Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018: Second Stage

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

We all know that we are in the middle of a serious homelessness crisis. All of our efforts, as a Government and as an Oireachtas, are being directed towards solutions that will help bring this crisis to an end. Fundamentally, supply must be - and is being - increased, thanks to the policies that this Government is spearheading through Rebuilding Ireland. As supply increases we also have to ensure that we are protecting people who are currently struggling with housing affordability and security issues. This places a particular focus on the need to continue to reform our rental sector. The rental sector in Ireland still needs to develop and mature in order to provide a viable, sustainable and attractive alternative to home ownership, rather than serving as a temporary refuge or a staging post on the route to home ownership.

Our rental market is not like that of other European countries yet. It is true that we do not have a mature rental sector. We are trying to transform the sector, but we do so at a time of under-supply which makes it very challenging. We do not have a cost rental market. In other countries, provision of cost rental accommodation provides 20% to 25% of total accommodation. We are at the very early stages of building a cost rental sector. If we get it right, the long term benefits are obvious. What we do have is the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, which provides strong protection to both tenants and landlords. A professional landlord sector similar to other European countries is beginning to build in Ireland, but the majority of our landlords, some 86%, own only one or two properties. Many are accidental landlords following the financial crash in this country, which is still having an impact today on housing, banking and public and private debt levels. The make-up of our landlord sector, with its over-reliance on small and accidental landlords, has to be borne in mind. We have to be careful, in making changes to Irish tenancy law, that these changes do not inadvertently cause an unsustainable exit of landlords from the rental sector, which would only make things worse.

Recent data from the RTB tells us that landlords have left the market. Over 1,700 have done so since 2015. This is a real and legitimate concern that all of us must keep in mind as we progress new reforms in this sector. We have to work with what we have and secure continued participation in the residential rental accommodation sector, as we improve and reform it. This will require participation from the traditional landlord as well as participation from the larger, institutional landlords, some of whom have only recently begun to participate in this sector here.

The Residential Tenancies Act was passed in 2004 and represented the most significant legislative reform in the private rented sector in over a century. Prior to 2004, the rental market operated in a crude and fragmented manner. There was little or no security of tenure for tenants and recovery of possession presented a nightmare scenario of long and expensive court proceedings for landlords. Even minor disputes arising during the course of a tenancy had no avenue of resolution other than the courts. The combination of these factors resulted in the absence of a secure, regulated rental market that could offer a real, attractive longer-term housing solution to people searching for a home. Rented housing represented a tenure choice of last resort for many. It was perceived as being only for student housing, for bedsits, as a short-term solution or, indeed, the only solution for the most marginalised and vulnerable in our society who could not afford anything better. This, thankfully, is not the private rented market of today. More people are renting now than ever before. Figures from the RTB show more than 339,000 tenancies registered from both private and approved housing body landlords at the end of 2017. People are not renting solely because they cannot afford to buy a home, though I recognise this is a challenge for many in Ireland today. Many people are renting because they prefer the flexibility that renting offers, because they do not want to take on the significant debt that is a mortgage, or the liability that home ownership can sometimes be. It is also true that Irish life is changing, and has been for some time, resulting in people staying in education longer, marrying or committing to a partner later and putting down roots in a community at an older age than my generation’s parents might have. These factors are also leading to a growing demand for rental properties, different types of rental properties to the ones we may have seen before, and a better functioning rental sector.

Not only in our rental policy have we sought to meet this demand, but also in the new planning and building guidelines that we have developed in the past 18 months around build to rent apartments, more cost effective apartment delivery and the introduction of new concepts like co-living. These reforms are now leading to an upsurge in planning applications for new apartments.

While it is the case that renting has been a negative experience for some and has not meant a secure and safe home, for the vast majority renting works and we need it to continue to work, but work better than it has been working, with greater transparency and accountability for tenant and landlord. The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 introduced real security of tenure for tenants in the private rented residential sector for the first time. It set out minimum obligations for landlords and tenants and provided access for both tenants and landlords to a cheap, informal and independent dispute resolution service. The Act laid out conditions for rent reviews and prohibited the charging of rents in excess of market levels. It set out fair procedures for the termination of tenancies and provided for notice periods linked to the duration of a tenancy. Under Rebuilding Ireland, rent caps in the form of rent pressure zones were introduced to limit what had until then been very steep increases in rents, particularly in high demand areas. What we have seen in these areas to date has been a moderation of rent inflation, particularly for existing tenancies, but rent inflation, and rents themselves, remain unacceptably high in many parts of the country.

