sure the Minister of State will also want that to happen because it would solve some of the current problems.

Regardless of how we feel, most Irish people like to own their own homes. Local authorities have the rental accommodation scheme, the leasing scheme and other schemes which are good in their own way, but many people would prefer to purchase the house, which they are not entitled to do under the RA scheme because they usually lease for five or ten years, after which the families may have to move again. Some forward thinking in that area might ensure that local authorities would be in a position to purchase these houses when additional funding becomes available. We all like to own houses and like to be able to buy out houses from the local authority. I believe I read a newspaper report indicating the Government was considering a 60% write-off to encourage people to buy out the houses in which they are living. That would also be welcome because it would give people an opportunity to buy out houses even though they might be on low incomes or dependent on social welfare.

A number of issues with the rental scheme cause major problems, including the requirement for a deposit. People may pay an upfront deposit of €600 to €1,000, yet when they leave that particular house they find it difficult to get back the deposit. Landlords tend to find some reason - a flimsy reason in most cases - not to return a deposit. As a result, if people are moving to a more suitable house, which could be a larger house because their family has grown, they find it impossible to get the money for another deposit from a community welfare officer. That may be fair enough because they have already got one deposit. However, there should be some legal status, and I hope the Minister of State will ensure through this Bill that people who pay their deposit and are entitled to have it returned get it back, because it is a major issue.

The rules for termination of tenancies, for example, are a legal minefield. The PRTB dispute resolution procedures are multi-layered and in many cases do not facilitate prompt outcomes.

This is frustrating for landlords if there is non-payment of rent by tenants or if landlords want to repossess rented premises. It is also frustrating for tenants whose deposits have been unlawfully withheld by the landlords.

The demand on the Private Residential Tenancies Board dispute resolution service has grown significantly in recent years, creating further pressures on stretched resources. Landlords and tenants need a legal system that is user-friendly together with an efficient mechanism for resolving disputes. I am aware that 2010 and 2011 were challenging years for the dispute resolution service with the unprecedented increase in the number of applications with which it had to deal. There was a 20% increase in the number of complaints it received in 2009 and more recently, on 6 February, it was reported that complaints to the Private Residential Tenancies Board had risen by 25%. There is probably a need for more resources and staff and for decisions to be made more quickly.

I welcome the fact the Bill is before the House. The Minister of State is a reasonable person and she very much understands what is happening on the ground in the rental market. I expect on Committee Stage she will accept amendments from this side of the House and I am sure she will bring forward some amendments on foot of contributions that have been made to make the Bill even more user-friendly, more appropriate and more relevant to the system than what pertains at present.

I ask the Minister of State to indicate the discussions she has had or intends to have with NAMA between now and the forthcoming budget to ensure vacant houses that are locked up but which are ready to be lived in and which could become available quickly are made available and to ensure NAMA moves on in this respect. I would cite one example in this context. Enniscorthy Town Council was buying houses from a developer whose loans were acquired by NAMA. Because of the roadblocks the agency has put in the way of the council, the council has decided not to purchase them but to lease houses instead. That was because it could not get co-operation, good, bad or indifferent, from NAMA.

The next speaker is Deputy Connaughton who is sharing his time with Deputies Fitzpatrick and Dara Murphy. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Its provisions seek to improve the regulation of tenant-landlord relationships by improving the dispute resolution service provided by the Private Residential Tenancies Board and also, for the first time, to bring the voluntary and co-operative housing sector within the board's remit.

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of tenants renting from housing associations, non-profit organisations that provide housing for those in need at affordable rent levels. There is an important distinction between voluntary housing associations and housing co-operatives in that the voluntary associations are non-profit organisations while the housing co-operatives are jointly owned by members or user associations or societies.

There are 700 voluntary and co-operative bodies with approved housing body status in the State and, of these, 443 have completed at least one project to date. In total, this sector accounts for 25,363 housing units. The number of the tenants who come under the umbrella of the sector is very significant. Previously, if a dispute arose, the only avenue open to either the landlord or the tenant in the voluntary and co-operative sector was the courts, which are costly, especially when one considers that the tenants involved are mainly social housing tenants and those in receipt of social welfare benefits.

An important element of the Bill is the security of tenure provisions which ensure tenants under the Act will have a right to a four-year tenancy. The provisions of this Bill will also give them access to the PRTB dispute resolution service, which is also available to the housing bodies involved. The inclusion of this sector in the Bill will no doubt result in an increased workload for the PRTB, but this will be offset by increased income. The registration fee for a tenancy currently stands at €90 per tenancy.

