Private Rental Sector Standards: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes, with alarm, the revelations regarding breaches of minimum standards in the private rental sector contained in last weeks RTÉ Investigates documentary ‘Nightmare to Let’;

further notes that:

— in 2016 only four per cent of private rental properties were inspected by local authorities;

— in 2016 two thirds of inspected properties were not compliant with minimum standards regulations;

— local authorities have failed to adequately enforce standards in the private rental sector;

— central government has failed to adequately resource local authorities to carry out their enforcement functions with respect to the private rental sector; and

— significant numbers of tenants continue to live in unacceptable and substandard private rented accommodation; and

calls for:

— the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to set out, as a matter of urgency, a plan for ensuring compliance with minimum standards regulations in the private rental sector;

— the Government to adequately resource local authorities, to ensure that a comprehensive inspection and enforcement regime is put in place;

— the Government to support the proposal by Threshold for an NCT-type certification system for private rented housing to further strengthen compliance with legal standards;

— the Government to review the penalties faced by landlords, to ensure adequate sanctions for those that fail to register tenancies or who fail to meet minimum standards; and

— the Government to publish an annual report detailing levels of private rental sector inspections and enforcement in each local authority.

Many people watching "Nightmare to Let" last week will have been shocked by what they saw. Barry O'Kelly and the "Prime Time Investigates" team deserve great credit for their programme. They exposed breaches of fire safety regulations which put tenants' lives at risk, they highlighted levels of overcrowding which many people assumed had vanished with the clearing of the tenements in the 1940s and 1950s, they detailed the failure of landlords to respond to requests for essential maintenance and repairs and, worst of all, they highlighted the failure of the State to enforce minimum standards and to protect tenants. According to the programme, last year only 4% of the 325,000 registered private rental tenancies were inspected. Two thirds of these were not compliant with minimum standards. In some instances, when breaches were brought to a local authority's attention, emails were not even opened or read.

Unfortunately, those of us who work on housing issues every day will not have been surprised by what we saw. Flagrant breaches of fire safety minimum standards in the private rental sector are unfortunately all too common. Levels of overcrowding in clear breach of the provisions of section 63 of the Housing Act 1966 are widespread and refusal to carry out basic maintenance is a regular complaint of tenants across the State. While a small number of local authorities have an acceptable level of inspections, the overwhelming majority do not. Last year, the National Oversight and Audit Commission report on the private rental sector made for some very stark reading. Some seven local authorities had inspection levels of less than 2%. Some five councils had inspection rates of between 2% and 4%, ten more had inspection rates of between 4% and 10%, while five councils had inspection rates of between 10% and 12%. Only four local authorities, which deserve mentioning, had rates of between 20% and 34%. They are Roscommon County Council, Monaghan County Council, Cavan County Council and South Dublin County Council. Of the 64 staff working in local authorities on private rental sector issues, a mere 29 were dealing directly with inspections of private rental properties in the year which the report surveyed.

If rogue landlords know that their chances of being inspected are less than 4%, and even less in some cases, of course abuses are bound to occur, especially in a housing market where supply is low, demand is rising and prices are high. However, it is important to acknowledge that local authorities should not shoulder all of the blame for the failure of the inspection and enforcement regime. They have seen levels of staff slashed by up to 30% since 2008. We all know that local authority housing departments are struggling to cope with an ever-deepening housing and homelessness crisis and ever-increasing demands on front-line staff time. Increasing the number of inspections to an adequate level will require additional resourcing from central government. If some councils can achieve inspection levels of 25% annually, that should be set as the target for all as a matter of urgency. Resourcing should not be an obstacle.

There is also a need to place greater responsibility on landlords for compliance with minimum standards. Vulnerable or lower income tenants are often too scared, as many of us know, to complain or raise concerns with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, or indeed with local authorities and HSE environmental health officers, for fear of losing their tenancy. Threshold, among others, has been arguing for an NCT-type certification system for landlords, which is absolutely vital if more vulnerable tenants are to be protected. It would mean that a property could not be rented out without an adequate compliance certificate. Like an NCT, this can be done in a very simple way and at low cost to landlords. Crucially, it could be done in a way which is cost-neutral to the State. Nobody should underestimate the impact that such a certification requirement on landlords would have on changing standards and culture at that end of the private rental sector. Crucially, it would also ensure that law-abiding and compliant landlords would not be undercut by rogue traders, so it should be something which landlords who abide by the rules should welcome just as much as tenants.

Questions also have to be asked about the levels and strength of enforcement of fire safety requirements and other minimum standards. My understanding of the current legislation is that fines of up to €5,000 or imprisonment for six months could be applied where a landlord fails to comply with an improvement notice or re-lets a house which has been served with a prohibition notice. However, there appears to be no sanction under legislation for the initial breaches themselves. As we saw in the "Prime Time Investigates" programme, a landlord who crams more than 60 people like sardines into a fire trap of rental accommodation, clearly putting their lives at risk and taking in tens of thousands of euro a week in rent, can avoid any sanction if he or she just complies with the improvement order or prohibition notice. That is almost an invitation for some people at the fringes of the rental market to break the law. It clearly needs to be reformed.

There needs to be a change and a comprehensive review of the sanctions and punishments for landlords who break the rules. We need to see a broader range of offences and punishments commensurate with the breaches. It should include the clear possibility of imprisonment for those landlords who wilfully put people's at risk, even as a first offence.

The "Nightmare to Let" programme was not just a reminder of the problems in the private rental sector, it was also a call to action. Tonight thousands of people, including children, will sleep in accommodation which is substandard, unsuitable and unsafe. What they want, and what they deserve, is action from every single Deputy in this House. They do not want us to turn the issue of private rental standards into a political football and they do not want us to use their plight to score political points. They want to know what we collectively are going to do to clear up the private rental sector; to ensure that all landlords are compliant in the areas of fire safety, overcrowding and minimum standards; and to make sure that those landlords who break the law will be caught, problems will be rectified and, if necessary, rogue landlords will be punished for their actions.

Sinn Féin's motion is an opportunity for all Members of this House to stand united, to put aside our political differences and to stand up for tenants. It calls on the Minister to set out, as a matter of urgency, a plan for ensuring full compliance with standards in the private rental sector. It calls for increased inspections, increased resources for local authorities, an NCT-type certification system for landlords, and a review of penalties for those who break the law. What stronger signal could we send out to both rogue landlords and to those living in substandard accommodation tonight than to speak with one single voice and call on the Government to act to ensure that all those living in the private rental sector have a safe and secure place to call home? If the Minister is willing to support this motion he will not only have our support but our active praise as he starts to make the changes which are required to ensure that nobody lives in the kind of rental accommodation we saw on our television screens in that "RTÉ Investigates" documentary last week.

I, like others, watched the footage on "Prime Time Investigates" last week in disgust, in horror, and then in anger. I was aghast, and ashamed in many ways, that anybody would cram humans into a home like they were sheep on the way to market. How could this happen again? Most of the properties on that programme were in Dublin south central, an area which is crying out for housing. There was not one, but four separate fire traps, three of which were owned by the one slum landlord. How could slum landlordism be thriving again in this city? In plying their greedy trade, these evil landlords are reminiscent of a bygone era. They exist, however, because this State and the political establishment allow them to. They exist and are basically encouraged to exist by a State which prefers property rights to the common good.

One should remember it is only a fortnight ago that members of the two big parties in this House voted against declaring a national housing emergency. The scenes we saw last week are all part of that crisis. The crisis is not just about social housing supply. It is as much about an improperly regulated rental market as it is about homelessness, social and affordable housing and private rental accommodation.

One of the immediate actions the Minister can take having watched the RTÉ programme is ensuring there is proper funding for Dublin Fire Brigade to carry out the inspections that will allow for the immediate closure of those buildings where people's lives are at risk. Second, a message needs to go out from this House to the scum landlords, such as Andrew O'Neill, who was highlighted in the programme, that those people who are involved in this type of overcrowding will not get away with it or walk away. The Revenue Commissioners should immediately serve them with notices or a tax demand for their ill-gotten rents. Also, the Criminal Assets Bureau should be brought in to seize their assets.

The Minister will recently have seen investigative journalism that produced a raw, unvarnished and factual account of the horrifying reality for thousands of tenants right across the State. I refer to thousands of tenants who are living in what can only be described as slum accommodation and grossly substandard accommodation. Many of us on the ground are more than familiar with these stories because we are speaking to and dealing with people in our clinics week in, week out. These are people who are forced to live in poor and totally unacceptable private rental accommodation. The only people who do not seem to be able to grasp that this is a reality for so many people are the Minister and the other members of the Government. One could not possibly be unaware of it. The only explanation is that the Minister does not have the will to deal with it in any meaningful way. He is not prepared to tackle it in any meaningful way.

Let us talk about the housing assistance payment, HAP. It is a means of forcing people on the housing list into private rental accommodation. Why? It is because the Government is not building social housing. When people are pushed into private rental accommodation, their names are removed from the housing waiting list. This is done to make the housing list look shorter. By doing so, the Government is subsidising landlords, including greedy slum landlords, with taxpayers' money. It is creating even more problems and solving nothing. Let us look at this. Under the Government's watch, not only are there people sleeping in doorways and along riverbanks but there are also people living in seriously substandard accommodation for which they are forced to pay through the teeth. They have no choice, however. The reason my party introduced this motion tonight was to try to push the Government to take action and ensure there is protection for tenants in private rental accommodation. It is to try to push the Government to provide funding and resources in order that inspections can be carried out and in order that one can ensure there is compliance and a minimum standard of regulation in the private rental sector. There is no protection at present.

What will it take? Up until now, the Government has not done anything. As I stated, it could not possibly have been unaware of the problem. It is about time, therefore, that it woke up to the reality faced by people living in private rental accommodation, not just in the winter months but all year round. There is nothing in this motion that anyone with a semblance of a social conscience would not support and commit to. It is action that we need and, in all fairness, no more of the Minister's defensive bullshit. We need action and support for this motion.

We all know from history the atrocious conditions of the 19th century that led to Victorian slums. We also know about the unscrupulous individuals and the conditions that led to the rise of Victorian slums and slum landlords: a housing shortage, overcrowding, homelessness leading to poor sanitary conditions, and the lack of tenants' rights. Shockingly, these factors are no different from those that have led to today's 21st century private rental slums and slum landlordism. Earlier this year, it was reported that one property management company in Dublin was renting a number of houses to up to 70 people at a time. Up to 15 people were living in some rooms. People were effectively squeezed into every available space. These slum dwellings — that is what they are — usually have some common characteristics: rooms filled with bunk beds, non-existent health and safety features, and fire hazards. Advantage is often taken of nationals from other countries and they are often preyed upon by the unscrupulous landlords. In many cases, tenants have no lease and pay their rent with cash in hand. Toilet and sanitary facilities are minimal or virtually non-existent. Many tenancies are unregistered. Most people who live in these atrocious conditions do so out of desperation and certainly not by choice. These dwellings comprise health and safety risks, particularly in the event of a fire. They lack proper light and ventilation. They almost certainly do not comply with the housing regulations of 2009. There are landlords who comply with housing regulations and provide good-quality accommodation for their tenants, but unfortunately the term "slum landlord" has never left us. The problem arises in the way the issues are being addressed and because of the lack of enforcement. People fear reporting the conditions in their dwellings because, by doing so, they would most likely find themselves out on the street. That is what often seems to happen.