People earning a good salary for a hard day’s work are being pinned to their collar because their rent is too high.

Will copies of the Minister's speech be circulated?

Copies should have been provided to Deputies by the office but we were caught by the change of time of this debate. We were notified that we would be required in the House later. My office is hopefully making copies of the speech at the moment.

I thank the Minister.

This is also having an impact on their ability to save for a home. That is not the kind of quality of life we want for our citizens. Others are having to make unacceptable sacrifices to meet the rent, or are sacrificing time with their families by making long commutes because they cannot meet the rent closer to where they work. Still others are living in overcrowded situations, or have to move back in with parents at a time in their lives when they should not have to. Those really suffering have found themselves without a home and are in emergency accommodation today. There are too many in that situation. Those scenarios demonstrate the importance of the legislation we have before us.

The Bill I am introducing, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2018, builds on what has been achieved by the Residential Tenancies Acts to date, by the Residential Tenancies Board and under the RPZ legislation. The Bill provides for the future development of the rental sector and with it stronger protections for our citizens who do not yet, or may never, own their own home. The Bill centres on priority proposals in order to facilitate quick passage through the Oireachtas. It does not address everything that we need to do in the rental sector. Indeed, a further rent reform Bill will follow this Bill. However, this Bill contains the priority measures that we believe are necessary and must be enacted now in the best interests of existing and future tenants. I do hope colleagues in both Houses will facilitate its quick passage.

The Bill delivers on a number of commitments flowing from Rebuilding Ireland and the commitments made in September 2017 to provide the RTB with additional powers and resources to deliver enhanced protections to both tenants and landlords. The key measures and reforms are designed to enhance enforcement powers for the RTB, provide greater security of tenure for tenants and further underpin the operation of the RPZ arrangements, along with some further targeted priority measures. The Bill is set out in three parts with 25 sections and I will now to refer in some detail to the main provisions.

Part 1, preliminary and general, contains standard provisions dealing with the Title, collective citation and commencement of the Bill. It also provides for definitions and interpretation of terms used in the Bill and in the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2016.

Part 2 amends the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and provides for a number of key changes to the regulatory framework. Section 3 amends section 19 of the Act of 2004 to provide a definition for substantial change in the nature of the accommodation provided under the tenancy in respect of which an exemption applies from the rent increase limit of 4% per annum in RPZs and to require a landlord to notify the RTB, and to provide supporting information, where an exemption to the application of the rent increase limit is claimed. In addition, section 3, if enacted, will create three new offences namely non-compliance with the rent increase limit provisions, knowingly or recklessly furnishing information to the RTB which is false or misleading in a material respect in a bid to claim an exemption from the rent limit and non-compliance with the new requirement to notify the RTB of an exemption claim.

Sections 5, 6 and 7 provide for technical amendments to ensure that various notice periods afforded under the Residential Tenancies Act, such as termination notices and rent review notices, are correctly applied.

The amendment to section 66 of the 2004 Act under section 7 extends the notice period that a landlord provides in the context of an impending tenancy termination. This applies to tenants who have occupied a dwelling for more than six months and less than five years. For those tenants occupying a tenancy for six months or more but less than one year, the notice period currently at 35 days will increase to 90 days. For those with tenancy of one year or more but less than two years, the notice period will increase from 42 days to 120 days. For those with tenancy of two years or more but less than three years, the notice period will increase from 56 days to 120 days. For those with tenancy of three years or more but less than four years, the notice period will increase from 84 days to 120 days. For those with tenancy of four years or more but less than five years of a tenancy, the notice period will increase from 112 days to 120 days. The provision aims to assist tenants by giving them extra time to accommodate themselves where a landlord needs to terminate a tenancy.

Where a tenancy termination notice is determined to be invalid due to a defect in the notice or an error occurring during the service of the notice by the landlord, the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, will be empowered to permit the landlord to remedy such a defect by issuing a remedial notice to the tenant. The notice will provide at least a further 28 days on top of the original termination notice period. Significantly, the Bill provides for review of these new tenancy termination provisions during the third year of their operation. I will speak later on to some further intended amendments to the existing tenancy termination provisions.