I note that the Minister of State intends to deal with a number of very important issues at a future date. For example, the Bill does not deal with tenants who are in arrears, and this is a growing problem. Two years ago, almost one third of all disputes referred to the PRTB related to rent arrears, up from 23% a year earlier. It is little wonder, given the difficulties with land tenure and other such issues, that Irish legislation was framed in favour of the tenant over the landlord, but in recent times some tenants have sought to take advantage of the system. Current provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 stated a tenancy may not be terminated pending the determination of a dispute, but these disputes often take well over a year to determine, creating considerable difficulties for landlords. I understand a number of options are being considered in regard to this matter and I believe a resolution to this difficult question should be brought forward as soon as possible.

The other matter which is causing considerable difficulty to both tenants and landlords is the issue of deposits. I note that more than 70% of complaints to the PRTB in recent years relate to deposits. I believe the Minister of State is to consider the findings of a report on the subject commissioned by the PRTB and due out later this year. This report may include amendments to the current Bill and may recommend the establishment of a deposit protection scheme whereby a third party would hold the deposits and adjudicate on disputes in regard to deposits. Given the significant difficulties the return of deposits is causing, it would appear that having a third party adjudicate on deposits would be a commonsensical approach to this issue. Each year I am contacted by many students and their families caught up in the very difficult situation where deposits are withheld, and the situation can reach a stalemate very quickly.

I note that deposit protection schemes have been introduced in England and Wales, with three independent government approved schemes available. Those schemes appear to be working well with a low level of problems. The success of the schemes in those countries is borne out by the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland now appear to be able to follow suit.

I also note the success of a scheme in New Zealand where many problems are resolved by mediation in the local tenancy services centre, while tenants and landlords have the option of taking the matter further to the tenancy tribunal for a court hearing if the matter is not resolved by mediation. In New Zealand, 82% of bonds or deposits are refunded and 72% of disputes are resolved out of court. The system adopted in New Zealand appears to be a very commonsensical approach and one that would work well if replicated in Ireland.

This Bill aims to reduce delays in the current dispute resolution service for the PRTB and also brings the voluntary and co-operative sector within the remit of the board. I believe both measures are prudent and will result in a greater protection for tenants and landlords, be they in the private, voluntary or co-operative sectors.

Before I call the next speaker, I advise for the information of the House that Deputy Feighan will have a speaking slot after Deputy Dara Murphy. Is that agreed? Agreed. I call Deputy Fitzpatrick.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Bill. It was published in July and will amend certain provisions of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2009 which govern the private rental sector as well as the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB.

One of the PRTB's most important functions is the provision of a dispute resolution service which mediates disagreements between landlords and tenants, outside of the court system. The largest category of cases referred by landlords to the PRTB relates to rent arrears, 31% in 2010, while most cases referred by tenants relate to deposit retention, 72% in 2010. Both these issues are particularly serious. In the former case there is additional pressure on genuine landlords collecting rent. It is particularly stressful and financially worrying if rents are not forthcoming with the potential and added pressure of banks screaming at them for loan repayments. For tenants, the failure to have their deposits rightfully refunded can prevent genuine tenants securing new residences. In both cases the victims need support. In my constituency office in Dundalk, I have met numerous people who can relate to what I have said. There is a need for legislation to address these issues and what is proposed is a positive step.

Increasing demands have been placed on the dispute resolution service in recent years. This has resulted in determination orders taking as long as eight months to be delivered. This is hardly acceptable and would be frustrating for either party in the examples mentioned.

One of the Bill's main aims is to speed up the dispute resolution service provided by the PRTB. As is often the case with good law, those abiding by it have little to fear. However, any party being treated in an unjust manner can benefit.

Other components of the Bill include the regulation under the Residential Tenancies Act of those tenancies in the voluntary and co-operative housing sector that most closely parallel private rented tenancies. This will give tenants in the voluntary and co-operative sector the same rights as tenants in the private sector. The agency responsible for regulation of the tenant-landlord relationship, the Private Residential Tenancies Board, is to be re-named the Residential Tenancies Board.

