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.