Sections 9 and 10 empower the RTB to charge a fee for its mediation services if it is deemed necessary in the future. Section 11 technically amends section 123 of the Act of 2004 to make it mandatory for the board to publish its determination orders and notices of cancellation thereof. Currently, the board has the option whether to so publish. The amendment aims to enhance transparency in this area.

A significant change to current practice will be made through section 12. Tenancies will be required to be registered annually with the RTB. The aim is to more regularly gather accurate and detailed tenancy and rent data to inform rental market policy development and implementation. Currently, a tenancy might not be required to be re-registered until the expiry of a six-year period. This could occur where a tenant continues to reside in the same dwelling during that period. Section 14 introduces a technical amendment to provide a legal requirement that the address at which the landlord ordinarily resides and the address of the landlord's authorised agent are both supplied on the registration of a tenancy. This provision is in the interests of transparency and the efficient operation of protections under the tenancy law. As such, landlords will be obliged to supply their own address and not only that of their agent.

Sections 15 and 16 provide for the RTB to charge fees for annual registrations of tenancies. These will include a €40 fee per tenancy registration by private providers and a €20 per tenancy registration by an approved housing body. Fees will be increased by 50% for late tenancy registrations in line with the move to annual registration of tenancies. A registration fee can only be charged in respect of the same dwelling once a year. A discounted single registration fee can be applied where the same landlord registers not more than ten tenancies of dwellings comprised in the same property. This could apply, for example, with up to ten apartments in the same block. The key change from the existing registration fees is that AHBs will be charged fees that are half those applicable to private providers. Currently, all landlords pay the same registration fee, which is €90 per tenancy. The reduction in AHB fees is proposed in recognition of the public service they provide in meeting the housing needs of those in receipt of social housing supports, their charitable or similar status as well as the low incidence of such bodies requiring the services of the RTB, such as dispute resolution services.

Section 17 empowers the RTB to pursue updates to its register from landlords with regard to rent alterations relating to tenancies in their dwellings. A new criminal offence is created with regard to non-compliance with the requirements to update rent information on the RTB register. Perhaps the most significant achievement of this Bill, if enacted, will be the introduction of a sanctioning regime to provide for the carrying out of investigations of landlords by RTB-authorised officers and the imposition of administrative sanctions by RTB-appointed decision-makers. Under the new Part 7A, the RTB will be empowered to cause, of its own volition or on foot of a complaint, an investigation to occur in respect of possible improper conduct on the part of a landlord with regard to complying with the requirements of the rent increase limit of 4% per annum in rent pressure zones. The measure will include the new requirement to notify the RTB of a rent limit exemption claim as well as the requirements to register a tenancy and keep the rent details related to the tenancy updated with the RTB.

Section 18 provides for several measures. An administrative sanctioning regime for the RTB is provided for. Provision is made for the appointment by the RTB of authorised officers and decision-makers as well as provision for their powers and functions, including powers of investigation, inspection and sanction for the RTB. The section confers power on the RTB to initiate an investigation without a complaint being made by the public. Subject to certain conditions, the RTB will be required to cause an investigation to be carried out upon receipt of a complaint of improper conduct by a landlord under the Act. Oral hearings regarding matters under investigation may take place. Sanctions may be imposed that take into account the nature of the improper conduct in question and may comprise one or all of the following: a financial penalty of up to €15,000, payment of RTB investigation costs of up to €15,000, and a written caution. The section provides for a right of appeal to the Circuit Court in respect of a sanction. If no appeal occurs, the section requires the Circuit Court to confirm all sanctions. The section also provides for other ancillary matters relating to procedures to be adopted by the RTB.

Part 3 provides for the repeal of certain provisions contained in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 that have not come into operation and have been overtaken by the provisions in this Bill.

I will need to introduce Government amendments, including technical amendments to the Bill and to the Act of 2004, as the Bill makes its way through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I was keen to publish the Bill as soon as possible to let everyone in the sector know that the Government is serious in its intent to stamp out any improper conduct by landlords, particularly with regard to flouting the rent increase restrictions. I hope to introduce an amendment to allow the RTB to publish rental amounts in its register. This proposal is receiving due diligence by the Office of the Attorney General. Enhanced rent transparency is our goal, and it is an important one. Specific amendments to better tailor the Act of 2004 to the operation of AHBs are under consideration, including a possible provision in the context of impending cost rental accommodation provision by AHBs.