Formal effect is given to the merger of the rent tribunal with the Private Residential Tenancies Board and the size of the board will be reduced from 15 members to 12. The Bill also includes measures to increase the take-up of mediation as a key dispute resolution mechanism. The Bill will strengthen the system of tenant-landlord legislation. It is welcome, and should improve the speed with which disputes are resolved. As a consequence, I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to speak on it. I compliment the Minister of State who is doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances and with a difficult economic background. The mind boggles to hear one of the Fianna Fáil contributors, Deputy Browne, moaning and giving out about the fact more money is not available to the Minister of State to spend on building new housing. We all know that Fianna Fáil destroyed our international reputation, our economy and confidence in politics. In particular Fianna Fáil in its 14 years in government wreaked havoc on everything to do with housing in the State. For a Fianna Fáil Deputy to make the point he did is nothing short of outrageous and shows brass neck. The other Fianna Fáil contributor was particularly measured in his comments.

We all welcome the Bill, especially how it reforms the landlord and tenant regulatory environment. There is benefit on both sides, particularly for the tenant. The area of dispute mediation has been addressed, and a particular area of concern is the illegal retention of deposits. It is not in all cases that the retention of the deposit is illegal. The black economy will be tackled in some fashion with the new legislation, although not completely, and it is an area which still causes concern particularly to the honourable members of the industry who are compliant. Perhaps further work could follow in this regard. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of it.

The context of the Bill is also very important. We are now seeing, perhaps not necessarily because people want to move towards a reduction in the total home ownership in the country, that more people in the State are moving towards a landlord-tenant arrangement which is more normal in Europe. There is certainly potential for people to have successful and long relationships with landlords. Of course, it is crucial it is voluntary rather than an economic necessity.

I compliment voluntary housing agencies on the work they do. I was a member of a local authority and sometimes it was difficult to deal with them and some of the procedures they undertook, but I would like to be more positive and focus on agencies such as Threshold, Clúid, Respond!, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Simon and the great work they do.

Although it is not specifically in the Bill, the Minister of State referred to the area of anti-social behaviour. There will be benefits to landlords with regard to non-payment of rent, and the Bill deals specifically with the relationship between a landlord and a tenant. However, it does not take into account the third parties who are the neighbours of rented accommodation. We need to strengthen the legislation with respect to how anti-social behaviour is treated. We need to shift the emphasis away from a point where a landlord is happy to take rent from a tenant who engages in anti-social behaviour. The voices of the neighbours and people living adjacent to these properties need to be heard in far greater volume. I know it has been mentioned and that the Minister of State intends to pursue it.

Cork Institute of Technology and University College Cork are in my constituency and many of the properties there are owned by landlords who live remote from the areas. I fully respect that families and people who wish to establish their homes need to be protected and that eviction would cause difficulty for them because they would need to find alternative accommodation. I am not so sympathetic when it comes to students who stay for only a number of months. I stress it is a tiny minority of students who engage in anti-social behaviour. However they can cause huge discomfort. The shortness of the term of their tenancy gives rise to an even greater sense that there will not be repercussions for their actions. I urge the Minister of State to continue on the path she is going. Every Member of the House and every local authority member in the country is aware that local authorities pursue a policy of not moving or transferring victims of anti-social behaviour but rather removing the problem. While some progress has been made, the reality is that the causes of anti-social behaviour remain in too many cases, which gives rise to a significant number of people requesting transfers. If we can address anti-social behaviour, it would reduce the desire of people to move.

I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill to the House. The Bill has many aspects which are very welcome. Since the foundation of the State we have had a love affair with owning our own property and home. Perhaps it came from colonialism. It certainly had a very positive effect, but in recent years it has had a very negative effect. We were not very familiar with renting, but since the downturn and the property crash, many people are very disappointed that they wanted to own their own home. Many are in negative equity. The Bill is very welcome because given the downturn in the property market, many people will aspire to lease. Over the years people have been very concerned, especially those with children, that they could be thrown out of their house and everyone has heard horror stories about landlords. Much has been done in the past 20 or 30 years to give tenants rights. The Bill is the result of much consultation. We are trying to get the balance right between landlords and tenants. Many years ago the landlord had total power and could almost walk into a flat and tell a tenant to leave, but things have changed.

When I look at websites such as www.daft.ie and www.myhome.ie, I see many landlords do not want tenants with rent supplement. I am concerned this will disenfranchise people and those on rent supplement will be discriminated against. I am sure the Minister of State will have something to say about this. I was a landlord and I would like to think I was quite good one. There were times when I showed much leniency and other times when I got taken for granted, but nothing happened that was a serious offence.

