Cuirim fáilte roimh chuile dhuine go dtí an Teach. We will begin with questions to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. The first question is from Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I remind Deputies and the Minister that according to procedure, Deputies have 30 seconds to introduce the question and the Minister has two minutes to respond. The questioner then has another minute and the Minister has one minute to respond, followed by a final response from both the Deputy and the Minister. I am going to be extremely strict in asking Members to stick to that agenda because-----
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
On a point of order, when questions are taken in a group we get additional time in our replies.
That is correct. We will explain that when we come to it. I call Deputy Darragh O'Brien.
Social and Affordable Housing
32. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the affordable homes scheme; the amount spent to date; the amount anticipated to be drawn down by the end of 2019; the number of sites identified; the timeframe for delivery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37684/19]
34. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the cost-rental scheme pilot project; the timeframe for its completion; the income criteria; the selection process to be used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37685/19]
36. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of cost-rental plans on a site (details supplied). [37951/19]
Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh, agus cuirim fáilte romhat ar ais freisin. I ask the Minister to give an update on the affordable housing purchase scheme, the amount spent to date, the amount anticipated to be spent by the end of this year, the number of sites identified, the timeframe for delivery, and any further relevant information he might have around the exact criteria involved. As the Minister knows, all four Dublin local authorities have adopted the bones of the criteria, which are skeletal. Where are we with the next step, in order to actually open this scheme?
I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Deputy and welcome everyone back to what is a very important Dáil term.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 32, 34 and 36 together.
Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 was commenced in June 2018 to provide a new statutory basis for affordable dwelling purchase arrangements. Initial regulations in regard to schemes of priorities were made subsequently and further regulations will be put in place over the coming months regarding eligibility and other matters.
In order to support the delivery of discounted homes to buy or rent, this Government has committed €310 million under the serviced sites fund from 2019 to 2021 to provide infrastructure to support the delivery of some 6,200 homes. To date, funding of €127 million in support of 35 projects in 13 local authority areas has been allocated for infrastructure works on sites that will support the delivery of almost 3,200 homes.
The overall cost and the timing of delivery for these projects are contingent upon the completion of design, planning and procurement in the first instance and local authorities are working to achieve delivery as quickly as possible. The price of homes that will be offered for purchase under the scheme will vary by development but Dublin City Council, for example, has indicated that it expects to have two-bedroom homes available in Ballymun in the €148,000 to €168,000 price range.
The first cost rental project at Enniskerry Road in Stepaside has gone on site and will deliver over 150 homes, 50 of which will be cost rental. My Department has been in contact with the local authority concerned in regard to the commencement of drawdown of funding. The remaining projects are currently at the stage of design and planning and, accordingly, local authorities are not yet drawing down allocated funds. I anticipate that the bulk of expenditure will arise as projects reach the construction phase.
The Enniskerry Road project, which I formally launched last week, is one of two pathfinder pilot projects for cost rental. The homes involved are due to be completed in 2021 and tenants will pay €1,200 per month to live in the two-bedroom apartments. This rent is based on the cost of delivering and maintaining the homes and is a significant reduction when compared with market rents in the area.
Regarding the St. Michael's Estate site at Emmett Road, Dublin City Council is continuing to make progress on the preliminary work on this project. It is estimated that this site can accommodate approximately 470 homes in a high-quality mixed tenure development, including approximately 330 cost rental homes, and the development framework plan for the site has recently been completed.
Dublin City Council is engaging with my Department according to the best practice guidelines set out in the capital works management framework and is procuring an architect led integrated design team which will be responsible for designing the scheme and taking it as far as the planning stage. I am determined that work will continue to progress at pace on this project over the coming months and that lessons learned from the modelling at this location are applied to the ongoing development work for a national cost rental model.
