Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to extend the minimum notice period for a tenancy termination by a landlord, to make rent data available to tenants, and to increase the maximum value of fines applying.

I seek leave to introduce the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018. There can be no doubt that we are living in the middle of a housing emergency. Rents are at record levels. Homelessness is at record levels. The supply of new housing is painfully slow. It does not take a genius to work out that there is a clear connection between each of those three phenomena.

Many people are affected by this dreadful negative spiral but one of the groups most vulnerable to homelessness is those living in private rented accommodation. There is growing evidence to show that since the introduction of the 4% rent cap in rent pressure zones, some landlords are seeking to avoid the limits by terminating the tenancy of their existing tenants and using some exemptions in legislation to justify large rent increases for their new tenants. How else can one explain the 11% increase in rents in Cork, for example, or the 10% increase in Dublin? That has put some tenants in a very precarious position, especially those who are in short-term tenancies.

Under current law, a landlord is required to give a minimum of just 28 days' notice of termination to his or her tenants. The period increases the longer the tenancy is in existence, but two and a half years into the tenancy, for instance, the notice period is still only 56 days. It is almost impossible in the current housing market for tenants, or the homeless services that support them, to find alternative accommodation with such short notice. The short notice period is undoubtedly a factor in the surge in homelessness. Accordingly, the first item in the Bill is to help to reduce the risk of homelessness by introducing a new minimum notice period of 90 days for all tenancies of less than one year's duration and 120 days for all tenancies between one and five years' duration. That would bring Ireland into line with countries such as France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany where generally a minimum notice period of three months or more is required.

The second proposed change in the Bill is to address one of the anomalies in the legislation that set up the rent pressure zones. At the moment, there is no way in which a new tenant can test whether the 4% cap is being applied correctly by the landlord. Section 3 provides that new tenants would have access to details of the amount of rent paid by previous tenants. This would ensure that there is a check available to tenants on whether the maximum rent increase charged in designated rent pressure zones is being applied correctly.

The third proposal is to increase the maximum penalty that applies under the Residential Tenancies Act. Under current law, if a landlord breaches the requirements on minimum notice periods, a maximum penalty of just €4,000 applies. The Bill would raise that to €15,000.

Overall, the Bill proposes three simple changes to legislation to strengthen the rights of tenants and to help reduce the risk of homelessness. A wide range of additional measures are required such as a proper cap on rents, measures to prevent tenancies ending because the accommodation is being sold, proper policing of exemptions used by landlords, far stiffer penalties on rogue landlords, and clearer responsibilities for tenants. We also need an efficient and timely dispute resolution system which is adequately resourced. We note that the Government has promised action in some of these areas and we look forward to dealing with such legislation as soon as possible. In the meantime, however, we strongly urge support for the measures proposed in this Bill. They are a genuine attempt to help reduce homelessness and strengthen tenants' rights, and we urge Members on all sides of the House to support the Bill.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

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

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

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 2.20 p.m.