While the third parties may take their 10%, they provide a valuable service for those who might not be professional or full-time letting agents. They hold the deposit on a professional basis and they act as a good go-between for the tenant and landlord.

I have one or two issues. As we all have mobile telephones or cameras, when somebody moves into an apartment, it is a good ideas to take photographs of everything - the kitchen, the carpets, the sofas, etc. This provides a permanent record that can work between the tenant and the landlord to ensure there is no dispute where, for instance, something is missing or damaged. When somebody rents an apartment or house for two or three years, there will be wear and tear that should be taken into consideration, but wear and tear as a result of a party is not the wear and tear on which they agreed.

I would welcome the deposit protection scheme. I note there are many other issues that need to be dealt with regarding the provisions that would come under emergency accommodation and licensees in properties not let as self-contained residential units. It is wise to seek further consultation on these. Effectively, they would involve amendments on Committee Stage.

As I stated, much has been done. There are those on both sides who will abuse the law and the Bill clarifies difficulties. We have come a long way. I have noted, especially in Dublin and perhaps throughout the country, that there are many people coming to live in this country, from Russia, Poland or wherever, who might not be familiar with the customs of the Irish or might be taken advantage of, or the reverse. The Bill brings into consideration the many issues at stake and regularises many matters. I thank the Minister of State for that.

Deputies McLellan and Crowe are sharing time.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is important as it should, at least in theory, protect all those in the rental housing accommodation sector. As it stands, however, it fails to achieve this aim in many key respects. Sinn Féin is of the view that this is a weak Bill and that it is best described as more of an exercise in window dressing than a serious effort to deal with the issues and concerns of tenants. We will be supporting it, however, as we feel it is an important step in the process of safeguarding the rights of tenants in Ireland. That said, we will submit a number of amendments to the Bill to which we hope the Government will give serious consideration.

For example, the Bill excludes large numbers of tenants who live in housing provided by approved housing bodies, AHB. Indeed, Focus Ireland is of the view that the proposed legislation goes even further in that it excludes all tenants where any member of the household is in receipt of any form of HSE-funded care. Essentially, this means that AHB tenants will be excluded from the provision in the Bill that affords tenants security of tenure after six months. In response, Focus Ireland has suggested that the Bill should only exclude short-term emergency hostel-type situations and that multiple short-term licences should not be used to deprive a tenant of his or her rights. Sinn Féin agrees with the Focus Ireland position and we will seek amendments accordingly.

Our concerns do not end there. For example, Sinn Féin is also concerned that local authority tenants are excluded entirely from any protections that the Bill might afford them. We are not of the view that local authorities or, for that matter, approved housing bodies, automatically make good landlords. Even if they are in some instances more reliable than the private market, this in itself is not sufficient grounds for not offering local authority tenants the support and protection of the Private Residential Tenancies Board. Indeed, it is quite reasonable to suggest that inclusion of such tenants in the Bill would serve to strengthen co-operation between local authorities and tenants in dealing with problems and that the Private Residential Tenancies Board would in this way provide both groups with an important supporting role.

It is important to emphasise that the exclusion of local authority tenants from the Bill is in direct contradiction of the Government's housing policy statement from 2011. This statement promised that there would be no hierarchy of tenure. Ironically, in less than a year, it would appear that the Government has chosen to disregard this promise and to go down the route of institutionalising the same hierarchy which it promised would not happen under its watch. Sinn Féin is not in favour of this hierarchy and of the exclusion of local authority tenants from the Private Residential Tenancies Board. We will submit amendments in an effort to rectify this issue.

It is also important to highlight the Private Residential Tenancies Board's role in helping to deal with incidents of anti-social behaviour, and to mention its potential role in ensuring better conditions for people on rent supplement. It is important to state that the Private Residential Tenancies Board is dependent on Government support and funding to carry out its remit efficiently and in a timely manner. In this sense, it is vital the board has adequate staffing levels and increased funding.

I reiterate that Sinn Féin supports this Bill. However, it is a weak Bill and, therefore, we will submit substantive amendments which we hope will find cross-party support.

Like many of my Sinn Féin colleagues, I believe this Bill is timely and important. It is important that tenants in accommodation provided by approved housing bodies, which in my time on a local authority would have been known as housing associations, have broadly similar rights to tenants in the private rented sector. My background was as a councillor for a number of years, and I suppose anyone who has been in public life has faced difficulties down through the years in this area.