Other significant proposed amendments to the Bill are being worked on by my officials as well as by officials in the Department of Education and Skills and the Office of the Attorney General. The aim is possibly to extend the application of certain provisions of the Residential Tenancies Acts, especially those connected to rent setting for purpose-built student-specific accommodation let under licence by private providers or let under licence or tenancy by public providers. To be clear, purpose-built student-specific accommodation let under tenancy by private providers is fully under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Acts. Any student who has signed a licence agreement with a private provider who wishes to raise a complaint or dispute with the RTB can do so. If the RTB finds that the purported licence agreement is in fact a tenancy, it can go on to resolve the underlying dispute.

As mentioned, I intend to examine the need to introduce further amendments to the existing tenancy termination provisions. My intention is for the existing grounds for tenancy termination by a landlord to be carefully examined by the Department and the Office of the Attorney General with a view to bringing forward any necessary amendments to tighten and enhance legally the operation of relevant provisions and to empower greater enforcement of the provisions by the RTB.

Another area that needs urgent attention by my Department and the Office of the Attorney General is the operation of rent pressure zones in the short to medium term. I imagine Deputies are aware that my three-year designation of the Dublin local authority areas and that of Cork City will expire in December 2019 as rent pressure zones. Active consideration is being given to what amendments might need to be included in this Bill to ensure that, come 2020, tenants will not be hit with astronomical rent hikes. The opportunity is being taken to examine what other changes are needed to the operation of the rent pressure zones and related exemptions. We will need to introduce amendments, but for now I simply wish to flag to the House and to the sector that these changes will be coming. Technical amendments in this area are being examined to ensure that the measures are fair in their application throughout the country and the sector and that tenants have reasonable rent certainty for the future.

In addition to the changes being ushered in by this Bill, the RTB is actively pursuing a range of modernisation initiatives. Government commitments in the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness were made in September 2017 to provide the Residential Tenancies Board with additional powers and resources to deliver enhanced protections to tenants and landlords. Arising from these commitments, a change management project board has been established to implement and develop the Residential Tenancies Board multi-annual change management plan to progress a number of the proposals announced in September 2017. Demand for RTB services has increased significantly due to the increasing size of the rental sector and because of the changing regulatory structure. In 2017, the RTB received 5,823 new applications for dispute resolution services. This was the highest number of applications the RTB has received in a given year. Almost half of all cases are processed and closed within four to eight weeks. The dispute resolution service offers resolution via mediation or adjudication as well as an appeal process by tribunal.

The proposed new powers for the RTB are a crucial first step in expanding its overall role and function as part of a multi-annual change management programme to enforce tenancy law proactively within the rental sector. Additional powers and functions will be rolled out to the RTB as soon as possible but in an orderly manner. The change management plan will identify priorities and timeframes for their delivery, incorporating milestones along the delivery path. It is recognised that the RTB is not in a position to take on further additional work until the necessary funding and staffing can be provided. Thus, in budget 2019 the board was provided with a 67% increase in Exchequer funding to strengthen its powers and provide for greater local authority inspections in the sector.

The Residential Tenancies (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2018 represents a significant evolutionary step in the development of the residential tenant-landlord regulatory environment in this country.

The introduction of a sanctioning regime for landlords who deliberately breach the rent pressure zone, RPZ, provisions of the Act is an important step in the development of a wider regulatory framework for the residential rental sector in the coming years. This is a forward-looking Bill that recognises the need for the broadening of its remit to ensure the good working of the private rented sector. Most of all, it will contribute to the continued development of the rented sector as an attractive long-term housing option and a crucial factor in the development of a sustainable housing policy as we continue on the road to economic recovery. I intend to build further on the published Bill, and the final enactment will represent true progress in the rental sector. In making these reforms, we will be able to help not just the people struggling today to meet the rent but also those who cannot meet the rent and who find themselves in emergency accommodation this evening.

I will share my time with Deputy Eamon Scanlon. I thank the Minister for outlining the Bill. We have waited quite some time for this. Everyone across the House agrees that the rental sector and the legislation which governs it require reform. We want to see tenants' rights strengthened, and therefore I welcome the proposal to lengthen the notice periods and the additional powers given to the Residential Tenancies Board. They are overdue and I am pleased to see this. Fianna Fáil will support the Bill in broad terms, although some elements will have to be gone through in more detail and considered on Committee Stage. I am generally concerned about the over-reliance on the courts. While the Bill gives the RTB the additional powers which most of us want it to have, when it makes a determination it will still require recourse to the Circuit Court where many of the blockages and delays have occurred. The Minister might expand further on Committee Stage on the advice he received on this. Deputy Ó Broin and I had also discussed with the Minister the matter of criminal sanction and whether the process might be made easier if it was a civil sanction so that recourse to the courts would not be necessary.