Where is the protection for those who report slum conditions? It should be taken out of the hands of the tenant to report such conditions. The Government needs to have a proper inspection regime and enforcement procedures in place to tackle the scandal in some areas of the private rental sector. At present, where is the evidence of pursuing those who are responsible for these inhumane conditions? I have no doubt that Deputies across this Chamber can relate to much of what I have said and do not want people to continue to live in substandard conditions. This is not an issue I believe anyone here would want to turn into a political football so the motion should be supported.

Some 55% of properties inspected in 2014 were below standard. This is a massive percentage. A number of years ago, there was a survey of a large number of dwellings in Phibsborough. The results were absolutely appalling. Warning shots have been fired across the bow for a long time so we need to act and we need the Government and Opposition to support our motion.

We can all safely say we were shocked by the RTÉ programme "Nightmare to Let", which showed how some landlords are exploiting tenants to rack up huge profits. We were shocked but I very much doubt that we were surprised because the housing crisis has been growing every year. The response of the Government has been slow and, frankly, it has been too little, too late. The undersupply of social and affordable housing and rocketing rents have allowed the return of what used to be called "slum landlords". These individuals are exploiting vulnerable people. They are putting people's lives in danger by cramming them into unsafe buildings. In some instances, there were 16 people in one room. The landlords get away with this because of the lack of inspections and resources to carry out enforcement in the sector.

I welcome the proposal by the housing charity Threshold that calls for an NCT-style system to ensure private rental accommodation is up to standard. It is a common-sense idea that needs to be pursued.

Those landlords who either refuse to register their properties or who are not meeting the minimum legal standards must face serious penalties. A slap on the wrist or a small fine is not good enough. We need to get tough with them because they are placing the lives of citizens in danger while they make huge profits. That cannot be allowed to continue.

I call on all parties to support this motion. It is long past the time for the Government to get serious and to introduce serious measures to deal with the rental market. This is just one concrete proposal that can make a difference until we bring about an end to the housing crisis. We all know the crisis will only end by building social and affordable housing.

I thank the Sinn Féin Deputies for providing the opportunity this evening to discuss the appalling revelations regarding breaches of standards in the private rental sector, which were aired in last week's "RTÉ Investigates" documentary. What we witnessed was horrendous and degrading. No one should have to live like that and no one should be allowed to live like that. The properties shown have been closed down and the landlord is being pursued, as is only right and proper. It would seem that this was not an accidental breach of standards; rather it would appear to be the wilful and deliberate exploitation of a powerless group of people in our community. That is not the Ireland we stand for – not for the people in this Republic or those we invite to come to live and work and contribute here. That such appalling conditions can exist, almost undetected and uninterrupted it seems, shows how much we need to implement the rental reform agenda that we have already put in place, with more still to come.

This RTÉ documentary has put a public focus on standards that persist in some of our private rental accommodation. That is a good thing because people should be made very aware of some of the living conditions that people in this country still have to put up with. However, this is not a new focus for the Government as we have been working towards new solutions and protections for quite some time. Our rental reform agenda is under way and I am determined to see it through, together with the new proposals that I announced in September.

To step out of the current context of this debate for just a moment, it is important to note also that the images shown in the documentary do not represent the vast majority of people's experience of the private rental sector. The vast majority of small independent landlords are good landlords. They look after their accommodation and they look after their tenants. But in every walk of life it seems, there are those who will break the law and who will give a bad name to a good enterprise.

Returning to the context of this debate, people can be assured that the Government is absolutely committed to tackling this problem and to addressing comprehensively substandard accommodation in the rental sector. While not subscribing to every single word of the Sinn Féin motion, the Government will not be opposing it. In the time available, I wish to take the opportunity to outline some of the actions that have been taken to date and that are planned to improve the quality and management of rental accommodation, so that citizens can live secure and safe lives wherever they call home. Essentially those actions involve: The introduction of new standards, which has already happened; a commitment of funding for increased inspections, already given and now ring-fenced for 2018 and; a new system of compliance that will be progressed as part of the change management plan for the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, which I announced in September of this year.

The Government's strategy for the rental sector, published in December 2016, set out a wide range of measures to be introduced under the headings of supply, security, standards and services - many of which have already been progressed. The most important of those for the quality of private rental accommodation are the standards and services. Those encompass greatly enhanced inspection and enforcement standards. They include the updated Standards for Rented Houses Regulations 2017, which came into effect in July, and are clearly focused on tenant safety. They introduce significant new measures covering heating appliances, carbon monoxide and window safety. Local authorities have been given a comprehensive guidance document by my Department to assist them in the implementation of the regulations. However, we also need the resources to enable increased inspections. While a total of €7.5 million has been provided to local authorities for inspection purposes over the four years to the end of 2017, we recognise the need for additional resources to ensure greater compliance with standards. Therefore, we have made greatly increased provision for inspections, with €2.5 million in funding to be provided in 2018. I intend to provide further annual increases in the period up to 2021, when it is envisaged that €10 million will be provided. That will enable us to increase our inspection rate to 25% of rental properties annually which means that a rental property will be inspected every four years but, more important, the properties that really need urgent or regular inspection will be prioritised, namely, those particularly at-risk properties that include very old buildings and instances where there has been a complaint.

It is not enough to simply raise standards and increase inspections, especially when we know there are unscrupulous people out there determined to subvert the law and put people's lives in danger. We need to be sure there is a robust enforcement and sanctions regime, and that will be at the core of the change management programme for the RTB that I announced almost two months ago. In the current situation, there is little disincentive for unscrupulous landlords who let poor quality, unsafe or overcrowded dwellings and take advantage of the most vulnerable renters in the sector. Such landlords may be tempted to try to operate undetected for as long as possible and, if discovered, simply discontinue the use of the accommodation and move on to somewhere else. What that means is a landlord can currently provide substandard accommodation without the prospect of being subject to any immediate penalty as an offence is only committed and a penalty imposed when an improvement notice or a prohibition notice is served and is not adhered to. That has to change, and it will change as part of the Government's continued reform of the sector.

While the sentiment behind the call this evening that the Government would support an NCT-type certification system for private rented housing is understandable, the reality is that establishing and rolling out such a system would take a significant amount of time and would not be an effective means of dealing with the immediate problem we face. Under the changes coming to the RTB to make it a strong regulator of the sector and to allow it to effectively represent the concerns of tenants as well as landlords, landlords will be required to register their tenancies on an annual basis. A more effective way of addressing the issue of certification and sanction is to require landlords, when registering a tenancy with the RTB, to certify that the property in question is compliant with regulations in relation to standards for rental accommodation, overcrowding and fire safety. That will mean a legally enforceable requirement on landlords to certify the quality and safety of their rental properties. Failure to provide certification, failure to register the tenancy or, very important, the provision of an untrue certification, will all constitute offences, prosecutable by the RTB. That will protect the good landlords as well as expose the bad. That is how we can quickly come to greater protection for tenants from unscrupulous landlords by introducing a more meaningful sanctions regime.

The RTB will play a key role in terms of standards and enforcement in the rental sector, and will be given the powers and the resources required to take on this enhanced regulatory responsibility. That will require legislative change and that is a priority for the Government. I have previously stated that reforming and strengthening the RTB is a substantial programme of work that must be undertaken over a number of years. However, priority is being given to exploring, as a matter of urgency, the changes needed in legislation and in the board's financing arrangements in order to make early progress in the process that will progressively see the RTB become the sector's regulator over the next two years. The work began in September 2017.

Particular attention will be given to possible amendments to the provisions in relation to overcrowding, both in terms of its legal definition and the enforcement actions and sanctions applicable to such situations. I take the view that enabling or causing deliberate and unsafe overcrowding is a very serious offence and I will treat it as such in the legislation to come.

The proportion of inspected properties found not to meet rental accommodation standards, cited by RTÉ as 69% nationally, is high. However, that should not be extrapolated to imply that non-compliance is at this level across the sector. Local authority inspections currently target properties that are identified as being at risk of not complying, namely, older properties and those with a history of quality problems. Many inspections are conducted as a result of a complaint received. For that reason the rate of non-compliance among inspected properties will inevitably, and properly, be higher than the rate across all rental properties.

I accept there are issues of inconsistency and significant differences in inspection and enforcement capacity across local authorities. That is also being addressed under the rental strategy. Work is under way to build a more efficient, standardised and transparent inspection and enforcement approach across all local authority areas. My Department, the Residential Tenancies Board, and local authorities are working together to develop a national system of shared support services covering ICT, legal services, training and capacity development and resource and performance management. That will mean all local authorities will have access to the most up to date and effective tools and systems to increase their level of inspection and expedite enforcement processes so that rates of compliance increase and opportunities to operate under the radar are eliminated.

In addition, we will increase stakeholder engagement and awareness-raising to educate landlords as to their statutory responsibilities and obligations, as well as making tenants fully aware of their rights. The RTB will offer a voluntary landlord accreditation scheme by which landlords and their agents will gain knowledge on best practice and a more thorough understanding of both the rights and obligations of landlords, including in relation to safety and the quality of their properties. After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, under the fire task force that was set up the RTB prepared an information leaflet on the fire safety measures which landlords are required to ensure are in place and that was delivered directly to all registered landlords.

We face significant challenges in the rental sector at this time. Substandard and dangerous accommodation is not something we can tolerate, no matter how bad the current shortage of housing. However, things are improving on the build side. Implementation of the Government's Rebuilding Ireland action plan is working to address the issue of supply of new housing for ownership and the rental sector, while the strategy for the rental sector is driving changes to improve standards and increase the coverage and efficiency of the inspections system to underpin improved compliance. Moreover, the new changes for the sector I announced in September will allow us to properly deter the wilful breach of accommodation standards, as well as sanction it where it occurs.

