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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 23 Jan 2019

Vol. 978 No. 3

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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The really significant innovation in this Bill is obviously that concerning Part 7, which is giving the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, the option to pursue criminal sanctions against landlords who breach the rules of rent pressure zones. At the same time, it allows for civil sanctions and the powers to investigate and, where the board feels it appropriate, to impose sanctions for landlords in breach of the rules for both annual rent registration and rent pressure zones.

I have outlined the really important aspect of the Bill. The rest is important also but this is crucial. It is important that we take some time on Second and Committee Stages to get it right. In reality, the criminal sanctions will be used very rarely. First, the RTB will not have the power to carry out the investigations and therefore its burden of proof in the courts would be very significant, not to mention the costs. In some senses, therefore, the criminal sanctions will be for repeat offenders, or landlords whose breaches have been continuous or of such severity that they fall into the criminal sanction category. In reality, we know from various agencies that the sanctions will be rarely used. Therefore, the really important sanction is the civil sanction. That is the one we have to make sure works right. What we need to come out of this legislation is a number of relatively speedy, high-profile cases in which landlords who are breaking the law are found to be doing so and where the sanctions are applied as quickly as possible.

I have two very significant concerns. I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his officials to examine them between now and Committee Stage. The first concerns the timelines. If one adds up all the timelines proposed, including the discretionary additional timelines that the authorised officer may consider, one realises there could be very lengthy investigations, and that is before one gets to the issue of Circuit Court confirmation. The problem with that, of course, is that during the whole period in question, the tenant, who would more than likely be paying a rent above that dictated by the rent pressure zone rate of 4%, would still have to pay the rent, unless he or she separately took a complaint to the RTB for mediation or adjudication.

That could take six, eight or, in some cases, 12 months. That is far too long a period. I urge the Minister and his officials to look at this and bring it more in line with the average timelines we have in place for other RTB cases.

For me the big problem is the requirement for Circuit Court confirmation contained in the proposed section 148Z(2). What this means is the authorised officer will conduct an investigation and make a finding of fact. The Residential Tenancies Board will then decide there is a breach and will want to issue a sanction but, unlike the power it has at present to deal with landlords significantly in breach of, for example, the provisions to deal with issues of antisocial behaviour of their tenants, the Residential Tenancies Board will have to go to the Circuit Court for court approval. This will cost a significant amount of money for every case. At current costs for barristers at the Circuit Court it could cost as much as €5,000. It could take weeks and, in some places, because of the court sitting schedules, it could take months. This means it would not only be expensive but would delay the process. It is also not legally necessary. Yesterday, the Residential Tenancies Board issued a fine of €20,000 to a landlord for non-compliance with the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act. Obviously, that landlord has the right to appeal to the High Court so there is due process. No Circuit Court confirmation was required for it. I do not understand why there would be any requirement for such a provision, particularly when the provision will actively undermine what the Minister is trying to do, which is to ensure the speedy address of landlords in breach of the Act.

My understanding is that we have an Attorney General who takes a particularly orthodox view of the divisions between administrative justice and the more traditional practices of Judiciary sanction. I have to say this is the wrong approach for us to take. I suspect the Minister might have some sympathy with what I am saying and I am interested to hear his views and the views of the officials. This will be a major issue on Committee Stage and I urge people to look at it. Yes, we should have an appeal to the courts for a landlord when there are sanctions, this is absolutely required legally and constitutionally, but the idea that every case would be referred to the Circuit Court for confirmation simply makes no sense.

I warmly welcome the Minister's confirmation yesterday, although he had given it to us previously, that he will bring forward amendments on student-specific on-campus and private accommodation. It is very necessary. I echo Deputy Darragh O'Brien's request that it might be useful, if the time allows, for us to have sight of the amendments before formal Committee Stage. Having spoken to the officials when they presented at the most recent committee hearing on the issue we are absolutely on the same page and I welcome this. My one concern is that we are beginning to see some universities increasing rents now for the 2019 to 2020 academic year, which is way earlier than they would do ordinarily. One was in the news recently. It might be helpful for the Minister to try to use even some soft power publicly to state it really is not appropriate for publicly funded bodies in particular to try to circumvent the changes he is seeking to introduce in the legislation.

I welcome confirmation of the work on the rent register. However, if it is a little more legally complex I would prefer if it were in the next piece of legislation than to delay the Bill. As the Minister rightly said, we want to progress this as soon as possible.

Yesterday, the Minister mentioned he will bring forward amendments to clarify the issue of what will happen to the rent pressure zones when they are due to expire under the current legislative sunset clause. The sooner the Minister can publicly state what the intentions are the better because there is concern among tenants who are fearful the zones will stop. I presume what the Minister is looking at is a mechanism to extend them. Even if the Minister were to say it is his intention to extend them and that we will deal with the details on Committee or Report Stage it would be helpful, particularly for those tenants who are concerned.

We are 95% of the way there with the Bill. The Minister and his officials have done a very good job in dealing with some complex issues. I urge some serious second thinking from the Minister and the staff at the Department on the Circuit Court confirmation and the timelines. Whether by Government amendment to this Bill or further amendment in the next residential tenancies legislation, I ask the Minister to consider applying the power of investigation and sanction to all tenancies. If a landlord is breaking the law outside of a rent pressure zone he or she is breaking the law. Clearly, the powers of investigation and sanction should apply just as they do in rent pressure zones. There is real value, in particular with regard to notices to quit that are clearly and deliberately invalid, in applying the investigation and sanction powers. I emphasise the point I made yesterday that there is value in looking at, not in this legislation but in the next Bill, the issue of serious breaches of minimum standards and overcrowding, just as we have the issue of serious anti-social behaviour in the current Residential Tenancies Act, and possibly applying the investigations and sanction regime to them, albeit with the inspections done as they are at present by local authorities and environmental health officers.

Sinn Féin will support the Bill. The Minister was probably in contact with his office today. The housing committee has time available next week and the week after for Committee Stage. We are ready to proceed but we would like the Minister to consider some of the concerns I and other Members have raised and, I am sure will raise, throughout the remainder of the debate.

The Labour Party will also support the Bill on Second Stage. There are many other measures we would like to have seen in the Bill. The Minister is promising to bring in further legislation. One of the major causes of homelessness is people losing their private rental accommodation. Anything that can be done to strengthen the rights of tenants to maintain their tenancy and to control rents should be done. This is one of the big crises of our time. A very large number of individuals and families end up becoming homeless because of difficulties they have in the private rental sector with spiralling rents and notices to quit and move out of their homes. Every opportunity needs to be taken to make the Bill as strong as it possibly can be.

To quote from an unusual source, my contribution will be on what the Minister has done and what he has failed to do. I will start with what he has done. I welcome the strengthening of the powers of the Residential Tenancies Board, particularly the power to initiate investigations without receiving a complaint from tenants. This has been long required and it is welcome. There are issues about which Deputy Ó Broin has spoken on the types of administrative, civil and criminal sanctions dealt with in the legislation.

One of the concerns I have in general with residential tenancies legislation is that it is becoming more and more complex. Threshold has called for complete reform of the legislation rather than adding, cutting and putting in extra pieces. There is an argument for this. In Ireland, whether we like it or not, we still have many accidental landlords and tenants who do not always have the time or energy in the situation they are in to be familiar with the detail of legislation. Ideally, what should be done is to keep things as simple as possible. While I welcome yearly registration, it needs to be kept relatively simple so landlords can register every year in a way that is not too complex for them, perhaps involving filling in something simple online. Perhaps the Minister will come back on this. I know the fees will be reduced but given that there will be yearly registration I wonder whether they should be as high as they will be. This is another question to be raised.

I want to raise a very specific issue in the context of yearly registration. I have had representation from a person in a rent pressure zone who contacted me about the 4% limit. I do not know whether the requirement for yearly registration will address this issue but she maintains some landlords increase the rent by more than 4% in a rent pressure zone even for an existing tenancy.

Reading from her email, she stated that her situation brought her attention to a loophole allowing rents to increase by more than 4% in rent pressure zones within a rental year. Her rent was €1,700. The landlady let this tenant know that she would be increasing the rent, as allowed, by 4% to €1,768 on the first anniversary of the tenancy. That was done precisely three months in advance as the rule is that three months' notice must be given of a rent increase. The tenant was informed that a named letting agent would be in touch on 1 October 2018 with an updated lease and associated paperwork arising from the allowed rent increase.

So far, so in line with the rules. The tenant, in her email, went on to state that toward the end of September she was aware that she had heard nothing from the letting agent. Then, just at the end of the month, she got a call from the agent. The tenant was informed that, in line with her landlord's wishes, the rent would going up in three months to €1,790.67. The tenant let the agent know that the expected rent increase was from 1 October and was to go up by 4% to €1,768. She then took a screenshot of the RPZ calculator showing that her figures were not wrong.

In the circumstances, the landlady did not put up the rent to the amount the letting agent had suggested.

That was because the tenant had indicated that the proposed increase would put the rent up by an average of 5.4% because of the delay in the three month period. This is complicated but I am only bringing it up because I think it might be something that could be looked at in the context of the yearly registration of tenancies. There are other issues with the rent pressure zones that I will come to at a later stage. As has been said, I think the criminal offences will only be a last resort and that is as it should be. It is important, however, that there are sanctions and that they can clearly be implemented. That means ensuring that the Residential Tenancies Board is appropriately resourced. We want to be absolutely assured that the Residential Tenancies Board will be able to carry out the kind of inspections and the follow up to those inspections that will be required under the legislation.

I also welcome the longer notice periods. Tenancies of less than six months, however, should also have an increase in the notice period, and that is something the Minister might look at. That point has been made. I welcome also the rollover of Part 4 tenancies and the publication of determinations. I agree with Deputy Ó Broin, however, that the names should be redacted. The definition of "substantial change" is something that has long been required as well because landlords have used that issue to give people notice where, in fact, there were only very minor changes. It is certainly necessary to have a definition.

Threshold, however, asked what the exact definition might be, with reference to the 50% floor area and the detail of what is in that definition. It also raised a valid point on the number of rooms. Does subdividing a room mean that an extra room is being added? These things need to be stated much more clearly in the definition. I also refer to building energy ratings, BERs. They are part of the definition used in respect of improvement and they are also used where a landlord can avoid the restrictions of the RPZs. I ask the Minister to look at that again as well. If it is only a minimal change that does not cost the landlord an awful lot but does improve the BER, that is not a justification for being exempted from the restrictions in the RPZs. That needs to be addressed and it is a small change. The Minister has said that if an improvement is only bringing a property up to the minimum standard, that does not suffice for exemption. It needs to be specified as a substantial change, however, because some relatively minor changes will bring a property up to a higher BER. I ask the Minister to examine that issue as well.

On what is not in the Bill, I acknowledge the Minister stated that he is going to bring in some amendments and one of those will be on the publication of a rent register. That is critically important. I know the Minister said that he is talking to the Attorney General about it. I was concerned about his contribution, as contained in the script that we got:

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.

The way I read that, I am not too sure that is going to be a quick resolution of the issue. While we want to see the legislation brought through as quickly as possible, the rent register is an important element of it. I am concerned and ask the Minister, again, to give us some indication if, for example, he has got preliminary views from the Attorney General on this. A new tenant who does not know what the previous tenant paid then does not know if he or she is being charged more than 4% extra in a rent pressure zone. The rent register is, therefore, an important element of what we expect from this legislation.

The other issue mentioned was student accommodation. I agree we need to move on that as quickly as possible. I have concerns about that as well, though. Will the Minister give us some kind of timeline on when he expects to have clarification on including the elements of student accommodation not currently covered? When will that happen? I do not want to see the legislation delayed. We know much Brexit related legislation is probably coming down the tracks. At the same time, however, the rent register and the inclusion of student accommodation are very important to this Bill and we need clarification on those issues.