I agree with my colleague. There are large gaps that could be filled in the Bill. I hope that these changes can be made to the Bill to ensure an important opportunity to strengthen the rights of tenants is not missed. We will probably only get one opportunity in this area in the lifetime of the Dáil and we all want to see stronger rights in this area, not only for tenants but also for landlords. I think we all would accept that there is much inequity in the system.

Others spoke about the high rate of house ownership in Ireland compared with other European countries. In Ireland, home ownership has always been seen as important. People talk about getting on the property ladder and there was the madness in which people were encouraged to participate. However, it also had to do with lack of security of tenure for tenants. I do not know of the experience of the rest of Members in this House, but anyone of my generation who stayed in rented accommodation will have known about the kips and dumps. One wonders how they got away with renting such accommodation and how there were no checks on safety, mould growing on walls, etc. I suppose we were young and foolish and one did not have an alternative.

We want to see this process creating a suitable rental market and legal protection to provide sufficiently for the everyday needs of ordinary working people. Irish life is changing due to the collapse of the property market and the difficulty in getting credit from financial institutions. Those who would have wanted to leave the rental market and buy a property are now remaining as rent-paying tenants. This is driving up the demand for rental properties but the supply of such properties remains the same. At one stage, 44,000 houses were being built per annum whereas figures released the other day showed 4,000 houses being built this year.

As elected representatives, we hear from constituents that while rents are rising, supports are declining. Not a week goes by but that a young couple comes in to complain that a landlord will not agree to reduce the rent and this creates uncertainty. While this matter is not covered by the Bill before us and it is a question for another Minister, it is nonetheless a crisis. I accept that the depletion of social housing stock is down to previous governments, but the current Government will say it is because of the economic crisis. Disastrous and ill-thought out policies have left tenants with poor rights compared to landlords, which is why this Bill to protect tenants' rights is so important and timely.

A positive measure in the legislation is the inclusion of some approved housing bodies or AHBs. Housing bodies are an extremely important element of the system because they provide housing tailored to specific sections of those in need. Without housing bodies, such as Focus Ireland, Respond, Sonas and many more, we would be in a much more difficult situation. Some housing associations are really good at dealing with elected representatives, while others are not. Such bodies should respond to elected representatives on such matters.

A significant gap in this Bill is that some tenants in housing provided by approved housing bodies are excluded from the remit of the Private Residential Tenancies Board. They include tenants in receipt of medical care, personal care services and other assistance from the HSE. I urge the Minister to examine this area because vulnerable tenants who would benefit from the PRTB's services and support will be excluded from its remit. The Bill should clearly state which groups are excluded from the board's remit. They are groups such as those in short-term emergency hostel accommodation and high-support residential care, having due regard for mental capacity legislation. Does the Bill cover people in sheltered accommodation or those in Alone housing? Perhaps the Minister could clarify that point.

Local authority tenants are entirely excluded from the terms of the Bill. However, if the Bill is aimed at providing the PRTB's services to as many tenants as possible who need them, why does the legislation exclude so many tenants in local authority housing from the board's remit? I do not believe the general idea of local authority or AHBs as being good landlords, who are more reliable than the private market, is sufficient excuse not to offer tenants the support of the PRTB. Some local authorities' accommodation is not up to standard, yet they seem to be outside many of the positive changes concerning rented accommodation. That aspect also needs to be considered.

Previous speakers referred to the problem of bad tenants. I spoke to one landlord who said a tenant owed eight months' rent. He eventually got her out of the house but she moved to another house. I have spoken to community welfare officers about difficult tenants, but they cannot advise landlords or keep data. We are actually rewarding some bad tenants by moving them from one house to another, although houses may be smashed up. It is crazy that taxpayers have to pay for this type of behaviour. The current system is wrong and needs to be re-examined.

Other speakers referred to next door neighbours reporting bad behaviour, including that of students. People from all walks of life can be bad tenants, not just students. If someone is being intimidated, it is difficult for me as an elected representative to contact the PRTB to explain what is going on. It is not an option for me, so we need to re-examine that matter. Some of us raised this gap in services at a recent meeting of the policing board. In addition, people have to go through many avenues in order to deal with anti-social noise. The biggest problem with the board is the length of time it takes to get through. When PRTB representatives visited meetings in my own local authority area, they said it was down to a lack of resources. The majority of cases involved people ringing up about anti-social behaviour. However, when such behaviour is reported it can go back and forth and may take 12 months to deal with. Meanwhile, the poor unfortunate person who has reported the matter is being intimidated.