The bulk of the measures included in the motion are already covered by the Government's work to date in terms of actions completed, work under way or measures planned in our already-announced programme of work. We will remain resolutely focused on delivering on this programme in the months and years ahead. On this basis, the Government will not oppose the motion.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes:

— the disturbing evidence of gross breaches of minimum standards regulations in the private rental sector uncovered by the RTÉ Investigates documentary ‘Nightmare to Let’;

— that according to the National Oversight and Audit Commission in 2015 less than six per cent of private rented properties were inspected and in 2016, according to Freedom of Information (FOI) material obtained by RTÉ, this fell to four per cent, the second consecutive year of a drop in the level of inspections;

— some 55 per cent of inspections failed in 2015 and 66 per cent in 2016;

— that 65 full-time equivalent staff were working on private rental accommodation in 2015;

— only €1 million was spent nationally on inspections in 2014;

— the resources devoted to these functions varied considerably amongst authorities, with the proportion of staff to tenancies ranging from 0.007 to 1.263 per thousand tenancies;

— the additional time specified burden of Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) inspection requirements, with some 32,000 HAP tenants and rising across the country; and

— the need to ensure private rented accommodation is up to standard for all tennants; and

calls on the Government to:

— review inspection processes and systems for proactive, reactive and emergency inspections to achieve maximum efficiency, effectiveness and greater sector-wide standardisation of content;

— ensure that the review covers processes and systems for recording inspection data as well as the categorisation of dwellings based on risk and enforcement procedures when non-compliance is found and look at more specialised Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and HAP requirements and opportunities for co-operation in areas such as staff training;

— clarify and eliminate the gap that appears to exist between findings of non-compliance and enforcement action;

— introduce an NCT-style private rental accommodation check as originally called for by Fianna Fáil in 2015;

— ensure that, pending the development and implementation of such an NCT-style approach and the carrying out of appropriate awareness measures, authorities set inspection targets that would enable all dwellings to be inspected every five years;

— ensure inspections should confirm that tenants have received the specified details of the tenancy and statement of information set out in the Schedule to the Rent Books Regulations;

— review the content and accessibility of local authority website information relating to their rental sector functions;

— establish a clear and transparent system for setting out follow-up actions to be taken whenever non-compliance is found and for annual reporting to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government about the actions taken to address non-compliant dwellings;

— explore how to involve tenants in the follow-up process, including the copying to them of inspection reports and subsequent communications to the landlord;

— make greater use of the Prohibition Notice procedure with a view to achieving rectification of compliance issues prior to any re-letting of a dwelling that was found to be non-compliant and could not be remedied while the tenant was in occupation;

— launch an awareness campaign, targeting tenants, landlords and their agents and focussed on the key risk factors encountered in inspections, which might usefully complement inspection work;

— ensure there is specific budgetary provisions that align resources to targets;

— examine a more equitable alignment of the cost of inspections with the allocated funding;

— introduce local performance indicators for key stages of the process and by the establishment of associated targets; and

— ensure the performance against target data should be included in the monthly reporting by Chief Executives to the elected members and present an annual, publicly available report to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Goverment.”

Although I have moved amendment No. 1, I will not be opposing the Sinn Féin motion. I recognise and welcome its contents. Moreover, I welcome that other parties have come around to the proposal we made as far back as April 2015 relating to an NCT-style system of inspection to be carried out on all leased residential properties, as should be the case.

Last week's television programme was shocking and disturbing. As others speakers have said, it was not surprising to many of us, unfortunately. We are well aware of the lack of resources, funding and personnel within local authorities, despite the fact that they are charged with responsibility to carry out inspections on private properties.

The information emanating from the programme as a result of a freedom of information request carried out by RTÉ adds to the information emanating from national statistics on how local authorities do their business. In 2015, the relevant figure was 6%. It is not only in respect of private properties, unfortunately. The State is subsidising the rent to many private landlords through housing assistance payments and rental assistance schemes as well.

There is a failure to do everything that should be done in respect of the safeguards one expects to be in place for those properties to be inspected. I raised this issue directly with the Minister in June at a committee meeting, when we were discussing the ability of the State, the Department and local authorities to respond to the fears expressed by many in this State following the terrible tragedy in Grenfell Tower, London, not to mention what happened in Carrickmines some years ago, when ten people, including five children, lost their lives in an encampment that did not meet the relevant safety standards. That was and remains the great fear throughout the State. It became a reality for many people in a shocking way when they saw what was on television last week in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme.

The failure to adequately deal with our responsibilities in this sector, especially in the crisis we are in at present and given the way in which sections of society would seek to take advantage of that, is one of the greatest failures and shames of the Government. The failure to adequately deal with this issue is putting lives at risk and they remain at risk. Although we are told the economy is thriving and racing ahead, services are not being adequately resourced or funded for the most basic of needs in this area. I saw as much recently in my constituency. The story featured in the news last night. The sister of a person who was affected by a violent burglary talked about her elderly brother going to bed and locking the bedroom door. Regardless of whether the Minister likes it, the Government is not adequately funding or resourcing policing to allow people to have more faith in the protectors of society.

This is another example of it. The Minister does not acknowledge - he needs to acknowledge it - that he has failed to adequately resource local authorities to date. Since we are talking about this housing crisis and the many facets of it, let us nit-pick at what the Minister, his colleagues and predecessors have said. The reason the Minister maintains funding is not an issue in respect of the provision of public housing is because it can take two to three years from the date a site is identified to the date construction vehicles and personnel are on site. As a consequence, of course funding is not an issue. However, if the Minister really means or contends as much, why can he not adequately resource local authorities under such a system as proposed by Fianna Fáil or Threshold or this motion?

When dangerous cars were to be taken off the roads, a system was put in place to ensure they were taken off the roads, and it succeeded, largely. Now, it appears there are dangerous properties in the marketplace and they have to be taken out. This is a way in which it can be done. The Minister says the Residential Tenancies Board can be resourced. Unfortunately, the RTB is not doing the job it was charged to do. I have no faith in the board being in a position to do this task either. If every property that was leased had to obtain a certificate from the local authority to confirm that it was in compliance with planning permission, fire safety measures, building regulations and all the laws pertaining to the way in which property can be leased, then it would be fine. If the process were repeated every few years, that would be fine too. However, I believe the system the Minister was talking about smells of self-regulation and it mentions providing certification. The Minister is depending on goodwill and I have no doubt but that he would get it from many. However, as others have said, in the context of the crisis in which we find ourselves, there are people who will take opportunistic means to better themselves at the expense of others. That is our society. That is the way it is. That is what we have to expect, unfortunately.

In the current system only 65 people are charged with the relevant responsibility in housing in the country. I made this point last June and on other occasions as well. Now is the time to act on this. In my county one person deals with this matter among many other things, including the responsibility in respect of environmental protection, reports of illegal encampments and unauthorised developments, failure to comply or discharge development levies or charges associated with planning permission, as well as all complaints made in respect of any issues surrounding planning, health and safety and the built environment. As one person could not be expected to do all of this, it is no wonder the rates are at 4% or 6%.

I accept the Minister's comment that there is greater compliance with the complaints that are made. That is no surprise. The Minister should understand and believe my comments, however, since they are based on the representations I receive on an all-too-regular basis. Many people come into my clinics and those of other Members knowing full well that they are living in squalor and danger. They know danger is associated with the buildings they are in. However, they fear the prospect of the State not being able to provide them with an alternative, even in the short term. That is why they stay where they are and that is why their lives are at risk. This is why we cannot turn our back on these people any longer. The whole country knows it, not because of what I said here or because of what anyone else here has said, but because the "RTÉ Investigates" programme showed it in a clear light.

No matter what way we look at it, it is a terrible indictment for a Department, Minister and Government to stand over a system under which only 4% to 6% of the properties are being checked. I am as frustrated as the others in this House who hear in their constituencies the heartfelt cries for help from people who do not want to become a statistic or be added to the terrible vista created and placed on families in Carrickmines.

We do not know how fortunate we are that this practice has not resulted in deaths. We can wait no longer. When members of the public hear the Minister say that money is not an object when it comes to his response to the housing crisis, they expect him to prove it.

The Minister will have the full support of the House if he establishes a process that takes advantage of local authority personnel. Having been a member of a local authority for many years, I am aware they have staff with the qualifications required to perform this function, including architects and engineers. The Government must allow them to do so.

I understand the cost of an inspection is approximately €175. If it was €250, no one would give out and the local authorities would have a source of income. God knows, the local authorities have had enough powers removed from them. Now the Minister is proposing to remove funding for this function and transfer it to the RTB. The latter has been a major disappointment. It is clearly not adequately funded and resourced and has fallen far behind in dealing with cases which take a long time to conclude. The Minister now proposes to add inspections to its functions. Inspecting accommodation is a function of local authorities and they have been short changed for too long on this issue.

As I stated, the House does not come together very often but it can come together on this issue. I do not want, at some point in future, to hear Deputies paying tribute to people who lost their lives as a result of our failure to act and the Minister's failure to adopt the proposal before him. He indicated that money is not an object. While we do not agree with his proposal on the RTB, a system similar to the NCT and policed by an independent authority, namely, the relevant local authority, would enjoy universal support and could be successful.

The housing crisis is a perfect storm. Not one element of the housing sector is functioning normally. While I accept that this makes it difficult to address the crisis, if anything, the scale of the crisis dictates that the Government must respond with the same focus on pragmatic solutions as it put into communicating the crisis.

Before referring to the private rented sector, I request again that the Government work with all those Deputies who are genuine in seeking solutions to address the housing crisis. I regret and condemn the recent communications campaign by the Government in which it stated the housing crisis is normal when compared with other countries such as the United Kingdom and some of our European Union partners. There is nothing normal about the housing nightmare that is shared by many people in Ireland, the UK and other EU member states. The lack of determination among many western governments has resulted in housing again becoming a major social need. That appalling housing provision has become widespread and normal does not allow the Government to spin its way out of its responsibility for fixing the crisis. If anything, the Minister and his counterparts in the UK and rest of Europe should work together to ensure European countries co-operate to ensure that all citizens have somewhere safe to call home. Rather than normalising the abject failure of western governments to respond, their priority should be to achieve this objective.

Tonight, we are discussing another broken element of housing, namely, the appalling conditions that prevail in some parts of the rented housing sector. I use the word "some" because it is important to acknowledge the significant number of landlords who are not only accidental and under severe strain but also responsible and good. The majority of them ensure their rental properties are maintained to a high standard, which makes good business and civic sense. Unfortunately, however, a number of landlords are using the scale of the housing crisis to make maximum profits at the expense of safety and human dignity. This is a scandal and I am pleased to note the House unanimously condemns those who would profit from human misery.

The Fianna Fáil Party has been warning about the lack of an adequate inspection regime since 2015. While I thank RTÉ for highlighting the disgraceful conditions people are being forced to endure, I regret that, once again, it has taken an in-depth focus by our colleagues in the media to elicit a response from the Government. As usual, somewhere in Government Buildings the crisis communications clock is ticking down on this debate in order that the media focus will move on. Sadly, this is the nature of modern politics and it diminishes citizens' belief in our ability to solve problems, which is a dangerous development.