In terms of that work to progress the cost rental agenda more generally, I have convened a working group led by my Department, also involving the Land Development Agency, the Housing Agency and other bodies, to develop the cost rental policy framework to provide for a sustainable financing structure and to allow us to commence the delivery of homes at scale. In order to assist with this work, in May 2019 my Department signed an agreement with the European Investment Bank to officially engage it to undertake a research project into cost rental on our behalf. Detailed operational and eligibility criteria for cost rental will be informed by this evidence building and policy work. This work will be concluded well in advance of the completion of construction work on the first homes at Enniskerry Road.
These new schemes are set in the context of significant moderation in the growth in house prices and complement other key Government affordability initiatives. Included among these are the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, under which more than 1,000 loans had been drawn down the end of June this year, and the help to buy scheme, under which some 14,000 applications have been approved. In addition, the Land Development Agency's initial portfolio of sites will have the potential to deliver to deliver 3,000 affordable homes and the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, will support more than 2,300 affordable homes on mainly publicly owned lands, while 5,600 further homes will benefit from a LIHAF related cost reduction, some of which have already come on stream.
In overall terms, programmes are in place under which some 18,000 affordable homes or homes with a LIHAF related reduction will be delivered, with 15,000 households already supported under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan or the help to buy scheme.
Before we start-----
The questions have been grouped. I will allow Deputies Joan Collins and Darragh O'Brien to speak.
That is a point of order I want to raise. I do not want to be obstructionist on the first day back but I wrote to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle before the recess about the grouping of Priority Questions. They should not be grouped. Deputy Collins's question has been grouped with mine. I do not have any issue with that but I get two Priority Questions, other Deputies get one and they are grouped together. That is not the Minister's fault but it allows for an omnibus answer like the one we got, which covered everything from affordable purchase, affordable rent and cost rental to help to buy and Rebuilding Ireland home loans.
I will conclude. I wrote to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle in July this year to complain about the grouping of Priority Questions. They should not be grouped because every six weeks I get two questions and other Deputies get one. Three of the five Priority Questions for today have been grouped. That is not acceptable. I did not object to this at the start of the debate when the Acting Chairman announced the grouping of the questions and I know the House agreed to that. I am very serious in that regard. I would like the Acting Chairman to convey my concerns to the Ceann Comhairle. I will again write to his office to complain about this practice because it restricts our ability to ask the Government questions.
On a point of information-----
As one very famous radio presenter said, "I hear what you are saying." I will take your concerns back to the Ceann Comhairle. The grouping of questions is a matter for the Minister. We will have 80 minutes for this debate.
On a point of information, the grouping of questions is not a matter for me. I support what Deputy O'Brien has said.
My understanding is that it is a matter for the Minister. He can decide. There are 80 minutes.
That is not what I was informed of. From my point of view, issues like the Rebuilding Ireland home loan are separate from the serviced sites fund. It is in my interest to be able to speak to those issues separately because of the amount of information we have in this area. The questions have been grouped today, but it is something we could look at before we take questions in the future.
I can see there are concerns. As I said, I will raise this matter to the Ceann Comhairle. Deputy O'Brien has written to his office.
Yes, and I have not received a response.
I will have a word with him today. We are losing valuable time. Maybe we could move on.
I am aware of that. I know officials have to abide by their rules. I respectfully say that it is irrelevant whether it is the same amount of time or the time is extended. The Minister has made a fair point. My point is that our questions are being grouped, as are his answers, and he is trying to fit many things into one answer. In some instances, they are not particularly relevant. We want to be able to tease out individual questions and ask follow-up questions. When I ask a follow-up question, I could throw six or seven issues at the Minister and not receive an answer to any of them. It is not acceptable.
The Deputy has one minute.
That is the issue. The Minister had eight minutes to outline a number of answers to three questions. It is now up to me to decide what I have to pick by way of a supplementary question.