The legislation and revision of these regulations takes place in the middle of a rental crisis where there is insecurity in the market. Fianna Fáil wants to see improved security for tenants but also increased supply. We must strike a balance so that the introduction of legislation and regulations do not have a negative impact on supply. The vast majority of landlords are individuals with one or two properties. Figures from last year show that about 6,000 of these individual landlords have left the market, something which is driving up rents in many places. We must look at supply, and the roll-out of the cost rental model is crucially important in this. We must look at what works in other parts of Europe and diversify our rental market. Rents in Ireland are approximately 36% higher than at the height of the previous boom. As the Minister noted, there are people who pay €500 to €700 more in rent than they would pay in mortgage payments, were they able to secure a mortgage to buy the same property. The Minister has outlined some of the reasons he believes people are continuing to rent longer, such as getting married later in life, travelling or changes in lifestyle. Much of it, however, is because they cannot afford to buy a home. We must all know people in our constituencies throughout the country who, having been fortunate to save a deposit and buy a home, save themselves hundreds of euro each month by paying a mortgage in comparison with what they paid in rent.

We need a review of the rent pressure zones, RPZs. While they have worked to an extent, they are imperfect. There must also be a review of areas outside the RPZs. The review must look at exemptions for new properties.

The Minister referred to two very significant areas not covered in the Bill on which he will introduce amendments on Committee Stage. Certainly, Fianna Fáil wants to ensure that purpose-built student accommodation is included in the RPZs. Fianna Fáil has published legislation on this, as has Sinn Féin. We met the Minister on this during the summer and I want to see this on Committee Stage. We would like to have sight of the amendments in advance of Committee Stage so that we are not put in a position where we must disagree with the Minister. All of us recognise that many of these changes are needed. Between the Government, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and others, we can work together to agree the amendments, particularly on purpose-built student accommodation to ensure that students are not gouged in the new academic year, as the Bill must pass through both Houses before summer. I give Fianna Fáil's commitment that we will work constructively to ensure its passage through both Houses, and that it is done speedily, however, student accommodation must be covered.

Transparency is very important. The Minister is receiving legal advice on the rent price register and I wonder about the nature of that advice. It is not something I would have thought would be especially problematic and I hope that is not the case. Will the Minister enlighten us on that? Price transparency is something that will help the market and help the Department and the RTB in their collection of data.

Annual registration is something that requires interrogation. First, how might this effect price? Second, what administrative burden might it place on the RTB? I would like to return to this on Committee Stage to see how this would work in real terms. A balance must be struck between giving the RTB additional powers and tying it up in red tape. It has had a substantial increase in complaints. The Minister observed how it has undertaken more than 5,000 individual investigations. The Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government must ensure that it is properly resourced so that it can carry out the additional functions or powers that this legislation may give it. On Committee Stage, we might see the plans to expand the RTB, the additional funding that is required to do so and the additional staff that will be necessary to carry out its new duties.

Other things are needed. The Minister said another Bill on rent reform is forthcoming. There are other possible policies. Fianna Fáil and others have called for a national rent deposit scheme, which would be very important. I refer to the local authority quality certificate. We also need to examine tax treatment and ensure that we keep good landlords in the market because that is part of our housing solution. We need to see how we can move forward together to ensure the speedy implementation of the cost rental model.

My main concern about the Bill is its over-reliance on the courts. The Minister has told the housing committee that criminal sanction is required, but my grave concern is that every stage will require recourse to the courts to implement determinations. That clogs up the courts but also prolongs the implementation of many of these judgements.

While this Bill is published in the context of current abuses in the market, especially by landlords, there are other matters of concern such as third-party complaints, anti-social behaviour and the role and responsibilities of tenants. These may not be matters for this Bill but ought to be examined in future. Colleagues have told me that they would like the Bill to be clear about how complaints are made and how they are worked through. Someone deemed to be affected in such cases may not always be a landlord or tenant but may be a neighbour.

