Residential Tenancies (Housing Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) (Amendment) Bill 2016: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004; to lessen the effects of the housing, rental and homelessness emergency for the common good; to establish a fair rent scheme; to promote affordable rents and increased security of tenure for tenants in designated fair rent areas and to provide for related matters.

Molaim an An Bille um Thionóntachtaí Cónaithe (Bearta Tithíochta Éigeandála ar mhaithe le Leas an Phobail) (Leasú) 2016 don Dáil. I want to highlight the main points and purpose of the Bill. Whatever happens today with the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney’s, Bill the issue of rents, the condition of tenants living in the private rental sector and the housing crisis in general will not be dealt with by this Government or its Fianna Fáil subsidiary. It cannot be, given that the only solution they have is the market and an ideologically driven reliance on, faith in and intimate connections with developers and landlords. Therefore the crisis will grow. The uncertainty and injustice of homelessness and rising and unaffordable rents will continue.

The Bill's title refers to housing emergency measures in the public interest, HEMPI. It is deliberately playing on the previous Government's Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2015, known as FEMPI. It is so called to draw a direct parallel with the FEMPI legislation, the longest emergency legislation measure in the history of the State since the Second World War. It continues to be used against public sector workers.

While my Bill does not purport to be a final answer or complete the jigsaw, it seeks to do two simple things and to show that, with political will, both are possible and eminently sensible. It would, in designated areas, reduce rents to the levels at the end of 2011. This would give immediate relief and breathing space to thousands of tenants, who are spending 50% and more of their disposable incomes on keeping a roof over their heads. In constitutional language, it is a just, rational and proportionate measure.

Wages, the consumer price index, CPI, and average earnings have not increased by the degree to which rents have since 2011. The estimated cumulative CPI increase since 2011 is approximately 3.1%. During this time, average rents have not risen nationwide by 3.1% but by a great deal more. According to one estimate, rents in parts of Dublin have increased by 60% during this time. In comparison, wages have stagnated or fallen as taxes, universal social charge, USC, and cuts to pay off bankers' debts where placed on the shoulders of ordinary people and workers.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, their legal advisers and the army of commentators and economists may swoon at the prospect of actually reducing rents. However, the Bill shows it is perfectly possible, within the Constitution, to seek to interfere with property rights when faced with a housing crisis of this scale. This Bill is, in essence, a replica of the logic and argument used by those parties when pushing FEMPI. There is an emergency. It requires emergency measures for the public good and in the interest of social justice.

When FEMPI was introduced the banks were in crisis and measures were implemented to place the burden for the recklessness and greed of a few on the backs of the many. As a direct result of that crisis we inherited a housing crisis of enormous proportions. The Bill simply recognises that there is now an even greater emergency and outlines steps to reduce rents and stop the grounds for landlords terminating any tenancies while the emergency continues.

To those who say it is unconstitutional, I say it is not. It is as robust constitutionally as the FEMPI legislation. It provides for reviews and mechanisms for submission and, even at its most restrictive, allows for returns to landlords to ensure the viability of their rental properties. It will stop the obscene profiteering at the expense of ordinary people by one section of society, namely, the landlord and corporate sector. It is unacceptable that people face economic eviction and live in terror of the next rent rise while, for example, Green REIT boasts a 17% return and a profit of €150 million, and this situation will be challenged by the Bill. Restrictions will be placed on the right of landlords to cite a multitude of grounds in terminating a lease, not the obvious grounds of non-payment of rent or anti-social behaviour, but the host of other reasons they use. These include the sale of a dwelling in order to move a family member into the property, change in the use of a property or renovation. In proposing the Bill, we show that we do not accept that tenants can be thrown out on the side of the road in the middle of the State's worst housing crisis. In 2011, the average rent in Dublin city was €1,010 per month; at the end of this year, it has hit €1,575. This is only the average. The Bill is a modest proposal that will see rent set at about €1,050 with a margin of 5%, which will allow for renovations etc. The hysteric claims of some that landlords will flee the country or that the rental sector will be devastated are nonsense. I commend the Bill to the Dáil.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.