In some cases, serious characters may be involved in drug dealing and other criminality, so people are being put in a difficult position. It would be better if such complaints could be funnelled through elected representatives. For example, if someone in rented accommodation, who gets money from the community welfare officer, is partying day and night there could be a reporting mechanism to cope with the problem. It is scandalous that people must put up with this. They may be getting old and have put their life savings into accommodation, but if a disastrous tenant moves in next door, they must live with the consequences.

I have dealt with cases involving a poor response from housing associations. On one occasion, there was a crack house and people were terrified that if they reported it they would be found out. It is hard to organise and mobilise people concerning such difficulties because they will not make a complaint. They would do so in local authority housing because there is a distance involved and they go through housing officers. Difficulties have also arisen with using the confidential telephone line.

Most of the problems concerning the PRTB arise from non-refunded deposits, so we should come up with sensible solutions for dealing with this issue. If we can solve that matter it may free up other areas.

Not all landlords have signed up to the PRTB system. Is there a mechanism to encourage local representatives and authorities to provide such information? I dealt with the case of an elderly woman whose marriage broke up. The family home was sold and she moved to rented accommodation, but she ran out of money. She was staying in what I can only describe as a garden shed. On many occasions, she asked the landlord to repair the door as she was terrified that people would get in.

However, he would not do it. It came to the point where she had no money and so she sought rental subsidy. However, the attitude was it would not be worth the landlord's while to avail of it and, consequently, she was out on her ear. There are many bad cases and, unfortunately, as elected representatives, Members hear many of the bad cases and do not hear of the good landlords. I recall visiting one elderly couple who had invested in a house in an area. They showed me the state of the house, which had holes in walls, wardrobes kicked in and cigarette burns inside the wardrobe - I do not know what was going on in that regard. Again, this was a brand new house and the couple had told the woman who rented it that she should treat it as though it were her own. I do not know what type of home she came from.

While I acknowledge I am all over the place on this subject, it is one of the issues about which I could talk all night. Moreover, it is the single issue about which all elected representatives are concerned. There is an opportunity to get this right and if Members put forward positive proposals to strengthen this area, the Minister of State should look sympathetically on them. I wish her well with the Bill's passage through the House and note Sinn Féin is supportive of many of its provisions. It needs to be expanded into other areas and I am concerned that Members will only get one bite of the cherry with regard to this legislation. Consequently, it is about balance as this Bill can have huge implications for people's lives. Many people to whom I have spoken are getting older and have seen their lives and communities being transformed. For example, the area in which I live has experienced a huge amount of change over the past ten years with regard to rented accommodation and so on. While much change has been positive, much of it has also been negative. It is about issues such as not repairing households, gutters hanging down, the grass not cut, the bins not being left out and so on. Many things can be considered to bring about positive changes in people's lives and to bring balance to the Bill.

I will briefly echo the point made by Deputy Crowe. While I do not believe it necessarily can be dealt with in this Bill, a small minority of tenants create a huge amount of damage to communities throughout the city and country. I do not expect this Bill to address that but it is worth a conversation at a later stage with the Minister of State, to which Members can bring all their experience. The Minister of State probably has seen the same effect in her own locality and there is very little legislation in this regard to protect communities. I grew up in a community that had a long history of rental accommodation. It was not too far from Trinity College and there was a great mixture of rented accommodation, both private and local authority, and purchased dwellings. The mix was there and it made for a fantastic, vibrant community that worked well and in which people knew one another. Perhaps, as we develop through regulation and reform, we may get back to the kind of system that obtained in the early 1960s, when communities were strong and no one was stigmatised for only renting, as everyone was part of that community.

I acknowledge this issue is not what the Bill before Members is addressing and I will revert briefly to the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. The not-for-profit voluntary co-operative housing sector provides thousands of homes for families across Ireland. The voluntary housing sector is the uncelebrated success of social housing in Ireland and I commend the Minister of State on filling what has been a gap in the legislation and in regulation and on bringing forward the new residential tenancies board. While the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, did some good, opportunities now arise in this regard. There are approximately 700 approved housing bodies in Ireland and I have worked with many of them in my constituency. I found both the members of the board and the people who worked with them to be dedicated people who worked hard for the public good. Moreover, to be honest, I had very few complaints and found them very good at managing it. However, this Bill achieves a common good in conferring on tenants of such bodies the same rights that are given to private renters. This is both welcome and long overdue as is something that I worked on as a local councillor, as have Deputies Crowe and Dowds. At present, the only avenue for dispute resolution is the courts, which is far beyond the financial reach of tenants in this type of social housing. The Bill confirms their security of tenure, which is a crucial right for this type of housing. The knowledge that one cannot be evicted from one's home provides a level of comfort to long-term tenants and protects the roof over their heads. I suggest the provision for a four-year tenancy be increased to ten years at least as there is a need for security of tenure.