I refer to home ownership and affordable purchase. Home ownership levels in Ireland are now below the EU average, at 67%. In 1991, the home ownership rate was 82%. In 1991, private renters comprised 9% of the market and the figure is now 21%. The average age at which a person buys one's own home has risen from 26 years to 35 years. This is a major issue. Where are the criteria for the national scheme? I wrote to the Minister in March to raise issues I had with the salary levels, in particular those for couples. The matter should be devolved to local authorities and should not involve simply a discount on market price. That is a mistake. We should consider a shared ownership type arrangement. That relates to affordable purchase.
I want to talk about affordable rent but my issue is that when I ask supplementary questions it is as if I am asking only about affordable purchase. I want to ask about affordable rent, help to buy and the Rebuilding Ireland home loan.
I support the point made by Deputy O'Brien. The grouping of questions is not helpful. My specific question concerned the cost rental model in St. Michael's Estate. On 20 February this year, Deputy John Curran put down a question about the off balance sheet costs of cost rental accommodation. The Minister replied that the urban design development framework plan for St. Michael's would be completed later in quarter 1 of 2019. Where is the framework plan? There was a forum meeting on Monday and I have not been able to get much information on St. Michael's Estate. This is an important pilot scheme.
I note the Minister's point that rents of €1,200 per month will be charged under a cost rental model in Enniskerry. I would have to consider that as the figure seems quite high. I would expect rents in St. Michael's Estate to be lower than that.
The Minister went all over the houses on some other points. I want to discuss what is happening in O'Devaney Gardens where land was handed over to a developer and we will only get about 176 public housing units out of a total of 798 or 800 houses. What is happening is a scandal and I would like the Minister to comment. Perhaps he will withdraw the land initiative proposal put forward by the Government.
If Deputies are going to ask questions, they should stick to the subject of the questions they tabled if they want to get specific answers. Deputy Collins asked about St. Michael's Estate in her question but has now delved into another area that, in fairness to the Deputy who asked the question about O'Devaney Gardens, will be addressed later in the session.
The average age of home ownership, which was raised by Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has been changing for a number of reasons. The average age has moved from 26 to 35 or 36. Home ownership has been declining since 1991. I think it fell as quickly during the boom years as it is falling now so, again, that is linked to different things. The NDFA has modelled cost reductions for affordable homes schemes that are not just related to a discount on the market price but to the net income of a person. With regard to a clerical officer or a teacher on the mid point of the salary scale, we are looking at those types of salary scales because we must make sure the homes being provided are affordable for people living and working in areas and cities where price pressures are highest. This is why we have the ambition for at least 20,000 affordable homes under the different schemes and that is why we set up the Land Development Agency and locked in a minimum of 30% for the provision of affordable homes on the land being brought forward by the agency.
I have not had a chance to respond to Deputy-----
I am sorry but I laid it out at the start. The Minister will have a further opportunity to come back in.
We did not have the opportunity to ask the questions we wanted to ask this morning.
The Deputy can ask it now.
I am going to but it is wholly inadequate. I wrote to the Minister on 7 March 2019 with regard to the criteria for the scheme. Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act states that the Minister may, from time to time, consider it appropriate to issue housing authorities guidelines but this has not been done. The Minister should not strangle the local authorities with upper income limits, particularly for couples. Given that €2,024 is the average monthly rent in Dublin city and county, a couple consisting of a nurse or a garda earning €75,000 between them will be excluded from the draft scheme, which is not what we want. That is not the scheme that Fianna Fáil developed. The previous Act would allow for discretion at local authority level. This must happen. We need clarity about when the scheme will open for applications. The only way that can be done is after we know what the real criteria for the scheme are.
I ask the Minister to look back at the letter I sent him on 7 March, a copy of which I will give to him. There are elements in that letter that may be helpful to him and his officials so that we are not trying to fit square pegs into round holes. In some areas of the country, the criteria may work while they may not work in others. Can I come back in?
No. Does Deputy Joan Collins have a final comment to make?