Deputy Cowen and others in the Fianna Fáil Party have called for the implementation of a process that empowers local authorities to establish a simple, straightforward and workable inspectorate based on the successful NCT model. The pragmatic and responsible Government response would be to accept the motion as a priority, have the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government analyse it immediately and have legislation passed with Government support as quickly as possible. We in the Fianna Fáil Party do not want thanks but the implementation of a practical solution. While I hope this will happen, I am doubtful that it will. Instead, the Minister will probably thank us for our sincere contributions to the debate and indicate he is working on a solution that will be brought forward shortly. He will not accept that only 8% of almost 7,000 private rented properties in County Wicklow are inspected every year or that local authorities have been starved of resources and talent for many years. He will not give a commitment that the Government will ensure local government will be at the centre of delivering solutions to the housing crisis. The reason he will take such an approach is that the Government views the housing crisis as normal.

I welcome the opportunity to address this important issue in Sinn Féin's Private Members' time. I support the amendment and, as Deputy Cowen stated, the Fianna Fáil Party will not oppose the motion because we all want the same thing. We heard about the RTÉ programme and, as Deputy Cowen also stated, we want NCT-style inspections of private rented accommodation.

The disparity in the level of inspection activity by various local authorities is testament to the lack of consistency among local authorities nationwide. The average cost of inspections ranges from a low of €147 in one local authority - I forget which - to a high of €800 per inspection in County Louth. I would love to be working in the private sector and getting €800 for inspecting houses. I do not know what is going on in Louth County Council given that a full report from a structural engineer on a 3,000 sq. ft. mansion would cost in the region of €300 plus VAT. I do not know what Louth County Council is doing in terms of allocating costs or who is carrying out this work on its behalf because an average cost of €800 per inspection is a problem.

While we depend on local authorities to carry out inspections, we have established other bodies to regulate the private rented sector, including the RTB. While the RTB is, in theory, a very good organisation which was established for all the right reasons, it is chronically under-resourced. It is akin to having a regulator for drink driving when everyone is driving around drunk. While it is great that the RTB is in place, the organisation is under-resourced. For example, its helpline is only available at certain hours of the day. As a former auctioneer, I had dealings with the board on behalf of landlords and tenants and I experienced serious inconsistencies in turnaround times. It can take up to three years to get a case to court and the tenant or landlord is expected to pay the costs of going the court route. This is a problem.

An NCT-type system is required for the private residential sector. Some local authorities, including Sligo County Council and Dublin City Council, are doing their business well. A good starting point would be to consult those local authorities which are carrying out inspections at a low cost, with a view to mimicking their approach or directing local authorities elsewhere to mimic it.

While we need a new NCT-type system, while we need to have situations improved, we do not need to set up another quango with a pricey administration in terms of back office, that we cannot afford to resource and that, in theory, does this great work but in practice ticks boxes and we do not see the tangible evidence on the ground of penalties being imposed and, ultimately, these properties being brought up to a standard while we have an accommodation crisis in the country. We need to be careful and clever about how we do this.

Why are we here? Why are people being forced to go into the kind of premises that we saw on the RTÉ exposé some weeks ago? The reason for that, of course, is lack of supply. The lack of supply has pushed prices through the roof. People cannot afford it and now we have people going in to substandard properties with 13 or 14 beds stuffed into every corner.

There will always be rogue elements in society. What we must have is a system that can root them out without engaging ourselves as busy fools running around trying to inspect those who perhaps are quite compliant. It is a difficult job. While mimicking the good work that is being done in certain local authorities, as a first step in establishing the NCT-type system we must also increase supply. We have had five or six opportunities over the last number of weeks to outline how we should do that. I gave the Minister tangible suggestions which, I hope, he can act on in that regard.

I support the Sinn Féin motion.

I thank "Prime Time" because it was the essence of public service broadcasting. RTÉ is a public service broadcaster and its programme has allowed this agenda to move forward in a way that, perhaps, if it was only us politicians talking, might not have happened. Being on the national airwaves has been hugely helpful in this regard.

As I said, my party fully supports the Sinn Féin motion and thanks the party for bringing it forward. I had originally thought about putting down an amendment until I read the email sent to all Members of the Dáil by former Senator Aideen Hayden, the chairperson of Threshold, in which she asked us all to reach consensus. She wrote:

We are calling on all parties to unite in defence of vulnerable tenants living in modern day tenements, often at the mercy of rogue landlords. We want to see a genuine commitment to real and effective change and that our NCT proposals are enshrined in legislation.

Former Senator Hayden then goes on to ask for consensus.

If I had proposed an amendment, it would have been only to slightly strengthen the motion. I would have amended the first section, which calls on "the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to set out, as a matter of urgency, a plan for ensuring compliance with minimum standards regulations in the private rental sector". I would have added, "including the immediate commencement of an investigation into the activities of underground unregistered landlords". I am sure that can be incorporated in the intent of the motion anyway.

I do not know the intention of the others who have tabled amendments. I welcome the fact that the Minister has said the Government is not opposing this and that Fianna Fáil has said it is supporting the Sinn Féin motion. Everybody in this House should unite on this issue and, as Threshold has said, it should not be a political football.

We need an immediate inspection regime led by the Minister. The reason I wanted to put in the extra bit is that I believe the regime specifically needs to find those rogue underground unregistered so-called landlords who are exploiting the desperation of those who are looking for a home which we saw clearly in the "Prime Time" programme. One of my first reactions to the "Prime Time" programme, apart from being horrified at the conditions tenants were living in, was that there was criminal activity. I was looking at what I saw as criminal activity where tenants could not get out if there was a fire. There were literally dozens of tenants on corridors, a fire door locked in one situation and no proper access to getting out. I suspect that is criminal endangerment but, obviously, that would involve a legal case. Certainly, that is what I felt I saw on that programme, and that is extremely serious. Others mentioned Grenfell Tower. We must ensure that there is not that type of fire danger for anybody.

I have an intern who is from South America. She is not from Brazil but from another South American country. When I told her today what I was coming in to speak about tonight, she said it was easy to find those sites on Facebook. She printed off some advertisements for me today, that is, after the programme was aired. I can give them to the Minister later. These are mainly in Portuguese but my intern speaks some Portuguese and she explained it to me. One, for example, is in Dublin 12. It is a house being shared with 24 other persons - Brazilians. I have a couple of photographs of mattresses on the floor and bunk beds right beside them being advertised at €200 a month for one particular vacancy. In at least three of these cases, there are addresses. There is an address on the Old Cabra Road. There is an address in Ash Street. There is an address in Charles Street. It does not give the numbers but it gives the streets, and it says roughly where they are in Dublin. These are currently on websites. It should not be too difficult to find a lot more of these. I would hope that this debate tonight will precipitate the finding of many more of these accommodations that are being advertised to very vulnerable persons, who cannot afford accommodation and who accept these on the basis that they are affordable, but clearly they are entirely unacceptable.

There is real urgency about this. This is not something that was only occurring in those particular premises that we saw in the programme. We need something much more proactive. I accept the good work of the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, does in many situations but I am not sure that it is the right body to do this, and I note that others have said that. For example, there should be local authority staff whose job is to be proactive and go out and find such premises. As Threshold suggested, a certificate should be obligatory and the penalty should be "severe" so that there is no incentive for being outside the system, and "Inspections would then focus solely on whether the landlord held a certificate of compliance". We need that kind of immediate and strong action in relation to those who operate outside the law. I accept that we need a system whereby registered landlords are inspected but, more urgently, we need to get to those underground black market landlords who are not registering and who are advertising in places such as Facebook.

The Peter McVerry Trust proposed that local authorities should have empty homes officers whose role would be to proactively go out and identify empty homes and find a way in which at least some of them can be brought into use for people to be housed. We need that type of proactive action on this as well. We do not need to wait until somebody reports or finds out that these kind of practices are going on. We need somebody to go out and find where they are. Local authorities have access to a lot of information on who is living where and they should be able to find it, if they had the wherewithal in terms of resources but also the power and the functional role of going out and doing this. As a public representative, I do not want to be standing up in here after some place has gone on fire, there have been whatever number of tenants living in the premises and it has not been registered, examined or discovered. We cannot merely wait for a long drawn-out process of identifying where this is going on. It is urgent.

There are many other issues in relation to housing that we have discussed here practically every week in the past several months, and I am sure we will do so again, but this is one situation where we all need to unite for a single action that is being required. I refer to this NCT-type system, but also to the need to ensure that there are strong deterrents to ensure that landlords do not operate outside of the system and that we have a safe regime for those in rented accommodation. Whatever their financial circumstances, they should not be exploited because they cannot afford more expensive properties and there should be no tolerance of substandard and particularly dangerous accommodation.

I propose, with the agreement of the House, to call Deputy Michael Healy-Rae for three minutes. We will then revert back to the original running order.

I thank my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to speak now as I have an engagement later on. I believe that I must declare what could be construed as an interest in this matter before I speak.

I thank those involved in "RTÉ Investigates" for the great work they did in highlighting this very serious issue. If that television programme can make the living conditions of people such as those highlighted in the programme better, that is to be applauded. There are several things that those involved in providing rental accommodation should be doing. First, they should be providing a safe and proper place for people to live - a proper environment. They should also be registering their property, paying tax on their income and doing everything above board. In saying all of that, there is one thing of which we must be very careful. These types of accommodation - and rightly so - are not going to be here in the future but where are the people who have to move out of such places going to live? We must ensure that they can have a safe, affordable and proper place to live. We are sorting one problem but we are creating another one. Where are these people going to go? We are talking about people - families and individuals - who are entitled to respect and who are entitled to have a proper place to live. We must be very careful in that regard.

We must also be very mindful of the fact that there are countless people involved in providing accommodation who do it right. They do everything above board. They have proper properties, they pay their taxes and they are inspected by their local authorities. I want to compliment local authorities, such as Kerry County Council, which are stringent about carrying out checks on RAS and HAP properties and other properties with which they are involved. I do not want to see a situation arising where everybody is tarred with the same brush. I do not want to see respectable people who are involved in the rental of properties being tarred with the same brush or to hear people saying that they are all the same because they are not all the same. There are respectable people who rent properties and who run their affairs as a proper business. They keep their noses clean and they do it right. The behaviour that we saw the other night would be shocking to anybody - so many people living in one room together should not be tolerated.

I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion before us and I also thank my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to speak on it.

We will revert back to the rota. Deputy Mick Barry is next.