Over the next few years, as capital expenditure by the Government on building new social houses will be limited, the approved housing bodies, because they can raise finances off-book, probably will be the only show in town and there will be further development of the voluntary housing system, which I certainly would welcome. The reform regulation in this Bill is welcome. There always can be improvement and one should listen attentively to such suggestions, regardless of the area of the Chamber from which they come. I also will have some suggestions to make as this Bill progresses through the House. I ask the Minister of State to be conscious of the often-limited means of the approved housing bodies, which operate on tight budgets. Moreover, the Minister of State should seek to keep the registration fees as low as possible to recognise that associations charge low rents and I reiterate these are non-profit-making bodies. The Minister of State is aware of the concerns in respect of ensuring the fees payable to the residential tenancies board will be at as low a level as those charged to private landlords.

The second issue, which was raised by Deputy Kitt earlier, concerns deposits and I believe a tenant deposit protection scheme is badly needed. The issue has long caused havoc in the sector and 43% of the disputes dealt with by the PRTB in 2010 were related to deposits. Organisations such as Threshold and the Union of Students in Ireland have long called for such a scheme. Moreover, there are successful examples in Britain on which we could model our own scheme. I note the Minister has received the Indecon report, which outlines a number of options in this regard. It is of crucial importance to provide certainty on this issue and to deliver on the commitments in the programme for Government. The aforementioned report indicates there would be an initial cost associated with such a scheme. However, I believe the long-term good would bring long-term savings. It would provide certainty to renters and ensuring that landlords are registered with the PRTB would provide legal clarity and would, over time, reduce the burden on the PRTB. In parallel with this, landlords must be given a mechanism to deal with rent arrears, anti-social behaviour and so on. Many landlords, who are portrayed in the media as being evil money-grabbers, work hard, perceive this to be a business or part of their pension and do not necessarily wish to try to exploit tenants. While the Indecon report noted the requirement to undertake management and administration of such a scheme, it could be done by the private sector. This is being done successfully by the private sector and Members should consider the recommendations in the Indecon report. I ask the Minister of State to start to build on that possibility of developing tenant deposit protection. I refer to the number of renters who have been exploited, with the collapse of the housing market. People today are more keen on renting for longer periods and one must recognise the market in Ireland has changed enormously. More people are staying as tenants for longer and their rights must be secured. I hope that the Minister of State will in due course address the deposit protection scheme.

In the first instance, I wish to express my support for this Bill and I am glad the Minister of State recognises there are other provisions that need to be added to this legislation because much of the rest of my speech will be along the lines of the points made by Deputy Crowe, which perhaps is not surprising given that I represent a neighbouring constituency. I must begin by expressing my extreme frustration with the operation of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB. As a public representative I have been obliged to deal with this body on a number of fronts but in particular when dealing with severe cases of anti-social behaviour on the part of problem tenants.

Most tenants in private rented accommodation are perfectly decent people who get on with their lives in peace but there is a small minority of tenants who cause a great deal of trouble for neighbours, either other tenants or owner-occupiers. The nature of the trouble caused varies a great deal from excessive noise and late-night parties to personal intimidation, drug dealing and violence at the more extreme end. These issues require intervention from the Garda and the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB. In dangerous cases, residents may be fearful of complaining to the PRTB because of possible retaliation. It would be very useful if complaints could be made through an intermediary such as a public representative or county council official, for example.

I will briefly refer to a meeting attended by Deputy Crowe and I that was mentioned by the Deputy. He would agree that every elected representative at that meeting was severely critical of the operation of the PRTB in the South Dublin County Council area. My experience and that of others is that the PRTB has been almost entirely ineffective in certain cases, and given that so many people now live in private rented property, it is vital that the issue be tackled. On the other side of the coin is the problem that landlords have if there is an anti-social tenant who withholds rent or damages a house. It takes far too long to remove such people from premises, with such cases often leading to serious losses accruing for a landlord through damage to property and the integrity of a housing estate.