It is impossible. Does the Minister know when that plan will be brought forward? It has been over a year since he came to St. Michael's Estate to launch the cost rental model there and I would like to see what is happening and for the Minister to report back. It has gone too far.
Regarding affordable housing, it has been said that prices for a two-bedroom house in O'Devaney Gardens would be between €270,000 to €315,000 while prices for a three-bedroom house would be between €300,000 and €350,000. It has been said that prices for one-bedroom apartments would range from €237,000 to €276,000 while prices for three-bedroom apartments would range from €360,000 to €420,000. Does the Minister not realise that the mean average wage is €37,000 and that 64% of workers earn less than that? The median average income is €27,000. These workers will never have a chance to buy these so-called affordable homes that we are handing over to a private developer that will make a profit of €67 million from them. It is outrageous. This is not what we want in our country.
My understanding is that we do have quite a bit more time left because of the grouping so Deputies can come back in but I will be guided by the Acting Chairman. I think it is unfair of Deputy Joan Collins to have raised O'Devaney Gardens because it is a question for later on in this session but I will get straight to the point about it. Most of the affordable homes in O'Devaney Gardens will be priced at less than €310,000. I spoke to Dublin City Council yesterday and was informed that no homes will be sold for more than €400,000 under the schemes relating to the land there. There is more work for Dublin City Council to do on this but I repeat that most of the affordable homes will be priced at less than €310,000.
With regard to Deputy Darragh O'Brien's point about the modelling, in its modelling, the NDFA has looked at people like clerical officers earning €27,000 per year to see what kind of rent they could afford based on 35% maximum of their net income. When we talked about this during a previous engagement, I spoke about €50,000 for an individual and €75,000 for a couple but they are guides. The actual determination is 35% of net income so we are working on the regulations for that aspect with local authorities and they will be in place before the houses come on stream. It is important to note that the regulations for the scheme of priorities have already gone through most local authorities, 21 local authorities have approved and ten are still going through their scheme of priorities, namely, who comes through based on his or her connection to the area, working in the area and children in school. We discussed that during a previous session.
Regarding St. Michael's Estate, the NDFA has completed its financial modelling. A report from Jack Nolan on the wider scoping exercise is due next month. Dublin City Council is procuring its design team, the urban design framework plan for the site has been completed and we have had initial discussions with the European Investment Bank. Progress is being made. It is too slow. This site has huge potential, particularly for cost rental, and we are trying to expedite things and are looking at ways of doing that.
Because there is a minute and a half left, there will be 30 seconds for a question and 30 seconds for a reply.
What the Minister said about flexibility relating to criteria is welcome because this flexibility is needed. Selling State land is a flawed model. We should prioritise building affordable housing on State-owned land and doing that does not require selling off land. We will probably discuss the Land Development Agency's approach later because there are questions relating to it further down the agenda. How many sites have been identified through local authorities, how many local authorities have responded to the Minister and what is outstanding?
I thank the Minister for his reply. At least, it is moving along a bit. I also think it is too slow. We are talking about 330 homes in St. Michael's Estate, which would add to us having rents that could be affordable. I am looking forward to seeing that model.
The Minister said that Dublin City Council informed him that no home in the affordable housing scheme in O'Devaney Gardens would be sold for more than €400,000. Does he not realise that a person buying a home costing €270,000 would need a deposit of €27,000 and would need to earn almost €70,000 per year? That is not what the majority of workers are even touching on. So-called affordable housing will only be for the top 20% of earners, not for the ordinary retail worker or bus or train drivers.
I thank the Deputies for their questions. With regard to the serviced sites fund, the intention is to build on local authority land. That is what we are trying to do but there is wider scope for the serviced sites fund beyond that.
In the case of O'Devaney Gardens, we are using a portion of the land - about 22% - to get all those hundreds of homes built across the site as well as other very important infrastructure. I can go into that in detail when the question submitted is answered later on. The important thing about the Land Development Agency's approach to land is that it is State land in terms of the initial tranche of sites and it is the developer so it is not a question of selling off the land. It is a question of developing it in the best interests of the State.