Regarding closing the various loopholes that exist in the area of termination of tenancies and notices of termination, I would like to have seen something stronger on those aspects. I refer, for example, to the sale of a property not being an allowable reason for giving someone a termination notice. There is no reason a landlord should not sell a property with an existing tenant in place. It is about balancing rights to private property with people's social rights and the right to a roof over their heads. The least we should have is a system of verifying that the property was sold. The landlord should also have to indicate clearly, in advance, that the property was for sale and what way it was proposed to sell the property. There needs to be some tracing of that.

The same applies in respect of the family members of a landlord. Tenants can also be put out of a property because the landlord needs it for a family member. We have proposed legislation on some of these issues, as have other Opposition parties. We wanted to tighten the definition of "family members" so that it would be close and not distant family members. A number of reasons are given for putting people out of a property, including doing up the property, which is addressed in this legislation to some extent, the sale of the property, or the use by family members. These reasons are given far too often when people are put out of their home. People then find it almost impossible to find an alternative home and they end up in homelessness. All of these issues are areas where we need to make the legislation as strong as possible in favour of the tenant because people are finding it so difficult now to find alternative properties when they lose their homes.

I would also like to see that there would be advance notice of eviction and that the landlord would have to advise the Residential Tenancies Board. The RTB, in turn, would have to advise the tenant and the local authority that there was a termination notice. In Britain, there is a requirement for the intervention of the local authority in advance of people becoming homeless rather than when they become homeless or almost homeless. There is much more we could do in preventing homelessness in this area.

I have spoken many times in the House about extending rent pressure zones to areas such as Limerick and Waterford. We had this debate last week during priority questions.

At the end of the year, the current rent pressure zone legislation will come to an end. Will the Minister advise us on how he actually intends to proceed following the end of the current period? We should have plenty of time to debate and understand what replaces the current legislation, whether it will be extended or redrafted. We have to look at those areas which are constantly chasing the national average. I have made the case again and again about Limerick, the area I know best, where local electoral areas include rural and urban areas. People in the urban parts of the local electoral area are paying rents higher than the national average and have had the required number of percentage increases over the past number of quarters but are not covered under the rent pressure zone legislation. I urge the Minister to amend the legislation in that regard when he is dealing with the three-year period coming to an end at the end of 2019.

I also suggest that the enabling provision that would allow for a charge for mediation be reconsidered. Mediation is a way of avoiding conflict in other ways that can be quite costly. Charging for it is also counter-productive.

I understand from the legislative programme that the Minister will bring forward another Bill on the role of receivers as landlords. Will he clarify whether that is the case? It could have been included in this legislation.

I also would have liked to see a limit on deposits. One month’s rent was always the standard for a deposit but we have seen evidence of up to three months’ rent being required. That puts certain people out of the running in terms of having the opportunity to apply for certain properties. Last night, Deputy Darragh O'Brien raised the need for a deposit protection scheme. There is enabling legislation in place from 2014 but it has not been implemented yet. I know the Minister has a different view to mine as to how this should be done. However, I support Deputy Darragh O'Brien on the need for a deposit protection scheme. There are many cases where tenants do not get their deposits back, even though they have not done anything to allow a landlord keep the deposit.

We really need to take the opportunity to make this legislation as strong as we possibly can. Whenever Committee Stage will be scheduled – Deputy Ó Broin said the committee is available to take Committee Stage soon – we should see considerable amendment of this legislation. I want the rent register to be introduced, as well as protection for students. I want the Minister to give us an indication with regard to rent pressure zones and to the protection of tenants from significant increases, which people in Limerick city have had to deal with since the original legislation came in at the end of 2016.

We are talking about vulnerable people in the private rented sector. They are desperate to hold on to the homes they have, even if the rent is a far higher percentage of their income than it should be. They are terrified that if they have to move, they will not find anywhere to live near their own community or job because of the current housing situation. We need to protect our tenants and, insofar as we can, give security of tenure. I hope the Minister will look at strengthening this as much as possible. On the other hand, I recognise some of the measures need to be introduced as quickly as possible. I hope the Minister will work with the Opposition to make this legislation as strong as we can and that we provide the kind of protection tenants urgently need. Many people now are squashed into the private rented sector either because they cannot afford to purchase a home, get a deposit or a loan, or because they are on local authority waiting lists but there is not a property for them. We will not be opposing this on Second Stage but we will be proposing amendments on Committee Stage. I look forward to debating these issues as we bring the Bill through the Houses.

January is traditionally the month with the highest number of evictions. If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, that is likely to be the case again this year. For hundreds of renting households across the State, January 2019 will be black January. It is the month in which they will be evicted or will have received a notice to quit.

The State’s homelessness numbers for December are due to be released next week. They are likely to go over, or, indeed, surge past, the 10,000 mark. It is a shocking failure on the part of the Minister and the Government. This Bill represents an attempt to place a sticking plaster on that wound. Under pressure from massive public criticism and an emerging housing protest movement, the Minister and the Government are taking some hesitant steps to improve renters’ rights. Solidarity–People Before Profit will support any improvements in this regard. Accordingly, we will not be blocking the Bill on Second Stage. However, we will point to its many shortcomings and seek to improve it.

The Bill provides for an increase in fines for non-compliant landlords. For example, a landlord in a rent pressure zone who illegally breaches the 4% increase cap is liable to a fine of up to €15,000, as well as having costs of up to €15,000 awarded against him or her. That is a step forward. However, does it go far enough? One must look at the consequences of the landlord’s action. By hiking rents over and above the legal limit, that landlord may well evict, and in many cases already has, illegally evicted a household into homelessness. Such an act can adversely affect the lives of men, women and children. I noted the comments of the Ombudsman for Children who talked about the effect that homelessness can have on children, including young people especially. Is a fine a sufficient penalty for a landlord who knowingly effectively evicts a family into homelessness as a result of an illegal rent hike? Why is there no provision, for example, for a jail sentence? Maybe it is time we saw a few sleek landlords put behind bars for illegally evicting men, women and children into homelessness. I believe it is and that the Bill is not sufficiently tough in that regard.

On the issue of “renovictions”, for some time we have been making the point from these benches in housing debates that the provision in the rent pressure zone legislation that allowed rent increases above the 4% in examples of substantial renovations to the property, was a massive loophole which would be used and abused by landlords.

We were told from the Government benches that it would keep an eye on this, and see what happened. We were asked not to jump the gun but it was clear to anybody who knows what goes on in the country what would happen. That is precisely what has happened.

The Bill represents an attempt to tighten the loophole but it does not close it. A tenant should have the right to veto the idea of renovations and the rent hike that would come on foot of a renovation. If a tenant wants the renovation and is prepared to pay the rent increase and perhaps leave the property for a period before returning when the work is done, it would be fair enough. In all other cases the tenant should have the right to say "No". The loophole has been tightened but we raise a question about one aspect of the process that may not represent an improvement at all. It may even present a new loophole. It relates to a point raised by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, specifically, upgrades implemented to improve the building energy rating, BER. The 4% rent cap can be circumvented, allowing a bigger rent hike, where there is a BER upgrade. I am no engineer and I stand to be corrected but I can foresee many circumstances where a building energy rating upgrade might not require massive change, investment or renovation of a property. Does such a clause not provide landlords with a new loophole whereby rent could be hiked above the 4%, and on foot of such action, a resident could be forced into homelessness because of what is far from a major change within a property? We would like to see that loophole closed.

I agree with the points raised by Deputy Eoin Ó Broin about certain court confirmations. It will be an important part of the debate on Committee Stage. The increased notice that landlords must give under the terms of this Bill when issuing a notice to quit represent a step forward. It is a sign of the pressure being exerted by the emerging housing protest movement. However, these notices are not anything to write home about. Somebody who has lived in a property for more than three years and less than four years must be given notice of 120 days instead of 84 days. It is slightly less than four months when the person may have lived in the property for nearly four years and is about to have his or her life turned upside down. I am in favour of a ban on economic evictions but if evictions are to be allowed in certain circumstances, a tenant should be at least entitled to a doubling of the notice, if not more.

The remedial notices that are to be served within 28 days of a determination order apply to remedy what are described as minor defects in notices to quit. As I understand the current position, a landlord might issue a notice to quit with incorrect information, rather than a minor slip, such as an error in the numbers of days of notice, the name of the tenant etc. In such a case, a tenant can go to the Residential Tenancies Board, argue that it is not a valid notice to quit and, if the board rules in the tenant's favour, the landlord would have to start the process again. Effectively, this buys the tenant more time in which to find alternative accommodation. I am seeking clarification as it seems that allowing a remedial notice within 28 days to fix minor defects in notices to quit will lead in such cases to a landlord being able to amend the notice without having to go back to the start. This is provided that an extra 28 days is granted to the tenant. In other words, this means a tenant would have less time under this legislation than he or she might have with the current law. I am not certain of my argument as the wording of the legislation is a little unclear, but if that is the position and my interpretation is correct, the change will serve to speed up evictions and afford less time and opportunity to tenants. It is potentially a step backwards.

Stronger measures are needed. The anti-eviction Bill proposed by Solidarity before Christmas contains some of those stronger measures. It would ban so-called renovictions and the sale of property as grounds for eviction, as is currently the case in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. That Bill will now come before a committee for Committee Stage on either 5 February or 20 February. It is an important debate and all housing activists in the country will have their eye on how that Bill progresses. It should be fast-tracked.

Last but not least, my party and I are of the opinion that whereas legislative change in this place can make some difference - we are not indifferent to it - massive people power pressure is required from below to force the real changes that are needed. That is why we invest, and place hope, in the emerging housing protest movement in this country. We welcome the fact that Raise the Roof is now discussing the idea of organising protests at councils nationwide over the next couple of months and the concept of a national demonstration in April. We will support that, and it is something every student union and trade union in the country should work towards. Everybody who cares about or is affected by the housing crisis in the country should participate to make the demonstration planned for the end of spring the biggest and most effective housing protest we have seen in the State so far.

Last week on Leaders' Questions I described the position of a 58 year old woman working 39 hours per week at an Alzheimer's disease support centre. She applied to go on the housing list a number of years ago but she earned too much and was above the cap for the Dublin City Council list. She was in rented accommodation for 14 years and in October she and her partner, a 64 year old man, found themselves homeless because their landlord served a notice to quit on the basis of selling the property. They ended up living with her brother and his family, which has caused much tension in the family home. The woman and her partner move out every so often, telling her brother they are going to a friend's house, but they end up sleeping for perhaps two nights in a car to get out of the house and give her brother's family some relief.

This woman has reduced her hours of work at the support centre. I made it clear to the Taoiseach that this woman gets up early in the morning to go to work but she had to reduce her hours from 39 to 28 per week to get on a housing list. Workers are finding themselves in dire circumstances and must act to get themselves on a housing list. These people now have no hope of getting private rented accommodation because their income is so low and they are at the end of a housing list. She told me she was No. 384 on the list.

That is one situation.

Another situation in Crumlin involves a block of apartments bought by a vulture fund that then issued an eviction notice to all the tenants because major renovations were to take place that would take three to four months. They were down in the office last week and we saw that one of the termination notices was worded wrongly so we will take it to the RTB. As the previous speaker noted, this is just buying time so that these tenants can possibly get other private accommodation, which is very hard to do. It will be practically impossible for those families to get somewhere, but at least we will try to buy them a bit of time and see what happens. If push comes to shove, those families have to decide whether to accept being evicted or stay in these apartments because they have nowhere else to go.