We are debating how to combat slum landlordism. I will start with a very simple, practical proposal, namely, that undocumented migrants should be permitted to make complaints about their accommodation standards without any fear of deportation or other legal consequences. That is a guarantee that should be given to undocumented migrants by the Minister and I am asking him to give a direct commitment tonight in that regard. Such guarantees are in place, for example, for undocumented migrants in the fishing industry because of the levels of exploitation that have been reported there and the same should apply with regard to accommodation.

The "RTÉ Investigates" programme gave a glimpse of what is happening here. Why did the councils not do that? It is because they are massively underresourced. There are 64 inspectors in the entire State trying to follow up on this issue and less than half of them are actively involved in going door to door at the moment. That is a scandalous position which must change. I support the proposal for an NCT-type system but it should not be outsourced to private operators. It should be in the hands of the councils rather than the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, because there is more democratic accountability to elected members in the local authorities.

The current position is that each year one property out of every 25 is inspected. The Fianna Fáil proposal, as I understand it, is for one property out of every five to be inspected on an annual basis, while the Government's proposal is for one property in every four to be inspected on an annual basis by 2021. How many fires might we have between now and 2021? Our amendment proposes that there would be an inspection of each property at the very least every two to three years. That would require the immediate hiring of between 500 and 750 inspectors and for those people to be in action next year.

On RTB registration, 495 landlords got a second warning letter last year. In reality, they received five pieces of correspondence. They got a general letter, two follow-up letters, a first warning letter and then a second. A total of 495 landlords got to the second warning stage but there were only 12 convictions. Those 12 landlords were fined €94,260 which is an average of €7,855 each. That is not a sufficient deterrent by a long shot. That is only a couple of months' rent at the rate that these guys charge. There must be a punishment to fit the crime. What is the crime? It is not just the risks to children in terms of child protection or to people's mental health in terms of living in overcrowded conditions; these landlords are put people's lives at risk in terms of fire safety standards. The question of prison and the seizure of assets must be on the agenda and be part of any new legislation. The legislation needs to be toughened up in this regard.

I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion and the "RTÉ Investigates" team for highlighting the issue. The landlords who exploited and profited from the conditions that we saw on "RTÉ Investigates" are just animals. They are flipping animals and they should be in prison. Nothing like that should be tolerated. They are the lowest of the low. What is scandalous is not just those extreme cases but the scale of non-compliance with regulations in the private rented sector. It is shocking. In a number of counties including Kilkenny, Louth, Offaly and Limerick, the non-compliance rate was 100%. In other counties the rate was in the high 90%, including in south Dublin, and in the high 80% in places like Galway, Meath and Clare. This is a shocking level of non-compliance with standards. While not all may be as bad as the horrific conditions that we saw on television, this is not a question of a few bad apples. This is chronic and endemic.

Someone said that it is a pity that it had to take an "RTÉ Investigates" programme to wake us up and that is certainly true. I remember coming into this House in 2012. I was a year in the Dáil at the time and was doing Leaders' Questions with the then Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore. I said that we were on our way to a return to tenement conditions. The current Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, was giving out on television yesterday about the left and Sinn Féin heckling people but I certainly got heckled that day. There were hoots of derision from across the Fine Gael benches. Deputies said that I must be joking, that I was over-dramatising things. I referred to Seán O'Casey and tenement conditions and said that we were on the way back and there was laughter from across the Fine Gael benches. The Ceann Comhairle at the time had to stop proceedings in order to try to shut the Fine Gael Deputies up, such was the level of heckling. I was warning back in 2012 that we were heading towards tenement conditions.

It has taken until now for an acknowledgement but it was predictable - it was all so predictable. On the famous supply and demand equation, if the Government does not provide council housing, if it does not have enough staff in the local authorities and is, in fact, slashing staff who are supposed to conduct inspections, all of this was eminently predictable. Now, will we get the sort of radical action we need? I agree completely with the NCT-style proposal but we have to have the staff, which means hundreds of people being put into the local authorities to do the inspections.

Critically, however, there will always be underground slum landlords if there is a situation where there is not enough quality social housing that is affordable and provided by the State itself. Indeed, and it is for another debate, the State's own housing stock has big problems. We just had a finding against us from Europe under the European Social Chapter in regard to the conditions in local authority housing complexes where there is chronic damp. I know from my own local authority, where, when we tell staff there is chronic damp, and because they do not have the resources, they say people need to open the windows because ventilation is the problem. Ventilation is not the problem; it is the deplorable and unacceptable conditions. If that is happening in the public sector, God knows the shocking situation in the private sector.

I wish to share time with Deputy Thomas Broughan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Private Members' motion from Sinn Féin but it is horrendous that we are in a situation where we are discussing this issue. While I welcome the "Nightmare to Let" programme, it is a terrible indictment of our society that this situation was there for it to investigate. That programme showed several scenarios. There were private landlords who were registered with the RTB, one was a HAP dwelling and one was particularly bad, with 64 people living in one property on Old County Road. I want to give a bit of background to this last case as I think it is important. It was a hidden hellhole.

In early 2016, there were two commercial premises on the bottom floor of that building. One was a distribution centre for food and the other was a furniture shop. The distribution centre closed in January 2016 and the furniture shop closed about June 2016. All of a sudden, a big sheet of plastic went up, with a sign advertising commercial premises to rent, with a phone number and so on. As it is right next door to my constituency office, we started noticing a few people going in with suitcases. We knew from residents to our rear that work was being done and windows were being opened up at the back of the premises. In December, Councillor Pat Dunne from our office put in a request to the Dublin City Council planning enforcement office for an investigation of that premises to take place, along with residents who were also concerned about it. We got a reply from the enforcement officer in April of this year saying, "Case closed, nothing to see here", even though we continued to see people going in and out.

When the fire officer went into the building, we went out to him and he explained to us what was going on. He said the terrible thing was that, disgracefully, the emergency door at the back was locked, even though there was a light on it. Councillor Pat Dunne asked where the emergency door was and he was told it was on the left of the building. There is a laneway at the back of our constituency office which is overgrown, so nobody goes into it. Councillor Dunne had let in a service officer to check some electricity wires at the back of the laneway only a week before that. He came out white and said he had to show us the laneway, because when he went there, he noticed there was a bricked-up doorway. He did not know it was the emergency door, which was bricked up from the inside by this guy, Andy O'Neill, who quite consciously went in there and tore the place down.

We went in afterwards and there were not even frames on the doors, there were just drilled-in holes in the walls, going from one premises to the next. On the door was written for the students going in there: "Do not talk to anybody", "If anybody asks who you are, you are a student", and "Do not gather outside in the open". We never saw a bin outside the building. There was a situation where the tenants put their waste into a doorway and that man came along, in the evenings or at night, and collected that waste, put it into a trailer and brought it off, so we never saw bins. There was no indication; it was a hidden hellhole.

We know there are a lot more of them around the city. There was a report in the Irish Independent only last week from Amy Molloy about such properties, revealing more than 40 houses and apartments-----

Deputy, you are an experienced politician. You should not name names of those outside the House.

Excuse me, this man is known. He was in the public arena.

That is not the point.

He should be named and shamed. How dare he do that to people, and leave them in the situation they were in.

You cannot do it. You have to conform to the rules of the House.

I have no qualms at all about naming that man.

This was a report done by a journalist in the Irish Independent, revealing that 40 houses and apartments are being run by a group. One house was previously the address of more than 2,000 offshore firms and another house was split into 14 bedrooms. The reports are there; we know it is happening.

These landlords are not even registered. I totally support the idea of having an NCT-style inspection. Any landlord who is not registered for such an NCT for a premises should be jailed immediately for allowing this to happen. They are illegal, dangerous and criminal and they should be jailed.

In looking at media quotes from 2014, I read: “Close to 60% of all private rental premises that were inspected by local authorities last year [2013] failed basic minimum requirements – prompting calls for landlords to be compelled to undergo ‘NCT-style’ inspections on their properties.” There were 100% failure rates in some local authority areas, with failure rates of over 90% in others. The article, by the journalist Allison Bray of the Irish Independent, concluded, “Tenants are suffering in silence”. One would think these were quotes following the recent programme, "Nightmare To Let", but we knew this was the situation for three years. The current Government has done nothing to try to ensure that tenants are given some kind of safe and decent accommodation. Vulnerable people are still being exploited and placed in grave danger.

As a result of my growing concerns about the rental sector, I requested a research paper from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service on landlord obligations. In particular, I asked that it look at the UK Housing and Planning Act 2016 and the UK housing Department’s guidance for local authorities on civil and criminal sanctions for landlords. The research indicated a number of measures which were introduced in the UK, namely, civil penalties up to £30,000, extending rent repayment orders to cover other areas of breaches, a database of rogue landlords and agents and banning orders for particularly bad landlords. The research paper concluded that the essence of that legislation could easily be introduced in this country. I believe that Part 2 and Schedule 9 of the UK Housing and Planning Act 2016 could be brought forward tomorrow morning, if the Government wanted to do so.

On Thursday last, the country was shocked by the horrendous exploitation of tenants by some landlords in Ireland. We saw young migrant workers desperately trying to access affordable accommodation in this city. The programme, "Nightmare To Let", showed the appalling disregard for human life and dignity in some properties around Ireland. What was particularly astonishing is that it took eight weeks to reply to an email of complaint on fire safety. It reminds that, seven or eight years ago, I referred the Priory Hall complex in Dublin Bay north to the chief fire officer, as well as to Dublin City Council. Of course, it eventually led to the closure of the complex. The kind of conditions we saw in Priory Hall go on and on, and we have seen even worse conditions in the past few days. That is why many people will be sympathetic to the recent call of Councillor Éilis Ryan of the Workers’ Party for a total management change in Dublin City Council because there has been such significant risk to residents. I note the deputy city manager, Brendan Kenny, has called for fines of up to €1 million for landlords flouting the law and also asked for 100 additional inspectors.

In light of the statistics provided in that programme and elsewhere, how many of the thousands of dwellings in respect of which legal actions were initiated relate to repeat offenders? Is the Department investigating whether any council knew that tenants were living in fire traps? Has the Minister ordered an investigation into the management of local properties in this regard? We need urgent action on this matter. Sympathetic words and talk of NCTs and so on from the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil party, if we want to call it that, have come too late.

Deputies Michael Collins and Danny Healy-Rae have three minutes in total.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this important motion. I thank my colleagues in Sinn Féin for tabling it. The housing issue facing Ireland is beyond crisis point. Viewing the "RTÉ Investigates: Nightmare to Let" programme, it was appalling to see the situations in which some people have been forced to live by rogue landlords. Tenants' lives are being put at risk by unscrupulous landlords' disregard for basic health and safety and fire standards.

To say that there is a significant shortage of available properties around the country is an understatement. However, going by figures released in the 2016 census, there are 260,000 vacant houses. This is a disgrace. It is commonsensical that these houses would go a long way towards solving the immediate housing crisis.