We must consider mechanisms that allow other valid complaints to be made. The RTB can make a determination on whether they are spurious. In many instances, communities can be affected by bad landlords. In some, they can be affected by bad tenants.

We broadly welcome this legislation. It is an improvement on and adds to what we have. It does not do everything we want, but I give the Minister a commitment on behalf of Fianna Fail that we will work speedily to improve this Bill on Committee Stage. We are considering potential amendments, as I am sure other colleagues are. I ask that the Minister give us early sight of the purpose-built student accommodation amendments and the price register amendments as soon as he can, as doing so would allow for an easier passage of same on Committee Stage.

We support the Bill because we view it as an important step towards strengthening tenants' rights, improving the process and giving additional powers to the Residential Tenancies Board that are badly needed.

We all know that there are many landlords who abuse their position of power, as they would see it, in how they treat their tenants. There are also many good landlords who look after their tenants and treat them fairly. I welcome that the Bill provides the RTB with powers to investigate and sanction landlords who engage in improper conduct, including non-compliance with the rent increase restrictions in rent pressure zones, RPZs. The Bill makes it a criminal offence for landlords to implement rent increases that contravene the law and do not adhere to new definitions of "substantial change", fail to co-operate with an investigation and fail to register and update tenancies with the RTB.

My colleague mentioned the national deposit scheme. Every Deputy knows that there are people, in particular students, who have been badly treated by landlords. Many have not got their deposits back. Frivolous excuses are used - a mark on a wall, the property being dirty, something not being right, etc. Any opportunity in the wide earthly world is taken to avoid returning a deposit. There must be more legal controls over deposits in order that people can have a better chance of getting them back. In 99% of the time, everything in the property is in a good condition apart from normal wear and tear. Sometimes, though, any excuse is used so that tenants do not get all or any of their deposits back.

The requirement for an annual registration of tenancies with the RTB is a mistake. Currently, a tenancy is registered when the tenant moves in and the landlord pays €90, which covers the tenancy for four years. If that situation changes and the tenancy must be registered every year, it will mean a cost of €360 over the same period. The Minister will say that the landlord has to pay it, but we all know that it will be the tenant who ultimately pays. That would be unfair. It would also be another charge on the tenant that he or she can badly afford. If the tenancy must be registered every year, set the charge at €25 or a figure that would equate to the same level over four years.

There are many vacant properties in rural towns. Where I come from in the north west, plenty of accommodation was available up to a year ago in many small towns like Ballymote, Tobercurry, Boyle and so on. Due to pressure in the major towns and cities, people have been forced out into rural areas and have taken up all of that accommodation. I understand that Sligo County Council does not have even one house available in Ballymote or Tobercurry. Roscommon is in a similar situation with Boyle. People are finding it difficult to get accommodation. Many properties in the centre of these small towns used to be small businesses before they closed. They are empty at the moment. The Government has picked out certain towns across the country where it will try to regenerate town centres, but there used to be something in rural areas a number of years ago called the rural and urban renewal scheme. If people invested in and did up these types of property, they would get tax relief on their rental income. Such a measure would not cost the Government anything and would generate hundreds of rooms for accommodation purposes, be they flats or whatever. However, it would cost money. Currently, it does not pay landlords in rural areas to carry out such work. The old incentive worked before and could work again, but it should be specifically used in town centres to help people restore properties to livable condition.

I do not know whether my next issue is relevant to this Bill. People in certain housing estates are living in fear because of serious anti-social behaviour at night. I am aware of it happening in Sligo town and other areas across my constituency. The people being affected by this anti-social behaviour are usually elderly. They are truly afraid to say or report anything. This issue must be examined carefully and addressed. Currently, it takes too long to deal with anti-social behaviour, which is unfair on many of the people affected.

I wish to raise a further issue, one that I have raised previously and that my colleague mentioned. Some families have one person working in the house and two, three or four children. I encountered a case recently where a family was spending €750 per week on rent. The family cannot go on the housing list because its income is over the limit. It applied to the county council for a loan to purchase a house it could afford, but the council refused the application, saying that the family did not have the capability to repay the loan. This despite the fact these people were paying €750 per week in rent to a landlord, which would be more than enough to repay a mortgage. Things are happening as regards the overall situation, but it needs to be addressed if we are to give such people some hope that they will be able to get houses of their own for themselves and their families. In fairness, the council's interest rate is good at 2.5% and makes purchasing a house achievable, but people are getting no credit for the amount of money they are paying in rent. I am referring to people who have been renting for the past five, six or seven years and whose rental records show that they never missed a payment. Despite this, the council will not take that into consideration when they apply for loans. This issue needs to be addressed.