Progress at St. Michael's Estate is too slow and I am looking for ways to expedite that. Most of the affordable homes in O'Devaney Gardens will be priced at less than €310,000. Regarding a house priced at €310,000, if a person is getting Government help in the form of the help to buy scheme to get the deposit together, that is for people on the mean average industrial wage about which Deputy Joan Collins spoke earlier. We are modelling affordability using positions like clerical officers, teachers or gardaí because we know that when it comes to affordability, while people in these occupations do not qualify for social housing, they are unable to buy a home and that is why they need this help and why it is so important.
Eoin Ó BroinQuestion:
33. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will reconsider supporting the recommendations made in the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government report Safe as Houses which recommends establishing a latent defects redress scheme (details supplied) in view of recent revelations in the media that homeowners in counties Dublin and Kildare are facing costs to remedy latent defects uncovered in their properties. [37658/19]
Over the past number of weeks, Niamh Towey and Jack Horgan-Jones have been reporting in The Irish Times about new stories of latent defects. Homeowners in Sandyford have had to pay €10,000 to rectify defects while homeowners in Blackrock have had to pay €25,000. One homeowner in County Clare must foot a bill of €62,000 for latent defects for which the homeowner had no responsibility. Given that it is almost two years since the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government unanimously called for the creation of a latent defects redress fund, will the Government move to introduce such a scheme?
I thank Deputy Ó Broin for raising this issue, which has been discussed a lot in the House in recent years. It is a very important issue and more cases are being brought forward. It is an issue in which the Minister, Deputy Murphy, the Department and I are very interested. I recognise the work of the Deputy and the committee on the issue. It is something of which we are certainly well aware.
The Safe as Houses report has been considered by the Department, and while I can subscribe to many of the principles in it, I believe the building control reform agenda that is already well under way provides a comprehensive road map for embedding a culture of compliance and accountability in the construction industry and for strengthening the building control framework in this country. I am conscious that many of the issues raised date from prior to the new building control measures coming into place.
The reform agenda includes amendments made to the building control regulations, the national building control management project and the ongoing development of new legislation through the building control (construction industry register Ireland) Bill. I am conscious the report mentions this and it is something we hope to publish later this year.
Local authorities have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, the Fire Services Acts, the Housing Acts and the Planning and Development Acts. Fire services may inspect buildings in cases of defects or complaints in respect of fire safety. They work with building owners to ensure immediate risks are addressed and a plan is put in place, where required, for works to bring buildings into compliance. This framework, which followed the 2015 report, is enabling and is a model that can be used to try to address some of the issues affecting some of these apartments.
In relation to legacy issues generally, I acknowledge the very stressful circumstances that owners and residents face when defects occur in their homes. However, in general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved, that is the homeowner, the builder, the developer and-or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme. The State has no general statutory role in resolving defects in privately owned buildings, including dwellings, nor does it have a budget for such matters. It is not possible for the State to take on responsibility or liability for all legacy issues nor would this send the right message to the industry regarding its responsibility for compliance now and in future.
My focus will remain firmly on ensuring the full roll-out of the building control reform agenda, to ensure all those engaged in the construction sector take their responsibilities seriously and are appropriately held to account. As part of the reform agenda, consumer protection will continue to be my core concern and any proposal in this regard will, of course, be considered. We have see some new products in the insurance market on foot of the building control measures in place. Naturally, if they had been in place in the past we would not be in this situation. There is a lot of reform going on. I am conscious the Deputy is raising legacy issues and it is the exposure to taxpayers-----
I call Deputy Ó Broin for his first supplementary question.
Given that the Minister of State said he is conscious that I raised legacy issues he spent more than two thirds of his reply speaking about the present rather than the past, which has become the stock response of the Government to avoid dealing with the real issues.