I spent weeks with the Minister of State and his colleagues discussing matters during the formation of the Government. I was glad that the Government took on board the issues and suggestions raised by my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group and me about changing the use of units from commercial to residential and included them in A Programme for a Partnership Government, which reads, "The Action Plan will look at existing housing stock that is uninhabited, and vacant commercial units, with a view to incentivising the refurbishment and change of use to homes." However, I am disappointed that little progress has been made in this regard. Urgent action is needed to solve this problem.

While it is an imperative that standards be applied, there is also a duty on local authorities to minimise the time that houses are left vacant. There should be a strict limit on the turnover time for social housing from when it becomes vacant to when it is reoccupied as opposed to the position of those in Wetherton, Bandon, who have been waiting weeks on end to have people appointed to houses that have been completed and are ready for habitation. This is only to mention one example in west Cork, but there are many more, which is unacceptable.

The way that the people in the RTÉ programme were treated was shameful. The landlords involved should hang their heads in shame. An animal welfare Bill was before the House a number of weeks ago. Around the country tonight, most cattle are bedded better than the poor people in those shameful conditions. However, most landlords run a good show and operate their properties to a high standard. Due to the lack of supply, rents are too high and many tenants are suffering the consequence. Most landlords pay more than 50% tax on the rents they take, and many will not even think of renting their vacant properties because of it. A landlord who gets €150 is left with €75 for all of his or her trouble and regulation. If the Government is serious about the provision of housing, it should reduce the tax rate on rental income.

I want to correct the Minister of State-----

The Deputy is taking advantage of my leniency.

-----concerning the repair and lease scheme. When he answered me during a previous debate,-----

The Deputy is eating into Deputy Fitzmaurice's time.

-----he said that it extended to rural areas. It does not. It is only applicable where there is an urgent-----

The Deputy is taking advantage.

-----and serious demand for housing around highly populated towns.

Anywhere there is a need.

If the Government is serious about opening up houses in rural areas-----

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae is depriving Deputy Fitzmaurice of time.

-----it has to extend the scheme to those.

I stand over everything I said. Anywhere there is a need.

The Minister of State is wrong.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this motion. This Dáil is reactive, not proactive. Mr. Barry O'Kelly had to bring what was happening to our attention. Where people are living is scandalous, but let us be straight about it - this situation will continue for the simple reason that we have not put in place the necessary resources to conduct checks.

The national framework plan is an insult to people who have put effort into this. If the Government keeps driving people to one part of the country, we will end up with these ghettos. The Government cannot see this. We need balanced regional development.

Something within the Department's remit needs to be addressed, namely, the number of idle houses that have not been flipped quickly and put right. Simple schemes could be put in place to ensure that people are lined up to do up houses quickly and turn them over. From what I can see, however, the leadership at the top of some councils is falling apart. This is a major problem everywhere.

As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae mentioned, people down the country would not treat an animal like the tenants in that programme were treated. It should not be tolerated. Measures should be put in place to ensure that such landlords do not get away with it. Unfortunately, the Minister of State will not be able to flick a switch and change this overnight. We need people to be out there conducting NCTs on houses at least once per year in order to ensure that the rogue landlords are removed.

The more jobs that are driven into an area, especially lower paid ones, the higher the number of people living together in rooms because that is all that they can afford. If we keep doing this instead of pursuing balanced regional development, that is the Ireland that we will end up with. The same Department needs to examine the national planning framework. What has been done on that front outside Dublin is a disgrace.

It is only in draft form. It is not finished yet.

Tá an Comhaontas Glas sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún seo. Last Thursday's "RTÉ Investigates: Nightmare to Let" presented a stark and appalling reality of renting in Ireland in 2017. It was a shocking surprise to many but, to many others, it was not a surprise at all. To anyone who has been searching for a place to rent, renters who spend days, weeks, months and years searching for accommodation that is substandard and overpriced, this was only another cruel reminder of what is sometimes on offer.

This is not only a question of quality of life. The conditions that we saw in the programme on Thursday clearly constituted serious threats to public health and the health and well-being of those living there. This is not an issue that has sprung up overnight. Five months ago, I tabled a motion in Dáil Éireann calling for a review and evaluation of our local authority building control sections, which are under-resourced and stretched too thin to have any substantive safety impact. Regrettably, there has been no change or movement from the Government since then.

One in five people resides in private rental accommodation, yet we only have 65 employees in the building control sections of local authorities across the country. Local authorities have an inspection rate of 4% of all private rental properties listed on the RTB website for last year. That rate is mere tokenism and is not reassuring. It does not instil confidence. In fact, it can have the opposite effect and give a signal to rogue landlords that they and their death trap properties will not be detected and they will not be apprehended. Also, 69% of the relatively tiny 4% that were inspected failed the inspections. This would indicate that we may be dealing with the tip of the iceberg. I say "may" because of the worrying dearth of information gleaned to date. One would think that the 69% figure, with the recent RTÉ exposé, would trigger the Government into action and reassure the tens of thousands of renters. Alas, no.

If landlords are not detected or among the 4% investigated, they will continue to have nothing to fear because the local authorities are simply not armed with anything like the necessary resources. The Government must institute an NCT-like system for certification for private rental accommodation. The overarching priority underpinning the provision of rented accommodation must be the safety of the residents. It is essential that we move from a reactive system based on dealing with complaints to a proactive system that polices.

If landlords are not properly aware of the prospect of having their properties inspected and the prospect of heavy penalties for breaches, they will continue to let overcrowded, substandard accommodation because they know they can get away with it.

The Government must seek to introduce robust regulation to specifically tackle overcrowding. Threshold has stated this can be done by a ministerial regulation but the question to the Minister of State is: what evidence is there that this is being done as a matter of priority? The Government must also seek to tackle split incentive issues whereby investment in a property such as retrofitting is discouraged because the occupier and not the owner pays the energy bill. Therefore, there is no real incentive for owners to invest in their properties. This also provides a further disincentive for landlords to ensure that properties are warm, energy efficient, of good quality and well maintained.

The Government might only have become aware of the situation since last Thursday but this is and has been the reality of daily life for many renters across Dublin and the country. The need for strict regulation and well-resourced regulators is an urgent matter of public safety in order to ensure the horrific conditions all Members saw last Thursday are not allowed to continue. Inept token regulation should not ever be tolerated. We must place the health and safety of the tens of thousands of people who rent to the front and centre in proper regulation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion and compliment Sinn Féin on bringing the motion forward. It is a consequence of decisions taken by successive Governments, going back to approximately 2000 when the then Fianna Fáil Government decided to outsource the building of public social housing to the private market in a policy that has been continued by successive Governments. Buildings were let by private landlords for social housing but there was no reasonable or effective arrangement to inspect the properties.

There is no doubt that the NCT-type certification proposed and championed by Threshold is the method best placed to ensure the proper inspection of properties takes place. I was shocked earlier today when I heard the Minister speak. I may have misheard him but I understand he referred to self-certification and self-regulation. We all know what that means. We saw it in the past under various other guises. We know self-certification and self-regulation is no regulation. I hope I misheard the Minister but I do not think I did. It would not be acceptable to introduce self-regulation.

We need proper NCT-type certification of properties before letting takes place, and thereafter on an ongoing basis throughout the life of a tenancy. NCT-type certification should be carried out by local authorities. As we speak, local authorities are not adequately resourced to do that. I understand there are about 64 inspectors countrywide, which is simply not enough. We need at least 500 or 600 inspectors in order to put a proper certification system in place. That should be done without delay.

What we saw on RTÉ last week was simply unacceptable. It was an absolute scandal and a very poor reflection on the Government and local authorities. Local authorities need to be funded and resourced properly in order to be able to undertake a proper NCT-type certification.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, for bringing forward the motion. I am delighted the Government is not opposing it. It is very important that the Dáil is taking note of the disgraceful behaviour of some landlords. The lack of resources provided to local authorities is resulting in a lack of inspections and, as a consequence, the total disregard of standards in the private sector. However, taking note is not enough and real action needs to be taken by the Government to address the problem.

We are calling for an NCT-type system for private rented housing to further strengthen compliance with legal standards, as suggested by Threshold. Almost every citizen in the State must spend some of his or her life in rented property, therefore making sure these properties are safe and properly regulated is of the utmost importance. Like everybody else, I was shocked but not surprised by the conditions in which renters were living, as shown on RTÉ. The level of greed and disregard for people's lives is absolutely disgusting and shames us all.

The housing crisis is being exploited by unscrupulous landlords because tenants are forced to accept substandard accommodation as there is simply no alternative. Yet again, it is the investigations unit of RTÉ which investigates and exposes wrongdoing this country, this time in the private rented sector. This is not the first time the team has done so. Other high-profile investigations include highlighting the case of Grace and exposing conditions in the Áras Attracta nursing home, as well as the mismanagement of charitable moneys. I do not want to take away from the great work of the investigations unit, and I hope it keeps it up, but why has it been left to a broadcasting organisation to reveal such wrongdoing in our country? What would happen if it did not investigate this particular issue? How long would we have to wait to address it? Only a terrible tragedy in one of the properties highlighted would have brought this issue to light.

In 2016, only 4% of private rented properties were inspected by local authorities. Of the paltry number examined in Limerick city, every single one failed. That is a failure rate of 100% for a very low rate of inspections, and I do not believe the figure would be much higher if there was a greater number of inspections. Regulatory regimes are practically non-existent in many sectors of our society, and this needs to change. We need a proactive system of regulation for private rented accommodation. That is why we are calling for an NCT-type system which will provide tenants with assurance that their accommodation meets the required standards and prevent abuses like cramming more than 60 people into one property from happening again.

Any decent human being would be disgusted by what he or she saw on "RTÉ Investigates" last week. I do not think anybody with a shred of respect for human dignity could stand over the conditions we saw on television. It was like something out of a Dickensian drama. As disgusted as we were, can we really and truly say that we were shocked?

As public representatives, we deal every day with people who are living in unacceptable housing conditions. While Dublin might be the focus of media attention in term of housing, Cork too has serious problems of which anyone who would care to listen should be well aware. Last year, 90% of the rental accommodation inspected in Cork county failed to meet basic standards. Only one of the 179 housing assistance payment, HAP, properties inspected met the required standards, which is less than 1%. A year later, 97% of properties inspected failed to meet basic standards. There were similar findings in Dublin when inspections were carried out.

In my area, houses were thrown up during what I call the dizzy days of the Celtic tiger. They now have serious structural issues. They are damp, cold and falling apart. One woman told me she was at breaking point. She pays €750 a month for an apartment for herself and her child in rural Cork. She had no choice but to live with the black mould which grew on her walls, in her carpet and around the windows. The landlords did not give a damn and were fully aware that they would face no consequences. The tenant had no option. There were rotten carpets and no proper heating.