Next is Deputy Ó Laoghaire. Actually, I meant Deputy Ó Broin. My apologies.

Do not worry about it.

I thank the Minister for the Bill's outline. Sinn Féin opposed the RPZs when they were introduced in 2016 because we believed that a 12.5% rent increase over three years for tenants who were already paying rents that were too high was unsustainable. We also argued that RPZs would create perverse incentives for landlords outside the RPZs to jack up rents even higher than those levels. During the debate, we specifically warned that it would create a two-tier rental market, with long-term secure tenants subject to compliant landlords while new tenants into the market would have to pay much higher prices. We also warned that there were too many loopholes. For example, many of us raised the significant issue of the lack of any statutory definition of "substantial renovations".

We have been proven right in all of these matters. From the RTB quarterly index, we know that the cap is being breached regularly. From the most recent quarterly index in particular, we see that the two-tier market between long-term secure tenants and new entrants to the market is in evidence. We know that the loopholes, particularly that regarding substantial changes, are being breached actively in the form of regular "renovictions".

In some senses, the welcome changes in this Bill are a kind of admission of failure, in particular, to listen to what many on the Opposition benches warned and, in fact, proposed useful amendments on in 2016. If we had been listened to then by the Minister's predecessor, it would not have been necessary for him to be addressing some of the issues that, thankfully, he is addressing today. I do not say that to gloat in any way but to urge the Minister to listen carefully to what all of the Opposition Deputies will say in terms of potential constructive amendments to this Bill so that we can try to enhance it over the coming weeks.

As the Minister will be aware, my party's preference in 2016 was rent certainty. The Minister will be aware we are strong advocates of a rent freeze as an emergency measure now, but given that rent pressure zones are what is on the table, we will engage constructively with this Bill in the spirit in which it has been presented so that, notwithstanding our criticisms of the overall system, we try at least to make sure it works in the best interests of tenants as well as landlords.

On that basis, I welcome the main provisions, and the Minister will be aware this is Sinn Féin's position. I strongly welcome increased protections for tenants and increased powers for the Residential Tenancies Board, but I urge the Minister to listen to us on the Opposition benches when we say there are a number of significant weaknesses in this Bill which, with sensible amendment on Committee Stage, can be addressed, making it a much better instrument for everybody.

I echo Deputy Darragh O'Brien in expressing disappointment with the delay in the Bill. However, I suspect the Minister privately also has been disappointed in the delay. The delay is not his responsibility or that of the officials in his Department, but I still want to put that on record. Like Deputy O'Brien, I give a clear commitment that my party will progress this Bill through the House as quickly as possible and in the spirit which the Minister has asked us to do, but we will not allow the speed of progress to undermine in any way our responsibility to scrutinise this legislation. The Residential Tenancies Acts have become a complex web of legislation - the Minister knows that far better than me - and it is incumbent on us, particularly on Committee Stage, to spend the requisite amount of time to ensure that this latest range of amendments do not unduly complicate that already complex set of rules and regulations. We can do both of these if we work in that spirit of co-operation.

In terms of the detail of the Bill, first, I welcome the legal definition of "substantial change". It is quite a technical definition. I would hope on Committee Stage that we can tease out some of the rationale for those definitions so that we can get into the substance of that, but I always felt a legal definition was required. I welcome the fact that it is here. I welcome the sensible proposal to roll over Part 4 tenancies when they expire so that they are not new tenancies but simply extensions of the existing Part 4 tenancies, something that should have always been in the original legislation and will be welcomed here.

I welcome strongly the extended notice to quit periods. I would like the Minister to consider two suggestions. The first is a small addition to the minimum notice to quit period of 28 days. All of the notice to quit periods immediately above that have increased somewhat. I suggest even to give it an extra seven days to increase it to 35. Given what is going on in the rental market, some extra little bit of comfort there for tenants would be welcome. If, however, the intention of this amendment is somehow to deal with the large number of family presentations into homeless services because of vacant possession notices to quit, it will not fix that problem. The Minister will be aware of my position. I urge the Minister to consider some form of the Focus Ireland amendment, whether by way of a Government amendment to this Bill or in his next round of legislation, to try to deal with that particular issue. Otherwise, while we might be giving families at risk of homelessness a little extra time, ultimately, if we cannot keep them in those properties, they will still end up presenting as homeless. That does not detract from the fact that this is welcome. However, if it is intended to tackle that particular problem, it will not and, therefore, I urge the Minister to consider additional action.