Nobody is asking the Minister of State to take on full liability for the cost of latent defects. Here is the problem: the State has already accepted liability for some, including Priory Hall, pyrite and mica block in Donegal, but has left other home owners to their own devices. What we are calling for is very straightforward. We want a redress scheme that provides a one-stop shop to assist homeowners to deal with latent defects when they find them. We also call for a mediation and dispute resolution service, not unlike the Residential Tenancies Board, to make the developer pay in the first instance. To take the one part of the Minister of State's reply relevant to my question, if we leave the home owner at the mercy of the legal system as it stands he or she will never get redress.
The Minister of State also knows there are cases where the developer is no longer pursuable and we need a fund to tackle this. In my view, a portion of this should come from industry and another portion should come from the State because the State has liability for the self-regulation that allowed this to happen. Under our proposals, the €40 million the State will lose on Priory Hall would have been €20 million because the industry would have been forced to pay its fair share. At some point, the Government must take its head out of the sand and provide some assistance - not full liability - for the hundreds if not thousands of home owners who, through no fault of their own, have ended up in properties with fire safety issues, water ingress issues or other structural problems that need to be addressed.
These people are asking for our help. A unanimous recommendation from the Oireachtas committee has given the Minister of State a pathway and he should get his head out of the sand.
This is an issue we have discussed at length and we have been very clear on the State's responsibility. The State did not accept liability in the schemes mentioned by the Deputy. With regard to the pyrite scheme that has fixed more than 1,200 houses at this stage, and with regard to the mica scheme in Donegal that was announced in the budget, the defective products and issues were not apparent at the time of construction or purchase. This is different to the failure to adhere to regulations, the building control mechanisms or workmanship. After going through the expert panels and not being able to find another solution, it was the approach taken. The State did not accept responsibility. That is not the case because they were defective properties.
We have always been very clear on this. The relationships between the builders, the owners of the properties, the purchasers, the insurance companies and the banks and lending institutions are private. We have tried to help when we can. We have always said if there are solutions that do not expose the taxpayer to an unquantifiable amount of money and we are given an opportunity to help we will try to do so. We have tried to engage where we can, through the building control mechanism, local authorities and fire services. It is a difficult situation and we accept this but what the Deputy is putting forward involves an unquantifiable amount of potential exposure for taxpayers. It is not the responsibility of the State to do this.
The State does have responsibility in this. It was the failure of Government regulation of the building industry prior to 2014 that allowed this to happen. It happened on the Government's watch. It happened because of self-certification. Most of what the Oireachtas housing committee has recommended does not lay any liability on the State. It has recommended a one-stop-shop where a householder who has discovered latent defects can get independent advice free of charge, which is eminently reasonable and doable. It also recommended a mediation and dispute resolution service, not unlike the Residential Tenancies Board, whereby a public body would have the legal authority to ensure in the first instance the developer is responsible for the bill for mediation, which is an eminently sensible response that would have a limited cost to the State. It also recommends the creation of a fund and, in my view, industry should pay. We have done it with the insurance industry where a levy was introduced to tackle the problems.
Unfortunately, because of the failure of previous Governments in this regard, the taxpayer should also make a contribution but there are ways of designing a fund. Although it was not my preference, the committee's report even recommended a long-term low interest loan whereby the home owner would still pay but at least in a way that would be manageable and affordable. In fact, it could be done through Home Building Finance Ireland.
The Oireachtas committee has recommended a range of options that does not land the entire liability or financial responsibility on the State. In some instances, the committee gave the Government ways of doing it without the State putting any taxpayers' money into it and yet, to date, nothing has been done for these homeowners. These people are asking for assistance, guidance and help and it is in the gift of the Minister of State to give it to them.