A young woman came to my office this morning having been made homeless yesterday and put into bed and breakfast accommodation last night. She had to leave that bed and breakfast at 9 this morning with three children, one of whom is only three weeks old. She was wandering the streets and ended up in our office wondering what to do. Imagine putting a family with three children, one of whom is a three week old baby, out into the cold today. One would not put a dog out into it but she was out wandering the streets trying to find accommodation. When we speak about things like this, we must talk about what is happening to many people on the ground and take it out of the bubble here in the Dáil. This is happening all over the country. It is not just happening in my constituency. We eventually got that woman more permanent accommodation in a hotel in Parnell Street in Dublin at 4 p.m., so at least temporarily she will not have to leave early in the morning with her three children, roam the streets for a day and go back to a bed and breakfast at 9 p.m.

That is the reality of the housing crisis and it is an outrage. This did not just happen today or yesterday. It was happening when people like Deputies Boyd Barrett and Durkan and I raised the crisis that was unfolding in front of our eyes in 2012, so there has been plenty of time to try to address the issues. Yet again, we have a Government that is content to tinker around the edges of this crisis when what is needed is urgent emergency and radical action. This Bill comes nowhere near that. It is typical of the Government's approach, too little, too late. It is playing catch up. The Government changes something, we then see the complexities and loopholes and we have to come back with more legislation. It is a case of too little, too late, and we cannot upset the landlords and developers. This Bill will not lead to fair rents or security of tenure in rented accommodation.

Three things are required to fix this. We need a properly enforceable rent cap. Rent caps should be tied to the average rent in a particular area or some equitable way of dealing with those rents. No evictions should be permitted except for non-payment of rent or the use of premises for criminal or serious antisocial behaviour, and there should be an end to spurious claims of wanting the premises back for a family member, renovation or because the property is being sold. We need serious measures to combat illegal evictions. My office has dealt with numerous cases of illegal evictions over the past two years. I said last week that we are at the RTB every week with a different case representing tenants facing eviction.

The measures in the Bill are welcome but they are not enough. We need a significant increase in the supply of rental units, which will not be achieved by developers, who are sitting on zoned land waiting for the new height regulations to come in. The Government must move to a policy of public housing on public land using the cost recovery model to provide fair rent homes with security of tenure in addition to local authority housing under the differential rent scheme. A total of 70,000 cost rental units and 30,000 council houses could be built on existing zoned State-owned land. This would provide real competition in the market so beloved of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The private sector would be forced to provide fairer rents and greater security of tenure if it wanted to compete with the State sector. I will not be opposing this Bill but I think it needs serious amendment on Committee and Report Stages to give it teeth.

I reiterate what Deputy Barry said. I understand that ICTU is holding a press conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the Oak Room in the Mansion House to announce a plan of action over the coming year as part of its Raise the Roof campaign for public housing. One of the actions will be to call a conference on 30 January in the Communications Workers Union Hall on the North Circular Road to discuss how to launch a campaign and not one that just involves demonstrations. This must be a campaign on the ground involving how we highlight lands that are available on which to build cost rental units and public housing on public land and how we take action to make sure the lands that are there are used in a way that will make a difference to our communities. Those who want real solutions to the horror of homelessness and the shortage of housing should look to that campaign and not to a Government that has failed miserably on this issue.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and will be supporting the Bill. I wish to place the Bill in context. There are positive things in it but there are other items that need to be dealt with on Committee Stage. The context is, of course, the fact that more than one in three of the 10,000 people who are homeless are children. A doctor said recently in the media that when children attend doctors' surgeries, their families come with them because they are homeless. I will have been three years in the Dáil in February. I do not think there is a single month where my colleagues and I have not spoken about housing. We have not done this to be negative. There have been many allegations from the Government side that we are ideologically stuck on something. I am not ideologically stuck on anything. I am a very pragmatic and practical Independent Deputy.

From the minute I entered the House, I, along with my colleagues, pointed out the existence of a housing crisis. Galway is on the same level as Dublin. It is impossible for people to get rental accommodation in Galway. The local authority housing list goes back to 2002. We have a plan for an outer bypass that may or may not go ahead in 2024 or 2025. I have my own view on that. I think public transport would be a far more efficient way to progress things in Galway. I make the point that quite a substantial amount of residential zoned land in Galway has been frozen for a proposed road. I have also mentioned repeatedly that not one single local authority house has been built since 2009 in Galway until very recently.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who has left the Chamber, referred to a crisis, and she is right, but that crisis has been created because this Government and the previous one failed to enter the market as a landlord. There is a very important role for this Government to play. It can act as a landlord through the local authorities and send a message to the market that it is serious about this and that it has a duty to provide homes, be they public homes or affordable housing, although I have doubts about the word "affordable" because when that scheme was introduced in Galway, the houses were certainly not affordable and people were caught. I am more attached to the words "public housing", that there is a duty on the Government to provide housing to balance the market. If we do not balance the market, it will not matter how much legislation the Government brings before us. We will have a housing crisis and only the landlord class will win.

It is ironic that this debate comes two days after we celebrated 100 years of the first Dáil, which was only 20 or 30 years after the period involving Michael Davitt who lived to 1906. We are nearly back in the same position, looking for security of tenure and the basic rights the Land League was seeking not in the last century but the 19th century. We look at this Bill in that context.

This Bill is part of a jigsaw as a result of pressure from the various Deputies outside the Government who told it from day one that there is a crisis. We have a piece of a jigsaw without an overall picture. If the Minister could come back to the overall picture and tell us how these pieces of the jigsaw fit into it, it would be helpful because I can see no overall picture.

The Minister referred to the documents he produced and Rebuilding Ireland. What I see is an Ireland being rebuilt in the developers' name.

That is what I see in Rebuilding Ireland. I want Ireland rebuilt, but in the name of its citizens with public housing on public land. Every initiative the Minister brings before us is to bolster the market. This Bill relates primarily to the rent pressure zones which the Minister brought in under pressure and which really are not working. They are certainly not working in Galway. We have one year of this limited measure left. It is not clear what is going to happen. Other Deputies have asked for clarification on that.

Student accommodation does not come into this Bill. I note that the Minister is going to come back with amendments. I look forward to his clarifications on that area. Again, it is a major problem in Galway. We have seen students coming to us over the past two years highlighting astronomical increases without any justification. I believe that the universities are partly responsible for this because, certainly in Galway, they have gone down the road of more and more buildings while utterly failing to provide sufficient affordable accommodation on campus.

Over the past two years I have participated in many debates on mortgages, mortgage arrears and people losing their homes because of their inability to pay mortgages. All of this time the other problem was people being evicted for failure to pay rent because they simply were not able to do so. We are refusing altogether to look at that.

I welcome the fact that the period for notices to quit is going to be increased. I welcome the yearly registration, although I do not welcome the involvement of money, however small, in that regard. I do not think it is necessary. I do not welcome it being left open to introduce a fee in respect of mediation. I welcome the publication of determination orders, but I do not think the names should be included. I welcome the increased powers given to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, in respect of enforcement, although I have concerns relating to the criminal aspect. I look forward to that being teased out on Committee Stage.

We are now in a position to go back to my original point about the Government supporting the market. The housing assistance payment, HAP, was brought in under the previous Government. It is a major part of the problem. We had rent supplement and the rental accommodation scheme, which were temporary measures to be replaced by the housing assistance payment brought in by the previous Government. In Galway we were repeatedly told that it was the only game in town. It is a payment directly into the landlord's pocket and was considered to be adequate social housing. What happened was a rewriting of housing rights to say that a person is adequately housed in a private house. That is a fundamental part of the problem. The Minister should look at HAP and say that he is going to get rid of it. Obviously it cannot be got rid of overnight as people are utterly reliant on it, but as a policy it is unacceptable and it is bolstering the market. Spending on the payment has gone from €151 million up to €300 million last year and is expect to rise to €451 million for this year alone. This is spending on one scheme without looking at any of the other schemes. If we put them all together it comes to approximately €1 billion going directly into a private market and yet we wonder why rents are increasing all of the time. We then bring in these little pieces of a jigsaw to try to deal with the matter under pressure rather than asking what the real picture here is. The real picture is the duty on us to house our citizens and to provide a variety of housing in each town and city and throughout the country so that there will be no crisis.

Galway city is twinned with Lorient. Councillors have gone over to Lorient on many occasions and have noted that in an area the same size as Galway, there is no housing crisis and no traffic crisis. I understand that in Vienna somewhere between 21% and 23% of housing is public housing. Why is the Minister not looking at these cities and learning from them rather than wasting time in the Dáil telling us that we are stuck on some ideological trip or are being deliberately negative, as opposed to saying that we are sensible people who have come here with a purpose and who have been elected to do a job? Our job is to say that there is a housing crisis. It is not inevitable. It has been created and it can be uncreated, so to speak, and changed to provide homes for our citizens. In the meantime, we are left supporting legislation like this and left reliant on Threshold, the Simon Community and the other bodies on the ground that are telling us there is a severe problem.

According to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, there were 497,111 occupations in the private rental sector in 2016. This is a significant increase on the figures from the 2011 census and yet we are not learning and are putting more and more people into rented accommodation. We end up demonising landlords, which is not appropriate. We need landlords and a competitive market, but we need the Government to be the primary landlord to balance the market.

I am sharing time with Deputies Michael Collins and Michael Healy-Rae. I am happy to speak on this important Bill. It provides for powers to carry out investigations of landlords and to impose administrative sanctions. It also provides for offences in respect of non-compliance with restrictions on rent increases in rent pressure zones. It also seeks to increase the notice periods to be provided in the case of termination of tenancies by landlords, to provide for annual registration of tenancies by landlords, and to amend the registration process.

Many of these provisions are worthwhile, particularly the increased notice periods. This is of vital importance. Such rights must be protected in a proportionate and balanced matter. I am aware of one particular case involving a family of a husband, a wife and five children, whom I know very well. This family was renting a property for 14 years while trying to save for a mortgage and while also being on the housing list. The family never missed a month's rent and never once asked for a contribution from the landlady towards the upkeep of the property. They kept the house in exemplary condition. Despite this, the landlady sought legal advice about a lane adjacent to the property and somehow managed to undercut the lease agreement, saying that the family did not have full possession of the property as she used the lane to access her own property next door. That family ended up in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation and went through awful trauma. They are now housed thanks to Wicklow County Council, but their story goes to show how weak the rights of tenants can become.

I do note, however, that the Bill provides for the empowerment of the RTB to investigate a landlord without the need for a complaint from the public. I have very serious concerns around this aspect of the Bill. From additional reading, it seems to grant considerable, and possibly disproportionate, powers to the board. I have very intimate knowledge of the case I spoke about earlier. Deputies Michael Collins and Michael Healy-Rae will understand where I am coming from. However, I have concerns about the RTB getting this kind of power. Some people who get on such boards get overzealous about their powers. We need balance at all times. I am not here to demonise landlords. As the Minister knows, if we did not have landlords we would not have any houses. We need the man who is prepared to spend a few bob, to make an investment, and to put his property up for rent. Once such people are reasonable, that is fine. As far as I am concerned, it is all fair once it is a two-way process.

As I have said, I have very serious concerns about the aspects of the Bill that give too much power to the board. Once safeguards around the compilation of evidence justifying investigation without a public complaint are in place, however, it may be worth supporting. Why would somebody start an investigation without there being a complaint? Are we asking for trouble in asking for things like that? We need balance at all times. We cannot demonise all landlords because we now see that they are fleeing the market and that there are fewer and fewer houses available. The Minister and the local authorities are not providing them. Those are my concerns.