It should also be mentioned that the approach to providing social accommodation has become deeply unsatisfactory and is badly in need of reform along the lines of council-built accommodation and a system where builders constructing private homes also build some to be rented through a county council. I approve of the provision that dwellings rented by approved housing bodies to social housing tenants will come within the Bill's remit. I also agree that tenants in approved housing body dwellings should not sub-let properties.

I would be interested in the Minister of State outlining, in her reply to the debate, how effective the PRTB mediation service has been. That would give some idea of how it works. I ask this because such cases may not come to the attention of public representatives and I would not be very familiar with how they work in practice. As a broad principle, mediation is a good idea and should be used to the fullest extent possible. It is interesting that with the complaints coming before the PRTB, few come from third parties; this ties to my earlier complaint as in severe cases, third parties are afraid to progress with a complaint. I have even witnessed cases where people wanting to make a complaint have gone to great lengths to ensure that nobody could recognise them even going into a county council building, for example.

On the operation of the PRTB to date, what proportion of rental housing is properly registered and what is being done to ensure non-compliant landlords become compliant? I am pleased to see that the PRTB has followed up 40,000 unregistered landlords, which is a positive development. Nevertheless, it is disappointing to hear that the PRTB has only secured 14 convictions for non-registration of tenancies. I am glad to see the Minister of State's concern and action in dealing with the abuse of rental deposits, which has been a long-running issue for many people who have moved from rented accommodation, such as students. I commend the Union of Students in Ireland for its persistence in highlighting this as an issue that must be tackled. An aspect of the private rental sector that is not sufficiently enforced is the obligation on tenants to maintain the outward appearance of their dwelling. In this regard a council has a role that could be played, although it rarely seems willing to play it. Far too often private rented houses can be easily picked out in an estate by the untidy or unkempt appearance.

I also highlight the serious problem of under-the-table payments of rents, which must be addressed. I appreciate this topic goes well beyond the contents of this Bill but we should keep it to the fore. Too many tenants are being forced into serious poverty simply to keep landlords in a position where they can continue to pay expensive mortgages; an expensive mortgage is not the fault of a tenant.

I have no real problem with the Bill but there are two serious issues to be tackled. One is a need for a community to remove seriously disruptive and intimidating tenants from its midst and the second is the need for landlords to be able to remove very unsatisfactory tenants from a property in a short time if there are no signs of co-operation from the tenants.

I thank the previous contributors for their comments. I should somewhat sheepishly declare to the House, in light of the comments of Deputy Dowds, that I worked as an adjudicator for the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, for a number of years before being elected to this House. Arising from that experience there are some recommendations I would like to make to the Minister of State. I do not intend to go over what Deputy Dowds has said except to concur with his observations about the frustrations of the PRTB and its adequacies. As inadequate as it is, it is a marked improvement on what went beforehand. Although it may not provide the haste of the District Court proceedings, it does not provide the equivalent cost in many instances.

I will focus on standards of private rented accommodation, as mentioned by Deputy Crowe. I thank the Minister of State for a timely response to a parliamentary question which I received today. It states:

Minimum standards for rental accommodation are prescribed in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2008, made under section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992. All landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that their rented properties comply with these regulations. Responsibility for enforcing the regulations rests with the relevant local authority, supported by a dedicated stream of funding allocated by my Department from the moneys set aside from the registration fees income received under section 137 of the Residential Tenancies Act and held by the Private Rented Tenancies Board, PRTB, in a fiduciary capacity.

A revised ministerial direction on 7 July 2010 directed that four fifths of the proceeds of any fees should be used to defray the expenses of the board in the performance of its functions and one fifth should be transferred by the board to local authorities for the purpose of the performance of their functions under the Housing Acts regarding private rented accommodation.

That is the issue on which I would like to focus in the limited time available. There is a disconnect between the PRTB and local authorities.

Deputy Crowe mentioned inadequate housing in his contribution and my colleagues have also indicated that, unfortunately, inadequate housing is not a thing of the past. While sitting as an adjudicator on the board, I was shocked by the antics of some tenants and landlords, as one might expect, but there were a couple of cases that shook me. These included a case where rent supplement was being paid by the State for a property that was little more than a hovel. There was mould growing and it was entirely inadequate for the needs of the person renting it. My judgment was based on photographs, and it is easy to dispute such evidence. The inspection facilities available to adjudicators or the PRTB are very limited.

The Deputy will have two minutes remaining to speak when the debate resumes tomorrow.

Debate adjourned.