Where the State was able to find a way to deal with defective products through the expert panels it has done so. We have managed to find schemes to do this. I repeat that the issue is mainly the undetermined exposure to the taxpayer. It is unquantifiable. We have tried to step in where we can with regard to some of the changes to the legal system. We have written to the Law Reform Commission about this to see whether we can change the system to achieve easier access to civil justice. Again, it is a private matter and the State is not responsible. The regulations were there but they were not followed. Fine Gael has strengthened the system since we came into government and we have changed this.
That is of no benefit to the people with latent defects.
That is very clear and we are all in a good position with regard to building control mechanisms. Other issues can be addressed as we bring forward legislation. I understand the committee is supportive and it has made recommendations. They will be brought forward in the months ahead, which will give us a chance to deal with some of these issues as we put in place a system in which people can have trust and faith so they can understand they are buying a top class quality product. The legislation is about driving the cultural change needed throughout the system as well as putting in place building control mechanisms. I repeat there are now much more enhanced insurance products that should have been there in the past but they were not.
Residential Tenancies Board
Richard Boyd BarrettQuestion:
35. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will intervene in eviction attempts by two owners of properties (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37383/19]
In the Public Gallery we have three groups of tenants comprising more than 100 families and individuals facing eviction at the hands of vulture funds. One group is from the constituency of the Minister. They reside in Grove Park, South Richmond Street and Rosedale Terrace. Val Issuer DAC, a vulture fund, is trying to evict them. Another group is from my area. They reside in St. Helen's Court in Dún Laoghaire and are facing the fourth attempt the vulture fund has made over the past two years to exploit loopholes regarding sale or substantial refurbishment to evict them. The other group comprises approximately 50 families residing at Emmet Lodge, Emmet Manor and Emmet Court in Inchicore who face eviction by Mill Street Projects Limited, which is, interestingly, the same group trying to evict the people in Dún Laoghaire.
What will the Minister do to stop these vulture funds evicting these people into homelessness?
I thank the Deputy for the question and his guests in the Gallery are welcome. The Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, was established as an independent statutory body under the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2019, with one of its key functions being to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. Due to the quasi-judicial and independent role of the RTB, it would be inappropriate for me, as Minister, to intervene in specific disputes.
A number of measures have been introduced in recent years with the objective of improving security of tenure for tenants under the Residential Tenancies Acts. Section 34 of the 2004 Act provides that a landlord must state a reason for the termination in any notice served, in accordance with the allowable grounds for terminations. Through an amendment introduced in 2016, where a landlord proposes to sell ten or more units within a single development at the same time, that sale is subject to the existing tenants remaining in situ, other than in exceptional circumstances. In addition, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 provides that where a landlord terminates a tenancy because he or she intends to sell the property, he or she must enter into a contract for sale within nine months of the termination date and, if not, must offer to relet to a former tenant who provides his or her contact details. The 2019 Act also provides that where a landlord terminates a tenancy because he or she needs vacant possession to substantially refurbish or renovate the property, that property must be offered back to the former tenant, who provides his or her contact details, upon completion of the works. Also, such a termination notice must contain or be accompanied by a written certificate of a registered professional under the Building Control Act 2007, such as an architect or surveyor, stating that the proposed substantial refurbishment or renovation works would pose a health and safety risk necessitating vacation by the tenants and that such a risk would be likely to exist for at least three weeks. The 2019 Act provides additional powers for the RTB to investigate and sanction landlords who engage in improper conduct, including non-compliance with the tenancy termination provisions. My Department will continue to keep the effectiveness and enforcement of the security of tenure provisions in these Acts under review.
All three of these cases demonstrate that the Minister's legislation is riddled with loopholes for unscrupulous vulture funds, which lack any compassion or humanity. The Minister's laws make assumptions about landlords - and I am sure there are many individual landlords out there who care about their tenants and have a scintilla of compassion or humanity - but these three cases demonstrate that there are vulture funds that do not want to be landlords, do not give a damn about tenants and do not care about making people homeless. They just see the property as an asset they can sweat and the best way to sweat it is to evict people, exploiting loopholes, particularly the loophole around substantial refurbishment, the loopholes around sale or, in the case of Dún Laoghaire where there are 11 tenants, they will move to evict eight and will try to evict the other three a little bit further down the line because of the Tyrrelstown amendment. We need a ban on evictions on the grounds of sale. We need a tightening up of the issue of refurbishment so that it cannot be used to justify evictions and we need the passing of the anti-evictions Bill 2018, which was passed by the majority of this Dáil but which the Minister is blocking, which would prevent many of these evictions.