There is no doubt that this Bill will have significant implications for landlords of residential properties. While I welcome the protection of tenants and I believe the Bill will give tenants more rights, I am afraid that the Bill is anti-landlord. I imagine that it is very hard for the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to find a balance because I acknowledge that sometimes I would be on the other side of the fence giving out the other way. I know it is hard to find a balance but there are some issues of concern.

There is a big difference between a landlord who owns a number of apartment blocks and the normal Joe Soap who owns a second property and is renting it out. I am aware that many of my constituents are in this boat where they may have built, bought or acquired a second property during the boom years but now this second property may be putting a lot of financial pressure and strain on them. Now these people will have to keep abreast of these new changes and there are serious implications for breaches of these new rules. With regard to registration with the Residential Tenancies Board, am I correct that people will now have to register once a year at a cost of €90? If so, then it is an extra cost on those who are renting the property. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that point.

I welcome that tenants are being protected with the minimum termination notice, which will increase to 90 days for all tenancies less than one year, and to 120 days for all tenancies between one and five years duration. This will place Ireland in line with EU countries such as France, Sweden, The Netherlands and Germany. I do not want Members to forget, however, the other side of the coin when it comes to the landlord’s side. When they have a bad tenant who may not be paying the rent and who may be physically damaging the property where are the landlord rights in the Bill?

I saw a very sad case in my constituency area of west Cork. A lady had rented out her house to tenants who have destroyed the house and refused to pay rent for months on end. It cost this woman a substantial amount of money to evict these rogue tenants. Not only was she down money from the rent she had not received, she also had solicitors' fees afterwards and the costs to repair all the damage to the house. This lady was in bits when I was talking to her. She told me that she never wanted to rent a property again. It was heartbreaking to hear her story and to see how upset she was. I would like to stand here and say that this story is one in a million, but sadly it is not. Where are rights for landlords in these cases?

Under this Bill the proposed maximum fines for breaches of the Act by landlords will increase from €3,000 to €15,000. Furthermore, the Minister has indicated that he is considering extending criminal liability to landlords who disregard the maximum 4% rent increase provisions within rent pressure zones. I do not argue that there have to be repercussions for landlords who breach the law, but I am concerned about whether all landlords will be aware of the changes in the legislation when these new laws come into effect. If the Minister is imposing such strict and severe penalties, it is only fair that each landlord would be written to individually to make them aware of the changes and of the landlord’s new responsibilities.

I am also concerned that with these new changes and extreme penalties for landlords we will see more landlords deciding to sell their properties. If this happens it will only add to our current housing crisis. In my constituency, and in towns like Bandon, Kinsale, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Skibbereen, Schull and Bantry people who are in receipt of housing assistance payment, HAP, are struggling to find accommodation. A major problem with HAP from a landlord’s perspective is that it is paid to the landlord in arrears. This means the landlord only gets the money after the rent is due. This has to be a major factor influencing landlords to choose a private tenant who pays in advance over a HAP tenancy where the landlord is paid in arrears. If the Government is serious about tackling the housing crisis the Minister will look again at the HAP scheme and at the possibility of paying the landlord in advance, which is the norm in the rental market. This would go a long way towards helping people who are receiving HAP to get accommodation.

It could be perceived that I could have an interest in this issue and this debate. I want this to be recorded in the Official Report.

I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is very busy but I want him to tune in if he can.

I am listening.

There has to be balance in this whole debate and in the Bill that has been brought before the House. Unfortunately, there is not that balance.

Every one of us as politicians is, rightfully, concerned about the rights of tenants and about housing for people who are not able to provide housing for themselves, be it through local authority housing, through HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, or other housing schemes. We must, however, have balance. We have to realise that people who own property are not to be demonised and are not to be criminalised in this Bill. I do not believe it is necessary to register a property every year. It is absolutely unnecessary. The Minister is putting an additional cost onto people who have survived a massive recession, who bought properties, perhaps at the very high end of the market, and are left paying off exorbitant loans. They were trying to bring in rent and balance their books when rents were very low. Every week I hear of people who have different jobs and who use money from these wages to pay for their property, for which they borrowed money, in order to provide accommodation and rent it out in the rental market.

I was asked to tell the Minister a specific story and I want him to listen to it so he will hear a different side of the argument. Picture this: a young couple who perhaps are younger than the Minister, left Ireland and went to Australia. They worked very hard. They are two, young, hard, tough people, a nice boy and a nice girl. They made a bit of money in Australia and they saved it up. The couple said that I could use their names in the Dáil if I wanted to but I will not, because I do not believe it would be polite to do so.

They are a real couple from Ireland. They worked away and were saving their money. They wanted to think of doing something progressive with the money. They thought that in the future, when they might have a family, they would want to come back to Ireland and settle here with their family and because they thought their work would help them finish up in Dublin they decided to buy a property in Dublin. They bought the property, which was more than €600,000. They had some savings and they borrowed the rest. As we can imagine, if one borrows €400,000 or €450,000 there is a big loan to pay.

The rent on the property was fixed at what I would consider to be exorbitant because the rents are a lot lower where I come from - while they are still high they are relatively low if one is paying a mortgage. The rent the couple were getting was €2,200. Another couple rented the house and paid one month's rent and a deposit but they have never paid another penny since. These tenants are taking a case against the boy and the girl in Australia and are saying that they are being harassed by the property owners. The harassment consists of the letting agent in Dublin trying to make contact with the tenants who are living in the house to demand that they pay the rent.

These tenants constituted this as harassment and they made a complaint. They know how to work the system and they will probably stay in that house in Dublin for two years before they will eventually have to leave. The couple in Australia are paying 100% of the mortgage on the property while those people are living rent free in the house. It is not the first time those tenants have done this. They have done it before and they are using the system in place to wrong the owners of properties by going from one to the other. They make up references. I do not know how they manage that side of it, perhaps it was not processed correctly or properly. The young man and woman in Australia are paying for a property in Ireland and not receiving one bit of rent.

Why have I told the Minister this story? This young couple rang me and were so upset when they heard what was happening with the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018. They asked whether anyone was going to stand up in the Dáil to tell the likes of their story and what is happening to them with regard to property.

When I hear other Members speak on this Bill I know that they are well intentioned. However, I hear the Members speak about landlords as if they were something the Deputies had stood on outside in the street. These landlords are people who borrow money, buy a property and renovate it, rent it out and pay their tax. When people talk about rents do they realise that half of that rent goes on tax? The person who owns and rents a property is also a tax collector. In the context of County Kerry rents may be €700 or €800.

The maximum is €1,000 and half of that goes on tax. That is the first thing that must happen. The mortgage must then be paid and repairs have to be done. There can also be cases where there is difficulty in collecting rent. Can the Minister rationalise that and take it into account when he is dealing with this whole debate? Of course there are rogue property owners who do not fulfil their obligations and who try to avoid paying tax and everything else. However, there are also respectable landlords who do their jobs in the right way and who have been doing the job for a long time. They are filling a gap in the market. If they were not there where would the houses and properties to rent come from?

Can the Minister imagine any young person today or in the future deciding that it would be a good idea to go out and build a house or borrow money in order that he or she can provide a house for the rental market? He or she would be a tax collector effectively, collecting tax at 50% for the State. On top of that he or she would have to pay a loan and try to provide a house for tenants. Nobody is going to do that in the future. I cannot deny that the first time I did it I was 19. Can the Minister imagine a 19 year old today trying to do that, or thinking it was a good idea? I have worked damn hard in this area over the years, and I do not deny that either. However, people today are almost criminalised for trying to make money as a landlord. It is totally maddening. All landlords are painted with the same brush. In the future there will be no such thing as a private landlord. Deputy Michael Collins mentioned the people who might have one or two properties, but they will not exist in the future. It will not happen. Big groups such as vulture funds and pension companies will have hundreds of properties and they will be the types of entities renting property in the future. Individuals will decide that the process is insane and that they will not work in the area. It will not be a viable, profitable or sensible business for any individual to get involved in.

I studied this Bill closely last night and I have heard the arguments made by everyone else in the House. The only argument that is being made is that property owners should be demonised. That is so wrong. Of course there are people who have done bad things. I have seen the reports of landlords allowing 20 people to rent a small property, as has everyone else. Of course that is wrong. That is the reason for regulations. That is why we have inspections from the local authorities. The people I am speaking up for today are those who register their properties, who pay their tax at 50% or 52% and who do everything right. They keep their properties to fire safety standards and every other standard required, yet they have to listen to politicians constantly demonising them. They are told that they are a type of criminal if they are renting out property.

Why does the Minister want people to register a tenancy every 12 months and put that expense onto landlords who are already struggling to pay mortgages? Why does the Minister want to do that? Why in the name of God does he not look at the other side, and try to encourage people to become landlords? He has spoken regularly about finding housing solutions to fix the problems we have. I have said it many times that the most obvious solution is in front of our eyes. In every town and village there are shops which have closed. There are properties over those shops and there are disused buildings that would be absolutely perfect with a bit of investment. If the roofs are good they do not need to be touched; the rest of the building can be fixed up. If the roof is bad a new roof can be put on and the rest of the property can be brought up to standard before being rented out. Why will people not do that? We only have to listen to the debate in this House over the last two days to figure out the answer to that question. Why would a sane person go into a village or a town and buy a property, pay all that has to be paid, borrow money if he or she does not have it, do that property up and rent it out, only to pay half of it in tax? He or she is collecting tax for the Minister and for the Revenue Commissioners. He or she then has to listen to politicians as he or she is demonised. Why would anyone want to do that? Why would anyone do it in the future? People will not do it. We are then going to have a massive gap: there will no longer be private rented accommodation available which always filled a gap.

I do not want people to be renting a property forever. I have always said to young couples that renting is a way of getting their legs on the ladder. They have to start out somewhere. Perhaps they will go to local authority housing or are able to save up a deposit and get on the market themselves. However, we hear constant criticism in this House. There are businessmen in Ireland who only ever hear their names mentioned in this Dáil when someone is criticising them. They are people who are household names, who are demonised here despite the fact that they are creating thousands of jobs. Certain people are very critical of them in this House because of the fact that they are successful. What is wrong with a person wanting to provide accommodation? Why are we going after them with this? That is what we are doing. I ask them please to consider what they are doing and to consider the long-term effect of their words. Who is going to be affected here? Thinking about this intelligently, the people this Bill will hurt are the very people they hope to try to help, those who want to rent accommodation. They will be hurt because people will be discouraged from getting involved in the business of buying or building to rent. No sane person in Ireland will do it in the future. Vulture funds will come in and buy up the properties from people who have them. Big companies will own hundreds of thousands of properties, but the individual landlords, be they gardaí or shopkeepers who might have a second or third property, will not exist in the future thanks to Bills such as this.

The Minister knows that I am not a critical person and that I support legislation that needs to be supported. I am the first person to defend the Minister in those circumstances and the first person to say that the Government is doing a good job. However, we must stop demonising people in the way we have been to date.

I dtús báire ba mhaith liom a rá gur reachtaíocht fíorthábhachtach í an Bille um Thionóntachtaí Cónaithe (Leasú) (Uimh. 2) 2018 a chabhróidh linn na cuspóirí agus na haidhmeanna atá sa phlean Atógáil Éireann, plean gníomhaíochta maidir le tithíochta agus easpa dídine, a bhaint amach. Tá an plean Atógáil Éireann tógtha ar chúig cholún lena n-áirítear: ag dul i ngleic le heaspa dídine, dlús a chur le tithíocht shóisialta, tuilleadh tithe a thógáil, an earnáil cíosa a fheabhsú agus tithíocht reatha a úsáid. Tá an Bille seo ag teacht go mór leis an gceathrú colúin, an earnáil cíosa a fheabhsú, a d'fhoilsigh an Rialtas sa straitéis cíosa.