This is what people have to live with every day and for which they pay extortionate rents. The parasitic behaviour of unscrupulous landlords has to be challenged and stopped. Quite frankly, they need to be punished. I commend the motion to the House. We need real inspections with power behind them. If we stay silent while slums develop in our towns and cities, we are complicit. I refuse to do that.

I doubt there were many in this country who were not appalled by what they saw on last week's "RTÉ Investigates: Nightmare to Let" programme. As elected representatives, I suspect we have all been confronted by substandard housing conditions in our respective constituencies. I have dealt with cases over the years where families and individuals were living in conditions that were so bad, they were a danger to physical and mental health.

This matter has an impact on those on lower incomes predominantly. A lack of housing options means they are forced to remain in these conditions. At present, the onus rests on the tenant to report inadequacies or a breach in standards. This motion calls for that to change and for an NCT-type certification system for private rented accommodation to strengthen compliance further with legal standards. Only 4% of private rental properties were inspected by local authorities across the jurisdiction in 2016 and two thirds of those were not compliant with minimum standard regulations. Local authorities have failed to enforce standards adequately in the private rental sector and this motion is a chance for us to change that. It calls for greater action from central and local government to ensure tenants' rights are upheld and for the Minister with responsibility for housing to set out a plan for ensuring compliance with minimum standard regulations in the private rented sector. It also calls for the adequate resourcing of local authorities in order that they can put in place a more comprehensive inspection regime.

I reflect with some surprise that I was somewhat heartened that both Cavan and Monaghan county councils in my constituency reported high compliance rates following inspections in 2014. I hope that position maintains. That said, there are landlords with the audacity and the nerve knowingly to put people at risk in properties such as those exposed by RTÉ last week, which is shameful. Therefore, as highlighted in this motion, there is a need for a review of the penalties faced by landlords when they breach minimum standards. This important motion is an opportunity for us to change things for the better. Le bhur dtoil, tabhair bhur dtacáiocht don tairiscint seo.

The Fine Gael legacy in housing has many facets, including rough sleepers, thousands of homeless children, hundreds of thousands of people on waiting lists and a rent and house price bubble. There are also tens of thousands of people in mortgage distress. Another critical element is the exploitation of the most vulnerable tenants. The graphic reality of this exploitation was brought effectively to people's screens last week by "RTÉ Investigates: Nightmare to Let". The lives of thousands of people are being materially threatened by a small number of thug landlords who pack tenants in and stack them high. Picture one example of a woman and newborn baby living in a room without a window on a floor shared by many strangers above a restaurant next door to the office of the Fine Gael Minister of State with responsibility for housing, who is in the Chamber now.

Meath County Council is so inundated with emergency housing that it faces a Hobson's choice. For Meath County Council to enforce standards, it would literally have to put people on the street. There are 6,922 private rented accommodation properties in Meath and only 89 are inspected in a single year. It is the fourth worst rate in the State. Of these, 72% failed to meet standards. At the current rate of inspection, the council will manage to inspect the rented accommodation in Meath in 78 years. If we have learned anything in this House over the past seven years it is that if there is a negligible rate of inspections, there is negligible enforcement and non-compliance, and that is what is happening now with landlords.

It does not have to be this way and I commend Deputy Ó Broin on putting together tonight's Sinn Féin motion which seeks as a matter of urgency a plan for ensuring compliance with minimum standards. We seek proper resourcing of inspections, as these will not happen without such resourcing. We also support an NCT-type certification system for private rented housing. We also seek the putting in place of proper penalties for people who put other human beings' lives at risk. That is what is happening around the country. The penalties must equal the threat to the most vulnerable people in our society.

I thank the Sinn Féin Deputies, particularly Deputy Ó Broin, for tabling this motion tonight as it enables us to discuss what worries the Government in this area and also what we witnessed in last week's programme. In this House, we are not easily shocked, as people have said, and we have seen many things over recent years. What was shown in the programme was a blatant disregard for people's lives and action that puts tenants at risk. That is what would worry most of us. We should be clear that no legislation permits that and these conditions are unacceptable under any standards. We do not need legislation to tell us that. All the inspection regimes in the world will only catch so much - we can always inspect properties - but we need to rely on the public, tenants and others to tackle the wider problem. I am concerned about what Deputy Joan Collins saw from her office over the past year and we will have to chase that up as well. It is not acceptable. We are very clear that it is not just the tenants of a house, hostel or makeshift hostel who can make a report. Others can make a report and that should be acted on. It is not acceptable that what the Deputy describes went on for over a year in the city. We will check it out because she raised it, and I have heard her refer to it before.

Tonight's motion gives us the chance to consider what we can do and want to do. I know Deputy Ó Broin wants agreement and that is why the Government is certainly not opposing the motion. We might differ on how to go about it but that does not mean we are ruling out the NCT-type approach in the long run. We also want to have direct action that can have a quick impact. We all agree this is an area in which we should act. This has not gone unnoticed and in December last year we stated that we wanted increased inspections and more funding for this as we want a rental sector of which we can be proud. We want to encourage more investment from providers of accommodation for those who need it, as not everyone wants to or can own a house. We want the option of a properly functioning rental market. We have been focusing on the area. Last week's programme brought great attention to the extreme parts of the sector and tonight's motion deals with the broader issue.

The rental sector needs to be an attractive option for tenants as a long-term tenure of choice. A strong and viable private rental sector should be a key component in any healthy housing market, providing a housing option to those who either cannot or choose not to enter the owner-occupied market. We accept the housing market is not totally healthy, and that is why it has been the focus week after week in discussions in this House. We all agree that housing is a number one priority, and last week's programme will encourage us to work on that area even more. In general, we know housing is taking up much of our time, which is only right. It is why we are putting the guts of €6 billion of taxpayers' money into the housing sector to fix the problem. We cannot address it in one night, one month or even a couple of years, but we are certainly making inroads and we will continue to do so by investing money.

Tenants who are renting need to have the certainty that as long as they pay their rent and meet their obligations, their rental property will be a safe, efficient, durable, comfortable and sustainable home for them to live in for either the short or long term. The quality of rental accommodation is critical to the success and sustainability of the residential rental sector and to its attractiveness as a long-term accommodation option for households. We are acutely aware of the impact of substandard accommodation in the rental sector and we are taking urgent action to tackle it.

The strategy for the rental sector acknowledges the fact that there are low rates of inspection of the private rental stock, low rates of compliance and little consistency in approach to implementation of the regulations across local authorities. This must be addressed. It also sets out a clear roadmap to address these weaknesses and improve the quality of rental accommodation. The Department is working closely with the Residential Tenancies Board and the local authority sector to develop a national system of shared support services. This will mean that best practice approaches that work well in some local authorities will be developed and replicated across the system, taking advantage of economies of scale and ensuring that all local authorities have the appropriate personnel and systems in place not only for inspection but also to act promptly and effectively when non-compliance is found. We are very clear about this as in many areas, different local authorities excel in certain parts of service. We want to be able to copy such cases and we discussed this at the recent housing summit. We want to copy best practice and there is no point in reinventing the wheel going from one local authority to another.

There has been an allocation of €2.5 million in 2018 to assist local authorities with enforcement activities, with further funding increases envisaged. The plan is to get this to €10 million per year, leading to 25% of properties being inspected. We are a long way off as 4% are currently being inspected. We hold up our hands in that respect and there is no denying it. The new requirements for landlords to certify annually the quality and safety of the property would end the apparent impunity some have felt in obliging their tenants to live in squalid, demeaning and downright dangerous conditions. They must know it is wrong.

I have been very clear on that, and if we have to clarify that again in legislation we will do so to ensure that there is no grey area.

In addition to the actions specific to the issue under discussion tonight, there are also a number of other significant actions underway to improve the conditions in the residential rental sector. High and rapidly rising rents are drivers of substandard and unsafe accommodation. The changes we are making to the rent pressure zone system following the review we carried out over the summer will further slow the growth in rents. Charging rents above those permitted by the legislation will become an offence and the RTB will be provided with the powers to investigate and prosecute transgressors. It will no longer be solely up to the tenant to initiate a dispute. The conditions under which properties can be exempted from the rent increase limits will be more closely specified and landlords will have to notify the RTB when claiming an exemption. Landlords will also be required to notify the RTB when terminating a tenancy, irrespective of the ground for termination. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, decided earlier in the year that the RTB will play a more central and proactive role in the residential rental sector. It will be given the powers and the resources required to take on its enhanced responsibilities in the sector. This is a substantial programme of work that will be undertaken over the coming two-year period, which will involve exploring, as a matter of urgency, the changes needed in legislation and in the board’s financing arrangements in order to make early progress in the process that will progressively see the RTB become the sector’s regulator.

I want to be very clear on this, because Deputy Cowen, among others, raised the question. We are not taking local authorities out of the inspection process. We are giving increased powers to the RTB, which will become the regulator, but the local authorities will have increased resources and will still have the job of inspecting properties. They are still in charge of that. There is no issue of the local authorities being removed from that sector. There will be clear, ring-fenced money for this job, and work will be carried out with limits set over the years.

The strategy for the rental sector is driving changes to improve standards, and to increase the coverage and efficiency of the inspections system to underpin improved compliance. It is intolerable that unscrupulous landlords have the impunity to take advantage of our most vulnerable citizens and we are taking steps to address this problem. This is practically criminal activity. These people are not landlords, and we should not call them landlords. What they are doing is not permitted under any legislation. They are not registered landlords. An inspection regime that was inspecting 20% of properties probably would not have caught them either. However, if they were reported by Deputies or councillors or anybody else it should have been followed up on. Any criminal activity requires the participation of everybody to stop it.

Substantial progress is being made in this area and there is an ambitious programme of work in place. People speak about inspection rates and full non-compliance in some cases. This is because the inspections, even though they are at a low percentage, are generally targeted and take place on receipt of information, which explains why they show a very high non-compliance rate. They are targeting properties that have been reported. It is useful, but I am aware that it does not inspire confidence in the overall rental sector. We want that confidence in the sector, and that is why we are prepared to put more money into this, both to prevent what we saw last week and to improve the rental sector and make it a genuine choice for people who want to rent and who do not want to commit to a property long-term, or who would rather rent in order to follow a job or their families in different circumstances. It is part of Rebuilding Ireland, so we will invest in that for all the different reasons that were put forward here tonight as well.