I welcome the publication of determinations from which many of us benefit, but I have one concern which I would like the Minister either to address on Committee Stage or consider. It is not necessary for the names of tenants and landlords to be published when those determinations go live. The value of the determinations is for us to have that record and others taking cases to have the detail of those determinations. Both for the privacy of tenants and landlords as well as for their own protection and reputation, there should be some consideration of the redaction of the names of landlords and tenants when the full determinations are published. My understanding is that happens currently in Workplace Relations Commission cases. I could be wrong and maybe the Minister could check that. That might be something, although small, worth considering.

I am not clear at all as to why there is a proposition to charge for mediation. The point of mediation is to try to encourage an agreement between landlords and tenants so that we do not have to go through adjudication and possibly to tribunal. If we make it an expense, especially for low-income tenants, or indeed some landlords who may be in financial difficulties with mortgage arrears etc., it is less likely to work. I am not sure of the rationale. I urge the Minister to reconsider that.

I understand the logic in terms of the resetting of invalid notices. I am not against that in principle. I merely ask the Minister to come back on Committee Stage with an explanation as to why it is only 28 days as opposed to a slightly longer period. That is something we need to tease out. I am not opposed to it in principle but some consideration needs to be given.

Contrary to Deputy Scanlon, I think the annual registration is essential. The policing powers of the Residential Tenancies Board with respect to the RPZs can only work if it has access to accurate data. Members will be aware of the limitations of the RTB's quarterly rent index because it only includes new or reregistered tenancies. Therefore, having those annual data makes absolute sense and underpins much of the good powers the RTB is being given. The fee is moderate. I welcome the fact that the approved housing body sector will pay a lower fee.

I do not understand why the Minister has changed the penalty mechanism that is in place. Having a simple flat penalty disincentivises somebody who is breaking the rules from changing his or her mind. The current system, where there is an incremental increase in the penalty, in some sense incentivises landlords who have been notified of the breach to get their house in order much more quickly. I urge the Minister to re-examine that. If there are good reasons he has chosen to move away from that, he might talk us through them in more detail on Committee Stage.

The real substance and real innovation of the Bill is Part 7A, which is the new sanctions regime. All of the comments I will make are in the context of supporting much of what the Minister is trying to do here and trying to ensure that it is an effective mechanism. Sanctioning or having powers to sanction landlords who are in clear breach of the RPZs only works if landlords fear that sanctions will be used speedily to disincentivise breaches. A sanctions regime is also good for compliant landlords. It is galling for landlords who are doing their job right and staying within the law to see other landlords in breach of the rent pressure zones and being able to do that. Therefore, this is not merely a measure protecting tenants. It is also a measure protecting compliant landlords, ensuring they are not being undercut by those in breach of the regulations.

I welcome the important powers of the Residential Tenancies Board both to initiate and conduct the investigations. The provisions are well outlined in the Bill. It is a pity that these powers are only applicable to breaches of the rent pressure zones and non-registration. I urge the Minister to consider whether, in this Bill or in the subsequent residential tenancies (amendment) Bill that we expect later this year, to expand the applicability of the sanctions regime, for example, in breaches of section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act in terms of notices to quit. It would be eminently sensible for this sanctions regime to apply to those.

All rent reviews should be applicable. Why will tenants in rent pressure zones get this added protection but tenants outside rent pressure zones, particularly in areas, whether Limerick, Waterford or Sligo town, that are seeing very significant increases, will not get any protection from this at all? That does not make any sense. That is something the Minister could deal with by way of an amendment to this Bill.

Ultimately, although I do not think the Minister can do it in this legislation, we will need some kind of sanction for serious breaches of minimum standards, such as serious breaches of overcrowding, in the same way as we have legislative provision for serious anti-social behaviour. Maybe it is something that the officials could examine for the subsequent legislation whereby, on foot of an inspection by a local authority or an environmental health officer from the HSE providing a report to the Residential Tenancies Board on a substantial breach of those regulations, sanctions could then be taken.

Debate adjourned.