In recent years there has been a perception that the number of households in the rental accommodation sector has reached a new high, at almost 19%. We have been told in news stories that Ireland now has a higher number of households renting than ever before. If we go back 70 years, some 40% of households were in the rental sector, which means that in the 1940s and 1950s at least two in every five households in Ireland were accommodated through this sector. It was only in the following decades, in the 1970s and 1980s in particular, that rental accommodation gave way to owner occupancy. We all hope that trend will continue and the home ownership continues to grow. For a while Ireland was more in line with European models of housing whereby rental options are far more prevalent. The prevalence and practice of renting accommodation in other countries has ensured the development of more comprehensive and robust rental sectors with clearly stated rules and regulations covering issues such as rental amounts and tenancy durations. Due to our recent history and our preference for owner-occupancy accommodation, such a system has not developed here, which is why the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 is so important.

The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 was a good start, but the intervening years have shown the great need for improvement. There is particular urgency with this legislation because of the re-balancing that is occurring. More and more households are now part of the rental sector. It is important to say that the vast majority of tenants or householders who are renting and the vast majority of people letting accommodation, or landlords, are fair and take their responsibilities seriously.

In fact, if every landlord was law-abiding and did not break any rules and if every tenant was of good behaviour and did not cause any issues, then there would be no need for legislation at all. Unfortunately, however, we only ever hear of the extreme cases, whether the unscrupulous landlord or the reckless tenant. They are out there and serious issues arise. This legislation is needed to address some of these issues.

The 25 sections of the Bill seek to achieve a wide range of objectives to help tenants and landlords. Several sections are vital. Section 7 will provide greater certainty to tenants and households in the rental sector. The amendment to section 66 of the 2004 Act will extend the notice periods required from a landlord who has decided to terminate a tenancy. The provision will ensure that a tenant of more than six months will have three months' notice and anyone of more than five years will have four months' notice. The notice required climbs up to seven months for a household in a tenancy agreement for eight years or more. These provisions will provide households with certainty and with significant time to plan ahead should circumstances change. That is important because one problem is the pressure people fall under when they do not have the time to find alternative accommodation. I welcome that feature.

Another important feature of the Bill is the introduction of new powers for the RTB. Unfortunately, although the vast majority of landlords are fair and honest, there have been cases where the behaviour of property owners has been illegal. A little over two years ago the Government introduced RPZs to control, insofar as constitutionally possible, rental amounts. The serious constraint on housing supply brought about by the recession meant that in several areas rental amounts were increasing at unsustainable rates to unaffordable levels. The zones have helped to stem that increase. A small minority saw this as an opportunity. Many in the House will know of examples of tenants falling victim to the dubious actions of some landlords. The Bill will help to tackle these problems and ensure that the RPZ regulations are observed. The Bill will introduce a fine of up to €30,000 for breaching RPZ rules. It will introduce a new criminal offence for landlords who implement illegal rent increases or who abuse the substantial improvements rule to end a tenancy. It will also introduce sanctions for the failure to register or update tenancies with the RTB. The introduction of new rules and regulations must be joined by the greater empowerment of this State body This is achieved through the amendment of the 2004 Act under section 18. One of the new powers that will be effective in operation and in regulating behaviour is the power of the RTB to initiate investigations without the need for a specific complaint to be made. That is welcome.

Go héifeachtach, leagann an Bille seo amach an bealach chun cinn chun níos mó struchtúir a thabhairt don earnáil chíosa. Tá sé ag iarraidh caighdeáin a fheabhsú san earnáil agus cothrom na Féinne agus trédhearcacht a chinntiú. I ndeireadh na dála tá an Bille seo ag iarraidh daoine, idir tiarnaí talún agus tionóntaí araon, a chosaint. Déanfaidh sé é seo trí tréimhsí fógartha níos faide nuair atá deireadh á chur le léas a thabhairt isteach, i measc gníomhaíochtaí eile.

I welcome the Bill. This important area can cause problems in cases of unscrupulous landlords or unruly tenants. Unfortunately, both types of cases cross our desks at times. I welcome the powers of the RTB to inspect without prior notice. That is important because it is not right or proper that people would have substandard accommodation. These initiatives are important.

One point that has been brought to my attention is that the attractiveness of being a landlord can be diminished with over-regulation, over-taxation and the costs of repairs in some cases. That is a real threat. I wish to put on record that my spouse has a house that is rented out at what is, I have to say, a fair rent. I say as much in case anyone accuses me of being biased in that regard. She is an accidental landlord because she happens to be an only child with both parents deceased. At times, the role of landlord is not attractive. This concern has been expressed by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. We need to ensure that the importance of landlords is understood. The importance of landlords in providing homes to rent is appreciated. Many landlords believe their role is not appreciated and that it is a matter of constant attacks on them.

At the same time, we need to ensure that landlords provide the best accommodation for tenants because in recent years it has been a landlord's market. Demand exceeds supply and, therefore, it is more difficult to acquire properties to rent. It is important that standards are adhered to and that landlords act fairly to those tenants who need to put a home over their heads. It is a matter of balance and we should also appreciate the important role that landlords and the private market play in ensuring that homes are available for rent. At the same time, it is vital that those same homes are up to standard and that proper notice is given when a tenancy is to be ended. People need to be given an opportunity to source another home in what can be a difficult market, especially in many urban areas such as in Dublin.

First and foremost, there are elements of this Bill that I welcome and that are entirely necessary. There is a great deal of difficulty with the 2004 Act in terms of its implementation from the RTB perspective and from the perspectives of landlord and tenant. Some of the provisions are cumbersome and difficult in terms of administration. I disagree to a certain extent with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae but I also agree with some of what he said.

In the first instance the rental market is a critical component in the housing market. Without it, the numbers of people in unsuitable accommodation or homeless would be in the tens of thousands rather than at or about 10,000. Our taxation system is punitive for landlords. I am not a landlord, which I am keen to put on the record. However, having worked in the industry for 12 years, I have come across far more difficulties arising from tenants than from landlords. It was not a matter of 50:50 but more like 90:10, to be honest. Many good people, tenants and landlords, do what they are supposed to do and make a telephone call if there is a problem or call in. I have even known landlords to drop in with Christmas presents and so on. That actually happens, believe it or not. They are not all ogres or faceless corporations. The reality, however, is that this Bill oversteps. Criminalising a landlord and providing for the potential of a jail sentence is overstepping the mark. I am keen to highlight one particular section with which I have a difficulty. Outside of the provision of information to the Revenue Commissioners or acquiring a driving licence or passport, I am unaware of a civil matter in respect of which a criminal offence is created. In this case, the offence is created for forgetting to update the RTB register when a rent increase takes place. That is exactly what is set out in section 17. That is much worse than a bad landlord being prosecuted, which is a good thing. It is a little much for an offence to be created for non-compliance with the requirement to update rental information on the RTB register. That is too much. I have no difficulty with a fine or a series of warnings but creating a criminal offence is too much.

I have no difficulty with the registration of tenancies and I appreciate that there is an administrative cost associated with it. However, like every new cost and administrative charge that is introduced in this country, it will only ever go up. The cost has gone up since it was introduced in 2004. Given the increasing number of rental properties in the market, the registration process should be more simple and the costs should be covered more easily.

Perhaps the registration fee should be prescribed in the Bill because the Government needs to recognise the position in which accidental landlords find themselves. I was a landlord for just under a year while I was between properties, which meant that I was a tenant at the same time. Taxation stands at 50% and there are other registration fees. The registration fee was €90 and no doubt in five years it will be more than that, probably over €100. For accidental landlords like me and for individuals caught in negative equity, finding this additional money is a difficulty, particularly if incomes are limited or family circumstances have changed. Many Deputies will know that people who took out mortgages between 2006 and 2008 most likely overpaid for their homes in comparison with those who bought homes up to recently. Such individuals would, therefore, have very large mortgages. If they lost their jobs in the interim, the pressure on them to pay their mortgages and tax has been difficult. People, including some in my constituency, are still caught in this trap.

I refer to sections 15 and 16 and the approved housing bodies, AHBs, that are accommodating tenants on our housing lists. We should abolish the registration fees for AHBs. It is true they are receiving money for this, but they are providing a public service and they, as quasi-State service providers, should not also have to pay the State.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, came to the Chamber in the middle of my contribution. Earlier I described the creation of a criminal offence of non-compliance in the context of updating the rental register, dealt with in section 17, as overstepping the mark.

I understand the rationale regarding notice periods and I accept that such periods can be different in other jurisdictions. As a result, I do not have a difficulty with these changes. However, I wish to draw attention to the converse aspect, namely, the notice periods provided by tenants. More often than not, tenants leave properties because their life circumstances change, they want a different property, they might have moved jobs or lost jobs and so do not have a choice in the matter. However, some people question why, when a landlord must give 60, 90, or 120 days notice, depending on the length of the tenancy, a tenant is not obliged to do so. Under the Bill, a landlord who is delinquent can be prosecuted by the RTB. The latter will be able to act autonomously and will no longer have to do so on the basis of complaints. That is a welcome step in the right direction. However, if a tenant does not give notice and if the landlord is owed two or three months' rent, under the law, the RTB cannot prosecute that tenant. Therein lies an inherent inequality. I do not support prosecuting tenants who may have lost their jobs, been obliged to emigrate or whatever. However, any law these Houses pass must be equitable. It must be a two-way street. If someone is a good tenant or a good landlord and he or she pays his or her taxes, then the law is on his or her side. If, however, he or she is a bad tenant or landlord, then the law is not on his or her side. This Bill is 100% on the side of the tenant because the landlord, particularly in the case I highlighted, is being criminalised for an administrative error. What if he or she did not click "complete" on the online registration form? What if he or she simply forgot to register because of circumstances that occurred during the lengthy notice period when the rent review takes place? There are always circumstances in which other events can dominate people's thinking for a period.

I accept we have a huge amount of work to do regarding our housing market. We must ensure that we can provide affordable properties to people who are fortunate enough to be able to take out mortgages. Then there is everyone else who cannot. We should consider the position of landlords who pay tax at 50%, particularly those who may not be institutional landlords. These people are not involved in the sector for commercial reasons but, rather, because they may have inherited property or they thought it a good idea to invest in property for pension purposes in later life. Many individuals followed the latter course and were encouraged to do so under the previous taxation system. We must look in a fair way at those individuals. The Minister will have to have a discussion with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on this matter. Creating a criminal charge in respect of an administrative error is a bit much. I have no difficulty with the State prosecuting an individual who breaks the law. We are debating what will become an Act of the Oireachtas. At that point, it will be the law and people will be obliged to comply with its provisions.

Others have stated that it is unfair to criminalise landlords for being bad. Perhaps, however, it is time that we clamped down on these individuals who rent out substandard properties, properties that do not comply with building safety or fire regulations and properties with access and egress issues. All over this city there are older properties that have been modified but not to the appropriate level to make them safe. Dublin City Council has shut down several large-scale rental properties recently, which is a welcome development. I have no difficulty with clamping down on the landlords in question but there does not have to be a criminal offence. If local authorities, and the agencies responsible, ensure that building standards and fire and safety regulations are adhered to in the context of rental properties, we must ensure that they have sufficient funds to do that. The latter would mean that a delinquent landlord who does not maintain properties properly would be caught immediately or within a reasonable period and told that the property has fallen down on whatever points of fire safety or health and safety and that improvements must be made. If we properly fund the administration of the rental market and the social housing market, we will not have delinquent landlords at all because we will be able to monitor them more closely. As already stated, however, criminalising the failure to complete an administrative function is too much.