I know that Deputy Ó Broin is genuine when he says that he wants to have full agreement on this, and that is why we are not opposing it. I understand the sentiment behind the idea of introducing an NCT-type certification system for private houses. Most people want that. It is a reaction to last week's programme for some. Others have spoken about this in the past. However, we do not believe that such a system will give us results as quickly as we want them. The NCT system works very well for cars, but it was implemented over a long number of years. It did not achieve magic results at the start but as it became fully operational it did. We are all used to that system. It works very well and has greatly improved the quality of cars on our roads. However, the same system might not provide the same result and make the desired impact on rental properties. We are not ruling out the NCT-type system. I said last Friday that we would not rule it out, that any idea is worth looking at and that we are prepared to look at it. The working group preparing proposals for the standardised national inspection will consider this.

We need to act quickly, and to have an impact in the short term. The self-certification process that we are going to introduce will do this, and it will result in prosecutions and end the impunity that some landlords feel. Again, however, some of these people would never register, no matter what system is in place, because they are not landlords. They are involved in other activity, and we want to deal with that as well. I believe that the certification process is the quickest way to make an impact. It has made an impact in the planning process because it makes people responsible. Hopefully Members understand that it is a step in the right direction. It might not be everything that some Members want in the Motion, but it is certainly something that we will agree with.

With the changes that were announced over the summer and which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, referred to earlier, we recognise that the RTB will need more resources. It is already reviewing its workforce and is planning for the new proposals and new responsibilities it has. This year already the RTB has requested an additional ten staff in full time posts, and these positions were sanctioned and are in place already. That is something that we are willing to do.

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, announced in September that the financing arrangements of the RTB are also being reviewed to ensure that it has the resources for its expanded role. We have also decided to move to annual registration of tenancies, and it is intended that the RTB will be run on a self-financing model in the very near future. By 2019 this should provide increased money for the local authorities. We have ring-fenced €2.5 million for 2018 to cover inspections by the local authorities, but that will increase to €10 million a few years later. We are committed to this area, and if we need to strengthen legislation that is something that we are prepared to do as well.

I commend my colleague Eoin Ó Broin on his contribution to the debate tonight. The debate appeared to focus all of our minds on finding solutions. It was not the usual blame game.

We all accept that there is a housing crisis. No one in this Chamber denies it. We come across those difficulties every day of the week.

The "Prime Time" programme showed another symptom of that crisis. It was extreme, raw and shocking. I have never seen anything like what was on that programme, with so many people crammed into rooms. I have been dealing with the housing crisis for a long time. I remember one occasion where foreign nationals were the tenants and the landlord was turning a toilet into a bedroom to claim money. That situation took place in the South Dublin County Council area, and no one was monitoring it.

In another example, an owner of a business had staff - foreign nationals - living in a container, and he invited me along to meet the staff. The staff were quite happy living in a container beside a power unit over a shop. That was shocking.

I had a young woman with two children in my constituency office within the last two weeks. She outlined the accommodation that she was living in. She does not live in my local authority area, but she wanted advice. She is living in a house with bars on the windows. There is a gas boiler in the bedroom. There is water running down the walls. The electricity works sporadically, and sometimes sparks. There is mould in the room. There is a shed and garden at the back of the accommodation that is covered in drug paraphernalia. She asked me what to do. I can report this to the local authority, but the sad reality is that I do not have alternative accommodation for that young woman. That is the crisis we are in. There is nowhere to refer people to. That is the difficulty.

I am in a local authority area that is second on the list in terms of inspections. It is fantastic that there are inspections going on, but I am aware of different housing stock in the area where people are living in overcrowded conditions. I am aware of houses where foreign nationals are living and where neighbours complain that there are families moving in all the time. People are moving in the middle of the night and it is impossible to say how many are living in one house. Who investigates? It is a private house. The local authorities are not really that interested.

I know of situations where the local authorities have put people in two bedroom accommodation. That was when these people had perhaps one child and now they have two, three or four children. It is not a priority for the local authority to transfer those people. Its priority may be for homeless people.

I also know of families where there might be five, six or seven adults living along with the parents in the house. There might also be children in that house. They are all packed into local authority housing. I am just offering this example of the crisis that exists. Every Deputy can give other examples.

Different things bring about change. We like to think that the Grenfell Tower fire will bring about change in respect of fire safety and so forth. There must also be change in this area. What we are seeking is quite reasonable and has cross-party support. It is about more resources, more inspections and the NCT.

I will respond briefly to some of the points made in the debate. When I was writing my opening speech, one of my questions was about how widespread breaches of minimum standards in the private rental sector are. I live in that sector and have done for 11 years. I have had three very good landlords. The straight answer, however, is that we just do not know. The reason is that there is an insufficient level of inspections. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said that one of the reasons the compliance rates as recorded are very high is that the level of inspections is very low. In fact, that is not what the figures tell us. Last year's National Oversight & Audit Commission report shows that one of the local authorities with the highest level of inspections, South Dublin County Council, in whose area Deputy Crowe and I both live, had a 29% inspection rate but 60% non-compliance. There are local authorities that have high inspection rates and low non-compliance but there is simply no correlation between the two. Until we have a far more robust inspection regime we will not know the situation.

I welcome that the Government is not opposing the motion and that the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is committed to examining the issue of penalties. However, the suggestion that there will not be 25% inspection rates until 2021 is far too slow given that it would only cost an extra €2.5 million each year. There must be a way of fast-tracking that by two or three years. If it is only an extra €2.5 million each year, surely that money can be found earlier in the budgetary cycle to ensure those inspections take place, particularly inspections of older properties or properties that are not covered by the HAP or RAS.

One element in the Minister's remarks that was very disappointing, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, also raised this, was the self-certification. On the one hand, it is being stated that a NCT-style certification system cannot be set up quickly enough and will not yield the results we think it will, yet, on the other, it is stated that we can set up self-certification and it will yield results. I do not believe those two things make much sense. Nobody is saying this NCT can be set up overnight, but it is not the same as setting up the car NCT. We already have the minimum standards and the expertise in the local authorities. It is about making it a legal requirement and phasing it in. I believe it could be done very quickly and in a reasonable way.

I stress to the Minister of State that expecting tenants or third parties to make those complaints ignores the type of situation Deputy Crowe mentioned. How can somebody who is fearful of losing their tenancy and being unable to get another tenancy because of the high asking price for rents be expected to make a complaint? That applies not just to vulnerable people but also to working families who have a rent of perhaps €1,100 or €1,200 while the asking rent in the local area is €1,800. They are genuinely nervous of getting into difficulties with their landlords.

I acknowledge that Fianna Fáil has been calling for the NCT-style certification system for some time. The fact that we are all now on the same page and that, with a little pulling and dragging, we might be able to get the Government on that page too is very positive.

In response to Deputies Mick Barry and Boyd Barrett, I agree with the proposition that undocumented migrants should have the right to make complaints without fear of potential legal consequences. That is eminently sensible. We considered including in the motion the need for full regulation for social rental tenants in the local authority housing sector, but we wanted to keep the focus clearly on the private rental sector. However, there is an anomaly whereby HAP and RAS tenants and approved housing body tenants are now governed by aspects of the RTB regime while local authority tenants are not. That is clearly an area that requires attention.

I also fully agree with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. It struck me watching the RTÉ documentary that we have a black market rental economy alongside the standard rental economy. That is clear, but it is not invisible. The fact that Deputy Jan O'Sullivan was able to produce advertisements for accommodation in that part of the sector, and after the RTÉ investigation was broadcast, shows that it can be tracked down and rooted out. That must be part of the system.

To conclude, I appeal to Fianna Fáil and Solidarity-People Before Profit not to press their amendments, and that is not because the items in those amendments are not worthy. I have mentioned some of them. If the House concludes this debate by unanimously focusing on three crucial issues - the urgent need for more inspections and more resourcing of local authorities to do that, an NCT-style certification system and tougher penalties for those who wilfully break the law - we will send out a positive signal. We can deal with some of the other issues as we proceed but if we get to divisions on amendments it weakens the message. Threshold, whose representatives have been in the Visitors Gallery throughout the debate, have appealed to us to send a clear, united signal that what we saw on our television screens last week is unacceptable and that we are united on a course of action to try to eradicate it once and for all.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after “further notes that” and substitute the following:

“— successive governments have put in place a system of regulation for the private rental sector dependent on vulnerable tenants complaining about breaches of regulations to councils or the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) rather than preventative State enforcement;

— in 2016 only four per cent of private rental properties were inspected by local authorities;

— in 2016 two thirds of inspected properties were not compliant with minimum standards regulations;

— local authorities have failed to adequately enforce standards in the private rental sector;

— central government has failed to adequately resource local authorities to carry out their enforcement functions with respect to the private rental sector;

— significant numbers of tenants continue to live in unacceptable and substandard private rented accommodation whereby people’s lives are being endangered by the drive for profit of unscrupulous landlords; and

— the inadequate legislation in relation to overcrowding, which is not covered under current minimum standards regulations for the private rental sector, and the lack of regulation of student accommodation; and

calls for:

— the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to set out, as a matter of urgency, a plan for ensuring compliance with and improving minimum standards regulations in the private rental sector;

— the Government to review the penalties faced by landlords, to ensure adequate sanctions, including seizing assets of non-compliant landlords, prison sentences and large fines to allow increased compensation for tenants, for those that fail to register tenancies or who fail to meet minimum standards;

— the Government to support the proposal for an NCT-type certification system for private rented housing to further strengthen compliance with legal standards, and as part of this to adequately resource local authorities to ensure that a comprehensive inspection and enforcement regime is put in place, including by hiring 500-750 new local authority inspectors to establish and oversee the new certification system and to ensure that one third to a half of all rental properties are inspected annually from next year;

— the Government to guarantee that undocumented migrants be permitted to make complaints about accommodation standards without fear of deportation or other legal consequences;

— the Government to publish an annual report detailing levels of private rental sector inspections and enforcement in each local authority;

— the Government to democratise the RTB to ensure tenant representation and significantly increase resources to the agency to enable it to properly police registration and compliance with private rental sector regulations, including rent caps under the Rent Pressure Zones, and the introduction of a deposit protection scheme;

— the Government to reverse the burden of proof from tenants to landlords in relation to breaches of rent caps under the Rent Pressure Zones, by mandating that landlords receive a certificate of compliance from the RTB before setting rents on a property;

— the Government to close loopholes in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 that allow landlords to circumvent Rent Pressure Zone regulations under the guise of property refurbishment and to apply the rent caps to new properties;

— the Government to introduce new legislation on overcrowding, particularly in relation to pre-1963 properties;

— the Government to review legislation on multi-occupancy units and on student accommodation, which currently falls outside of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, to improve protections for students; and

— the Government to reverse its failed policy of outsourcing ‘social housing’ to the private rental sector through the Housing Assistance Payment and to build or acquire at least 40,000 new public social and affordable homes next year instead.”

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 9 November 2017.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.05 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 November 2017.