I commend the Minister on the other aspects of the Bill. The administrative changes in section 7 on notice periods and errors in notice documents are welcome. It was the case that if this happened, there was a need to go back to the start. In a lengthy tenancy where there is a six-month notice period, if it was only caught after three months, it would have to start again and that could be problematic, not only for landlords but also tenants.

I thank Deputy Farrell. The next contributions will be from Fianna Fáil with Deputy Curran, mé féin and Deputy Brassil.

I am sharing time with Deputy Brassil and Deputy Eugene Murphy when he returns to our benches.

As my colleague indicated last night, Fianna Fáil will support the Bill and will put forward amendments on Committee Stage. It is important that we put the Bill in its context of dealing with the private rented sector where there are currently great demands. For several years, there have been significant rental increases. This comes back to the basic issue of supply and demand. There is simply too much demand. It is important to acknowledge that the pressures have occurred on the demand side in the private rental sector rather than on the supply side.

There are people living in private rented accommodation who do not want to be there. They are obliged to do so because there is no alternative. There are individuals who are eligible for social housing and who are in private rented accommodation temporarily while they wait for their social housing to be provided. There are others who do not qualify for social housing, who are earning significant money, who are in private rented accommodation and who have no capacity to save the deposits required to allow them to purchase their own homes. I accept that I am digressing slightly but, in the longer term, two of the elements necessary to alleviate pressure in the private rental sector are continuing growth and the supply of social and affordable housing. While we might disagree on aspects of this, we do not have a rational programme in respect of providing affordable housing. In my area, there are a couple of strategic development zone, SDZ, planning schemes under construction but we do not have an affordable housing programme for people who earn salaries in excess of the social housing eligibility thresholds and who are excluded from the market. Many of those individuals are in private rented accommodation. The latter is an aspect with which we must deal.

Another issue to which repeated reference has been made is the lack of a cost rental model.

We have discussed it for a number of years. It should have been developed by this stage and it should be accessing money that would be available from pension funds or the Irish League of Credit Unions.

Until we address some of the key issues, the private rental sector will remain under pressure. It is important that we put this debate in that context. This legislation will address some of the issues we are facing daily. I acknowledge that the Government introduced rent pressure zones, RPZs. People have mixed views on how they operate, but colleagues around the country argue that they need to be extended to other areas that are seeing significant rent increases.

RPZs are designed to restrict the level of rental income, but various exemptions apply if there are significant renovations. The existing regulations, including the one under which landlords can ask tenants to move on if they want to sell the apartment or house or give it to a family member, have been around for a long time and there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggesting that they are not being policed. This Bill provides an opportunity for that policing to happen, which is important. All public representatives regularly see people in their offices who have been told that they must move from their private rented accommodation because their landlords want to sell, need it for family members or want to renovate it. Sometimes, it is difficult to see whether that transaction happens. That issue must be addressed in this legislation. The activities of landlords in that regard must be overseen, which is a matter that the Bill will help.

For the majority of landlords, being compliant is not an issue. They acknowledge and respect compliance and want transparency. They believe that landlords need to be held responsible. For many, their reputation is important to them.

Deputies have mentioned the annual registration of tenancies, which is a departure from the current system. I understand that the charge for registering will be reduced, but the legislation does not specify what it will be. There should not be an additional burden on the landlord, yet registering annually will be an additional administrative burden. There must be a responsibility on the RTB that, when a landlord registers, reminders are sent so that he or she is not caught out inadvertently. It is important that not everything should rely on the landlord having to remember. Why is annual registration necessary if a landlord-tenant relationship endures for longer than a year?

Many of the actions being taken in the Bill are meant to influence and manage the behaviour of landlords, but one of the issues that they have brought to our attention since the Government introduced RPZs relates to situations where landlords had previously been allowing tenants to stay at rents that were significantly below market value. There does not seem to be a mechanism to correct that, particularly if the tenant moves on. It is important that this issue be examined. I am not suggesting that there should be a free for all, but I have seen cases in my area where the rents being charged are significantly, not marginally, below market value. How might landlords be in a position to address that situation?

From the point of view of transparency, it is important that we have a register of the actual rents charged. We frequently listen to debates on reports claiming that rents have increased. Those are the asking rents rather than the charged rents, and sometimes there is a difference. There is no transparency in this regard. Knowing what rents are actually being paid would empower those who are going to the market.

I want to conclude, as two of my colleagues wish to speak, but I will first raise two issues that do not relate directly to the Bill but that I would like the Minister to consider. Deputy Darragh O'Brien also raised them. First, student accommodation is not covered in RPZs, but it should be. This legislation is an opportunity to consider that matter. The second issue is that of a national deposit scheme.

I will make two final points that might be slightly outside the Bill's remit but are directly related to the RTB. Current legislation regarding disputes about anti-social behaviour states that only a person who is directly and adversely affected by such behaviour can make a complaint. In case after case, I have dealt with constituents who have been afraid to make that complaint. In the absence of a complaint, nothing can be done. Will the Minister consider expanding this section so that someone other than the person who is adversely affected - an advocate, public representative or third party - can make it on his or her behalf? I will not put them on the record of the Dáil, but some of the cases are serious. The people involved are genuinely afraid to make a complaint. The legislation needs to be amended to allow a complaint to be made on their behalf.

We have discussed how this Bill will impact on landlords. It is important that it have a positive impact and a positive benefit, not just in terms of price, but also the tenant's quality of life. In that regard, I urge the Minister to re-examine the system of property inspections. The Government has increased funding year on year, but it will take several more years before local authorities are inspecting one in four properties. Interestingly, in 2017, the last year for which I saw figures, more than 12,000 properties of the approximately 16,000 inspected did not meet the standard. That shows the scale of work that needs to be done. Those tenants, who were paying significant amounts of money, deserved to live in better conditions. I suggest that the Government's target of 2021 or 2022 for reaching the point of one in four properties being inspected needs to be fast-tracked. It is relatively small money. The Government is increasing the sum for local authority property inspections by €2.5 million per year. I ask that that increase be fast-tracked so that we can have a more realistic property inspection regime and the standard of property in the private rental sector improves significantly.

I will make a brief contribution before leaving the rest of the time to my colleague, Deputy Brassil.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has left, but I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with him. He declared himself a major landlord. I am sure he is an excellent one, does his work very well and looks after his tenants. I would expect nothing else from him. To my mind, however, part of his presentation created an impression that we did not have any bad landlords. In reality, we have some. In my part of the country, they do not amount to a large percentage, but when one is called to a residence and sees leaking pipes, radiators that do not work and draughts here, there and everywhere. It amounts to unsuitable accommodation and is not something I would tolerate.

In fairness, many smaller landlords have one or two houses for a number of reasons, for example, family. The house might have once been the family home but now has no one in it. They do it up and rent it out. Some do not like to sell their old family homes and prefer to keep them. Most of these people do an excellent job and always look after their tenants.

While most tenants in my part of the country are good, I have come across cases of houses that have been wrecked and left in a deplorable state. They may have been good houses with proper heating and no shortcomings, yet people have left them in a terrible state. However, that is a minority situation.

There is no doubt that we need landlords in the system. We cannot function without them. My party was criticised regarding the introduction of a landlord's budget in October 2018. However, as I said, we need landlords in the system. Budget 2019 was not a landlord's budget. A rental market needs landlords if it is to work. It incentivises landlords to stay in the system. We should be reminded that 40,000 landlords left the system between 2012 and 2018, including 4,000 in the past 12 months. We need to keep landlords in the system or else there will be fewer units available, in which case we will have a further difficulty with rising rents.

In my constituency, there is a major problem involving tenants who are given notice to leave a house by their landlords and subsequently find when they are looking for a place to stay that they do not qualify for social housing under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. People sometimes find their income is slightly above the threshold to qualify for a local authority house and they do not qualify for the HAP. The Minister will be aware of this problem, which needs to be addressed. It is the biggest problem I have in my constituency.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Much of what I would like to have said has already been said and I do not want to be repetitive. I will, therefore, concentrate my contribution on two specific areas.

There seems to be an anomaly in the HAP scheme. A property will qualify for the scheme provided it is registered with the Residential Tenancies Board. The RTB registration form does not require evidence of ownership, however. As a result, people involved in criminality can have a property management company register a property with the RTB and the housing assistance payment will then benefit the criminal. We must get rid of that anomaly. The application form for HAP includes a number of ways by which a landlord can provide proof of ownership of the property that is the subject of HAP. One of these is by providing evidence of registration with the Residential Tenancies Board. This needs to be removed. The only acceptable evidence should be evidence of payment of the local property tax, which must include the name of the owner of the property. The Minister should look into that matter. I have a fundamental problem with any element of criminality benefitting from HAP and other State payments. This practice also creates problems for local authorities when they try to deal with unscrupulous landlords because when they telephone property management companies, they get nowhere. We can do a little work on that.

The other side of the coin in respect of HAP is anti-social behaviour by tenants. For example, a property rented to two people may have ten people living in it. The current legislation does not allow local authorities to act in such circumstances. The HAP makes reference to the issue but there is nothing in legislation to support agencies that are trying to do something about it. The RTB will investigate and will probably find anti-social behaviour is taking place and the tenants should either be removed or some form of action should be taken against them, but there is nothing in legislation to help.

Practical steps on the issues I have raised regarding landlords and unscrupulous tenants would help. Not every landlord is a bad landlord and not every tenant is a bad tenant. In fact, the opposite is the case - the vast majority of landlords are good landlords and the vast majority of tenants are good tenants. We seem to find ourselves legislating for the minority on both sides, although I suppose that is our job.

Gabhaim buíochas as an deis seo labhairt ar an mBille.

It is as good as fact that the rental crisis is worse than ever. The rise in rents continues unabated. People are losing their homes and unable to find a new home. We see the practical outworkings of that daily in our constituency offices. People are in desperate circumstances, having exhausted all options as they try to stay in their homes. They have sought time and again to find other suitable accommodation that falls within their HAP allowance but it is impossible to do so.

The most recent figures show that rents in Cork city have increased by 13.7% year on year. This is well above the national figure of 11.3% and significantly higher than the 4% increase allowed for in the rent pressure zone. As my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, outlined yesterday, this Bill is a recognition that the rent pressure zones are not working properly. These types of rent increases would not be possible if they were working correctly. We would not have the current level of evictions or number of people facing homelessness and unable to find alternative accommodation if they were working.

A modest two-bedroom home in Cork currently rents for €1,114 a month. Three-bedroom homes generally rent for between €1,200 and €1,400, but many perfectly ordinary homes cost €1,500, €1,600 or even more to rent.

Rebuilding Ireland is not working and will not work. Its targets are inadequate and it does not take a sufficiently strong line on the rental crisis. In 2016, Sinn Féin argued that the solution was rent certainty. The crisis in now such that we need a rent freeze as an emergency measure, accompanied by relief for tenants, as opposed to the landlords, many of whom have done well financially out of the current crisis.

There are also inadequate targets for the building of social housing and affordable housing. Scarcely an affordable house has been built under any scheme so far in the Government's term. This has created a major gap because many people in work and on modest incomes do not qualify for social housing and have no real options. The lack of action on affordable housing is a cause of considerable frustration. I am not terribly optimistic for the future either. I ask the Minister to prioritise this issue because large numbers of people are locked out of the housing market. It is difficult, particularly from my generation, to plan for the future when one cannot afford a mortgage, does not qualify for any State schemes and affordable housing is not within reach. One's money is eaten up by extortionate rents, month on month. The Minister will be familiar with this issue as I am sure many of his peers and colleagues are in a similar position. Rent is so expensive that it is difficult to see more than two or three years down the line. This creates a high level of insecurity and not enough is being done to address the issue.

Sinn Féin acknowledges that the Bill includes some generally useful provisions, although we have quibbles with elements of them. Some of these issues were identified by ourselves and others during previous debates on residential tenancies legislation and it is welcome that they are now being addressed. The provision of additional powers to investigate landlords and impose sanctions is right and proper but needs resourcing. Resources are an issue in a number of areas. As Deputy Curran outlined, the rate of inspections is not high enough. I will address two aspects of this.

First, many landlords are not registered, perhaps because they believe it gives them more flexibility. Of course, it is illegal not to be registered and disqualifies the landlord from receiving HAP. Members regularly deal with people who say that a prospective landlord will not accept HAP. One often discovers that refusal is due to the landlord not being registered. We must make it practically impossible for a landlord not to be registered. Second, the issue of good and bad landlords was mentioned. Of course, there are good landlords. I am a tenant and am very satisfied with my landlord, about whom I have no complaints. However, landlords hold the balance of power. It is not the same as saying there are good and bad tenants. The structural reality built into the current housing market is that it favours landlords. That makes it easy for landlords who wish to exploit tenants to so do. It is very difficult for tenants who are being exploited to escape those circumstances. A tenant living in dire circumstances such as damp, overcrowded or badly damaged housing which may be barely fit for human habitation and who complains to the landlord very often finds that the landlord will do nothing about the complaint in the knowledge that the tenant is not in a realistic position to find a tenancy with another landlord who will accept HAP within their limits. If additional powers are to be granted to investigate landlords and impose sanctions, that must be backed up by significant resources.

There is a need for further legislative change. Those on HAP should be on the main housing waiting list. A minority of local authorities have managed to provide flexibility in that regard. The transfer list is inadequate. Many people are not aware of it or may not fill out the form correctly and be taken off the list. Those people need to be reintegrated onto the main list and that should be done through nationalisation.

I support and welcome the proposed extended notice periods. However, extended notice periods will not fully address the issue of people being evicted into homelessness. If the Government is serious about preventing evictions into homelessness, it must adopt the Focus Ireland amendment.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. The current average rent for a two-bedroom house in east Cork is €1,000 per month. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire stated, the rent for some properties is above average. The monthly rent for a three-bedroom house in the area is €1,200 while that for a one-bedroom is €750 per month, which is ironic. There are currently 20 properties for rent in east Cork. Obviously, when goods or a service is scarce and demand for it is high, it becomes more expensive. However, the knock-on social effect is that struggling young families are under immense mental and financial pressure to get a sustainable job and meet the demands of paying the rent.

Cobh is the only rent pressure zone in my area of east Cork. Last year, I raised the issue of rent pressure zones with the Minister and mentioned the stipulations that apply to them. One such stipulation is that the average rent in east Cork would have to equal or exceed the national average rent in order to negotiate or discuss the possibility of having more rent pressure zones in the area. The problem is that the current national average is €1,122 per month. The national average rent is going up, as are rents in east Cork. However, the average rent in east Cork is not catching up with the national average. It is a case of a dog chasing its tail. The rent pressure zone legislation must be considered and urgently reviewed. I welcome that Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill. However, I am surprised that it did not demand that this be addressed in the confidence and supply agreement. The rent pressure zones are due to expire at the end of 2019. Is there a plan for what will happen thereafter? What can Members tell tenants in their constituencies who are affected by this issue? Many tenants are in a very precarious situation. Many live day to day because they do not know whether they will get a letter in the door stating that a family member of the landlord is returning to Ireland, so the tenant must move out and tough luck. That has happened on many occasions.

Affordable housing seems to be non-existent. That must be addressed because there are people and families who do not qualify for a mortgage but are just over the threshold for qualifying for social housing.

HAP was mentioned. It is very difficult to persuade some landlords to participate in HAP. A landlord who registers a one-bedroom apartment may receive a HAP of, for example, €750. However, the demand for property is so high that the landlord could obtain €1,000 or €1,200 per month in cash for the property. Further regulation is needed in that regard.

I do not wish to bash landlords. As many Deputies stated, there are some fabulous landlords as well as fabulous tenants. However, no matter where one goes, there are always a few bad apples. The Bill strengthens the rights of both landlords and tenants. It offers security to tenants such that they know that a property will meet a certain quality level and be safe and dry. Many constituents have come to my office regarding substandard properties, some of which are in a deplorable condition and may be covered in mould. It took almost two and a half years to resolve one such case. Some properties in such condition were held by certain agencies which work in conjunction with local authorities. I will not name them but the Minister knows the agencies to which I refer. Some of their properties are in deplorable condition and totally substandard. That is also sometimes the case in the voluntary housing sector. I have no problem giving the Minister the information I have in that regard. Some of the properties were medically unfit for habitation but were being sublet to management agencies and had been forgotten about by the big boys who had probably been misinformed or not informed about the situation. However, it is the tenant who lives and suffers in such properties. Many tenants remain out of fear. They do not want to complain because, like the gravy train, if one falls out the door there might be 40 people waiting to fill the spot. It is a dog eat dog scenario.

The social and mental impact of what is happening in the property sector must be recognised. Unfortunately, some people who were in mortgage arrears and genuinely tried to pay their bills and mortgages and so on are no longer with us. That is the reality. Because of the prevalence of zero-hour contracts and other jobs without security, there is a generation which cannot get a loan but for whom the social housing thresholds are too low. That generation cannot access funding to get onto the property ladder. Couples with very young children who are working pillar to post are forced to stay in his parents' house one night and her parents' house the next night. It starts to become a battle between the children, who must choose whether they sleep in the same house as their mother or their father each night. That is happening because people cannot get suitable accommodation. The Minister remembers how bad the weather was last winter, particularly during the snow. I know of a family which was living in a mobile home without heating because they had nowhere else to go. They had been squatting but had to leave the property. These are the realities of what is happening in the housing market today.

It is very welcome that the RTB is getting more powers but local authorities should also have more. There should be more investment in inspectors and so on. Local authorities do a fabulous job. The staff in them are under unbelievable pressure. It is very difficult to shovel snow when it is still snowing, however. We work very well with the local authority, including staff on a one-to-one basis. The staff are really genuine but they are so stressed and under strain because they do not have the capacity or the properties to hand to constituents.

Let me refer to the silent homeless, who are not talked about. They are another product of the downturn or crash. Before the crash, many families had good jobs, did their best, had mortgages, reared their children and sent them to college. The children have now emigrated and are working, which is fine. Between the stresses and strains of the crash, failing mortgages, marriages breaking up and the banks taking back properties, those who are left, the parents, are now couch surfing in their own parents' homes. They are too embarrassed even to admit this.

I encountered a case number of years ago the circumstances of which were absolutely disgusting. Events very similar to what I have described affected the family in question but they could not even go back into their old estate to visit former next-door neighbours because there was a barring order meaning they could not go within 200 m of their old home. The mother told me that when she went to visit from afar, a young former neighbour, who was probably six at the time, was inside kicking the for-sale sign down. These are realities.

It is great to be talking about ideas but, realistically, we are looking for solutions. Sinn Féin has mentioned this. A three-year rent freeze is not a bad idea as it gives us all time to come up with plans. It is not anti-landlord or pro-tenant but it is about giving us time to get things right.

A couple of other points were mentioned. Refundable rent relief for renters was mentioned. It is a good idea. We must assist everybody. The rolling out of cost rental models across the whole State is not rocket science. We must also consider ways of speeding up the planning permission process. This has also been mentioned to me. We must consider how to assist councils in every way we can. This includes municipal district councils. Even before the town councils were disbanded, there was local knowledge, a local touch and local support, and there was a check on the properties of the town council every day of the week. If there was an issue, it was addressed. We have to go back to the old days. Let us go back to what was done in the 1970s when there was nothing here but when we still built houses people could afford.

When we talk about houses and properties, we must remember people want to cherish them as homes. A home is very different from a house. A home is where memories are formed and where there is a sense of security and warmth. There is a genuine, knock-on effect involving harmony and social respect. A home makes one proud of who one is and one respects one's neighbours. There is a knock-on effect that makes society much more sociable. When this occurs, everybody works together. We have lost that in Ireland. It is all about what we have and can get rather than worrying about others. That has to stop.

I welcome the Bill. There will be amendments. Anything we can do to assist both tenants and landlords and to assist local authorities in trying to produce more social and affordable homes has to be welcomed.

I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to speak about this important Bill. It is long overdue. It is probably about 30 or 35 years overdue and it certainly does not go remotely far enough to vindicate tenants' rights and create a fair rental market in this country but even the small steps in this Bill are welcome as an attempt to begin to remedy the worst deficiencies in tenancy law and to face up to the horrendous circumstances of many tenants.

Over the past couple of years, I have liaised with the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor trying to frame a Bill with a similar thrust but in many respects it was very difficult to introduce one because of the necessity some felt to include a regime of administrative sanctions, which the Minister has included in section 7. There was a fear that landlords engaged in criminal activity and treating tenants very badly could not be prosecuted if they had been fined previously under an administrative regime.

The Bill is intended to give effect to the strategy for the rental market pillar of the unfortunately failing Rebuilding Ireland strategy. It will amend the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2016 and bestow greater powers on the RTB for investigations and sanctions. It will increase notice periods, strengthen Part 4 tenancies and provide for the registration of tenancies annually, among other things. On the latter point, there has been much criticism by agencies such as Threshold and others in that the Government had the opportunity to introduce a real-time register but has not been willing to do so thus far.

Back in mid-December, I spoke in strong support of the Solidarity-People Before Profit Anti-Evictions Bill 2018 and was very happy to see it proceed from the House to committee. That Bill's provisions would have given much greater security of tenure and extended notice periods. The Bill would have forced landlords to pay compensation to tenants being evicted due to family members moving back into the accommodation unit and it would have introduced other improvements.

Earlier this week, I, like many Deputies, was keeping a close eye on the housing and homelessness trends. I sent out a brief statement on the approximately 8,000 homeless children. This figure is based on the official figures of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the figures of the Department of Justice and Equality on direct provision, and the figures of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on domestic violence refuges. Earlier this week, we heard from respected medics in Temple Street that the increase of 29% in children with "no fixed abode" attending the emergency department is linked to the inappropriate living conditions in which they are being accommodated. Behind each of these figures is a real child. Many are very young and many are infants. They are experiencing deep trauma on foot of the lack of security and stability they would experience in something as fundamental as a safe, permanent home. Like the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, I meet many of those affected at my weekly information clinics. As with the whole House, I am ashamed of how the Government is treating them - a lost generation with lost childhoods. I am sure we will hear from them in 20 or 30 years, when some of them will be in this House looking back over this period.

On Monday, I was struck when the Taoiseach spoke of his own failings in this regard. He tried to embrace the famous Democratic Programme of the First Dáil and indicated we must do better. The reality is that neither he nor the Minister is doing well enough. The rental market and the unaffordable rents are directly linked to the increase in homelessness, particularly family homelessness, in Dublin, yet the Government has been moving at a snail's pace to begin to address this matter as part of addressing the overall housing crisis. To get this far, it has taken three years of continuous debate and questions to the Minister, the Taoiseach and his predecessor in this House.

The number of households in the private rental sector increased dramatically, by 64%, between 2006 and 2011. In 2017, we learned that almost 19% of the total population were living in rented accommodation. Some 30% of all occupied households were tenancy households.

I also noticed in one of Threshold's reports that 45% of those tenancies were paying 30% of their income in rent and an astonishing 14% were paying 50% of their total income in rent. These are dismal figures in the record of the Government and the previous austerity Government. Single people and lone parents are over-represented in the private rental sector and this has always been the case. As rents continued to increase for 25 or 26 consecutive quarters, they reached a peak 30% higher than during the Celtic tiger boom in 2008. Much is made of the rent index reports in comparison to the RTB rent index, with the Government, of course, preferring the one that shows the lower increases. The important aspect to note, however, is that both indices report relentless increases.

Average rents in Dublin are now more than €1,600 per month and other cities such as Cork, Galway, Limerick and even Waterford are also experiencing significant increases. Of course, RPZs were deliberately introduced without any way of monitoring or regulating them. They were a PR stunt by the then Government. With so many exemptions, landlords have been able to flout the 4% increase rule when they wish.

Constitutional rights to property and the protection of that property are often quoted when we are trying to come up with solutions to the ever-worsening housing crisis but in reality Bunreacht na hÉireann allows for the use of property for the public good to trump private property rights. Many speakers, including the Taoiseach, made this very point on Monday afternoon at our 100th anniversary sitting. Unfortunately, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which are so much in debt to landlords and in which so many landlords are represented, have always preferred to create situations to increase the profits of landlords rather than protect the well-being of tenants.

Over the past 100 years of our Republic we have experienced lengthy periods of rent controls. Prior to 1981, under the 1960 Act there was a rent control regime. We know that type of regime could have been introduced. The Minister could introduce this. As my Sinn Féin colleague said, the Minister could state that for three years we will have no increases until housing supply is increased to 25,000 per year.

I tabled a question to the Minister last week that was not reached and I am still not clear on how many houses are being built. The most recent dismal figure I saw for 2018 was 12,000. In 2016, when Deputy Fitzgerald was Tánaiste, she told me 25,000 houses were to be built in 2018. That is still dismal. We have so many plans, particularly for social housing and affordable housing.

We know there are excellent rental regimes around Europe, where tenants have greater security of tenure and, in many cases, indefinite leases. There is a housing crisis in many countries, apart from Finland because it introduced a regime whereby it does not have the appalling homelessness that exists in so many other EU countries. This crisis is because the commodification of the fundamental human right to shelter. Nevertheless, there are improved rental markets in our neighbouring European countries. For example, the rental sectors in Scandinavia, France, Spain and Germany are much better regulated. People might say the Bill is a small step along the same road. In Germany, 40% of people live in the private rental sector. I know that Government policy in Ireland is trying to steer people away from home ownership and towards longer rentals but, to do this, a properly functioning rental sector is needed.

I recently read a book, which is in the Oireachtas Library, by Professor Barrie Needham, who teaches planning in the Netherlands. The book is Dutch Land-use Planning: the Principles and the Practice, which was published in 2014. It clearly shows the Dutch go in for a lot of project planning and the major planning that is necessary for a country the size of Leinster and Munster with a population of 17 million that continues to grow. It is slowly trying to increase its land mass. It has evolved many systems to manage planning and a sustainable supply of housing. Professor Needham states that even there, the developers of market homes seek a profit margin of 30% or 40% and do not care whatsoever about social housing. This is the experience we have had with many of our developers over the past number of decades.

During the week, we had the welcome announcement by Facebook that it is to increase its workforce by 1,000 but where will these additional workers live? If Brexit-related jobs come to this country - and let us hope that over the next eight or nine weeks the fairly frightening prospect of a no-deal Brexit does not happen - it will be another difficulty to produce the additional homes. The Government will have to deal with this in its final days in office.

Section 3 in Part 2 amends section 19 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and sets out the conditions for a substantial change in the accommodation that can render it exempt from the RPZ increases of 4% per year. This is a welcome amendment and means that at least half of the dwelling must undergo renovation. There have been reports of landlords just throwing up a coat of paint or putting in a new suite of furniture to qualify but this will now not entitle them to the exemption. The Minister probably read Threshold's critique of the Bill. It rightly outlines concerns regarding this in the analysis it shared with us this week. The definition of increasing the number of rooms needs to be clarified to ensure existing rooms cannot merely be partitioned. The exemption from the RPZ increase limits when the BER rating is improved has also been highlighted by Threshold as a concern because it seems as if a landlord could introduce a small change and, thereby, be exempt. I agree with Threshold's suggestion that the definition should be that a property must be brought up to at least a C1 energy rating in order to improve the home and benefit the tenant with home energy costs. Section (3)6 makes it an offence to not comply with the section. If a landlord provides false or misleading information it will also be an offence.

Section 5, also in Part 2, amends section 41 of the 2004 Act and relates to Part 4 tenancies. A Part 4 tenancy is where a tenant has been in a property for more than six months and then becomes entitled to remain in the property for up to six years with termination of lease only on certain grounds. Section 5 provides for the extension of a Part 4 tenancy after six years have expired and this is welcome. It will remain a Part 4 tenancy and will not be restarted after six years with another six-month period; it will continue as a Part 4 tenancy with those protections.

Section 7 amends section 66 of the 2004 Act and relates to notice periods. The new subsection (2A)(b) provides for the landlord to remedy an incorrect notice and re-serve it as a remedial notice within 28 days of a determination order. Threshold has also outlined some concerns about the section and says that the phrase "notice period to be given" instead of "lawful notice period" could lead to abuse of the section. This is something the Minister can address on Committee Stage. It seems that tenants may be left with only 28 days to vacate a property, which is not at all sufficient in the current climate.

Subection (2A)(c) substitutes the notice period table for a new table, whereby some notice periods have been extended. Tenancies under six months will still be entitled to 28 days’ notice. For tenancies of between six months and one year the entitlement will increase from 35 days to 90 days. Tenancies of between one and four years will have a notice period of 120 days whereas prior to this legislative change each year was entitled to a different notice period, of 42 days, 56 days, 84 days and 112 days, respectively. Notice periods for tenancies of five years and over remain the same as what was set out in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015, whereby five to six-year tenancies will be entitled to 140 days, six to seven-year tenancies will be entitled to 168 days, seven to eight-year tenancies will be entitled to 196 days and tenancies of eight or more years will be entitled to 224 days. Section 7(3) provides for the Minister with responsibility for housing to review these changes, complete a report and lay it before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Section 12 amends section 134 of the 2004 Act, and provides for the registration of tenancies at the start of the tenancy and annually. This will mean that a landlord does not just register a tenancy once but every year, and tenancies in place prior to the commencement of the section must also be registered. There will be an annual fee of €40.

I notice there has again been some significant criticism of the provisions for the rent register. Many of us had been hoping that the Minister would introduce legislation analogous or close to similar legislation in the UK. I note that Threshold has again expressed disappointment that a dwelling-specific rent register was not created. That was supposed to have been under consideration in the early stages of this Bill. It is regrettable that it is not present now and that we do not have a dwelling-specific rent register. Section 17 provides for the enforcement of the requirement to keep the information updated. It will be an offence not to comply with a notice served by the RTB.

Section 18 inserts a new Part 7A, relating to complaints, investigations and sanctions, into the 2004 Act. It sets out the interpretations and definitions for this part, the powers of an authorised officer, such as the ability to enter and inspect a premises etc. The new section 148AA, which deals with an appeal to the Circuit Court against the decision to impose a sanction and other similar sections are all important in creating some kind of administrative system of invigilation. That will ensure that the fundamental points of this legislation, and the better points in the earlier legislation going back to 2004, are actually implemented.

Section 19 amends section 151 of the 2004 Act to insert a paragraph referring to the new Part 7A and section 20 of the Bill inserts a new section 164A after section 164 of the 2004 Act regarding the authorised officers and decision makers who will be appointed for the purposes outlined in Part 7A. The senior Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has left the Chamber. I welcome the Bill and I will be supporting it. I still believe, however, that it is far too little and very late given the current situation of our desperate homelessness crisis. Hopefully, the provisions in this Bill will make a certain amount of difference to the lives of tenants.

It will need to be accompanied by a strong public awareness programme and campaign to ensure tenants are aware of their improved rights. It will, of course, also need to provide the necessary resources to the RTB to ensure implementation and enforcement. I note in a reply to our colleague, Deputy Shortall, in March, that the Minister said there were then 55 staff in the RTB and eight vacancies. With the new responsibilities now being given to the RTB and the strengthening of its remit there will clearly be a need for it to have more resources so the organisation will be able to fulfil its stronger role in addressing the rights of tenants. The RTB's strategic plan for 2018 to 2022 lists organisational supports as a priority. I urge the Minister to commence all sections of the Bill at the earliest juncture to avoid further fall-out from our malfunctioning rental market. I also ask him to listen to the criticisms made by Members of the key parts of the Bill and to the issues that have been raised by stakeholders. I refer in particular to organisations such as Threshold which have long campaigned for a number of the improvements contained in this Bill.

I will not delay people long. There are many positives in the Bill. We know the situation in Dublin and in the larger cities, but also in all counties and in smaller towns. I refer to the problems of housing and homelessness in this country. We have seen some of the major landlords coming from foreign lands and dictating the pace of what they do and getting away with many different things. We still have to tackle many of those issues. In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy English, and the senior Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, there are many positives in this Bill.

It is actually helping the tenant more and putting more responsibility on the landlord. There is a fear out there, and always has been, that if a tenant opened his or her mouth he or she could soon have his or her notice and then nowhere to stay. The RTB has a greater responsibility on it to do things to help tenants and anyone in trouble in different parts of the country. The other side of this that the Government did not address was raised at a launch I was at recently for iCare by Fr. Peter McVerry. He said there are 12,000 families in buy to let homes. There is a real danger there because there is a prediction that 12,000 of those houses are in arrears and may be in trouble in respect of being repossessed by the banks. That would see many more families added to the situation that pertains currently.

We have to look at seeing how solutions can be found to keeping tenants in situ to make sure we do not end up dealing with a massive number of people and putting more pressure on the different bodies that look after people in homelessness and try to get them a bed. We have to keep a sharp eye on that this year. We know the banks are moving a bit faster. As I said, though, I will not hold this Bill up. There are many positives in it that have to be welcomed. It will be of some help. It is not going to solve the problem by any means but anything positive that is being done has to be acknowledged by all sides of the House.

In the spirit of Deputy Fitzmaurice, I will not delay the House too much either. I am not going to go back over everything that was addressed last night by the Minister when he outlined the Bill and his hopes for it. I thank all the Members on behalf of the Minister and the Department for their contributions. We appreciate the support offered for the Bill. Most speakers supported the Bill or certainly most of it. We understand it is quite technical in nature and it has much detail. It is also very important that we get this Bill right legally. It will take some time to work through that.

The Minister did stress last night that he hoped to bring this Bill through as fast as possible but recognising as well that it has to be given proper scrutiny. That is guaranteed. As some of the speakers referred to last night, we all agree this has to be done but we still have to make sure that we get it right. Every effort will be made to do that. We will work through ways of teasing through the detail of the Bill on Committee Stage and in other informal ways. We will also work on amendments that Deputies might have, in addition to our own that the Minister will want to bring through on Committee Stage.

We will work with Members on that and try to explore different ways to do our business faster because we all want to get this done as fast as possible. The main provisions in the Bill focus on the main priorities. People will, naturally, have a long list of other stuff that they will want to add in and we will be able to judge that better on Committee Stage as to how fast we can do that or what aspects we might have to come back to. There is certainly a list of different issues in respect of the behaviour of landlords that can be added at a later stage if needs be. We can work on that too.

I again thank all the Members for their contributions, both last night and today, and for their time. It is a Bill that many of us have been anticipating for a while and it is great that we finally have it in the House and that we are getting though Second Stage. I look forward to working with all of the Members on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.