Does the Minister recognise there is a problem? Will he address it in order to help these people avoid homelessness?
I thank the Deputy for the follow-up question. The RTB has confirmed that a number of cases related to the question have been referred through its independent dispute resolution processes and are still ongoing. The RTB replaces the courts for the majority of landlord and tenant disputes and it is important that all parties are afforded due process in order to ensure that the system of dispute resolution is legally robust. I am precluded from interfering with the judicial nature of the RTB, just like it would be improper for me to interfere with planning applications or planning decisions. What I will say to the Deputy is that the reforms we brought forward to protect tenants were not my laws, they were the laws of this Oireachtas, and they could only be passed if they had the majority support of the Oireachtas because the Government is in the minority. These are ambitious reforms to protect tenants who find themselves in this difficult situation. We have strengthened those protections and we have talked about banning sales and vacant possession before and how that would not be a solution because it would still allow the person who is buying the property to then serve a notice to quit. All that is being done is to displace the problem from one landlord to a new buyer, to someone else without solving it. With the protections we have brought in, we are trying to make sure that tenants have the strongest rights possible so that where there may be a breach of those rights, they can find resolution through the RTB, and find it quickly, and where those rights are upheld, that they have access back to the property they have been evicted from.
The tax breaks the Government has given these people and the meetings that were held in 2013 with Deputy Noonan who invited them in have created the conditions in which these vultures are operating. I repeat that the measures mentioned by the Minister do not address the problems that are faced by these people. It is no good for the Minister to say he is independent of the RTB. The Government proposed the legislation which is failing to protect these tenants. We have proposed alternatives, such as the anti-evictions Bill 2018, as have other Opposition parties, to close down these loopholes. The Government resists these efforts for reasons I do not understand when it is as clear as day that these vultures do not care about tenants. They are not even interested in being landlords. They are buying property to evict people and then to flip it on because the asset will have an increased value. That is what they are doing. Society and the tenants are paying the price because they will end up in homeless services because the Minister failed to address the problem. Will the Minister address the problem or will this continue to happen? What does the Minister have to say to the people in the Visitors Gallery who are faced with this situation? What are they supposed to do?
We have made a number of changes to the laws to make sure that where we are constrained by the Constitution, we are not constrained to the degree that we cannot rebalance matters back in terms of the public interest. The Tyrrelstown amendment, which was brought forward to protect people in these situations, has stood up when it has been tested in the Residential Tenancies Board.
They have found a way around it.
I cannot interfere in matters that are before the RTB. It would be illegal, improper and unethical for me to do so. I am very sorry for the plight of people who are facing these difficult circumstances, who find themselves in housing insecurity and who are vulnerable as a result but that does not mean I can break the law and interfere in matters such as RTB cases, legal cases or An Bord Pleanála decisions because people want me to for different reasons.
Change the law.
That is why we have brought in these robust changes in the law to protect tenants so they have rights to go back into the property when they bring cases to the RTB and they are successful where the landlord or the person who owns the property has been offside. They have those rights because we brought them in. We have also given more robust powers to the RTB. They can go through criminal as well as administrative sanctions because of the new powers that this Oireachtas introduced earlier this year. That is the work we are doing to try to protect tenants and it is important that we continue to do that work. When people find themselves in housing insecurity, which we will be addressing later, we should continue to have the supports in place to prevent them from having to go into emergency accommodation. It is worth noting so I will repeat that in the first six months of this year, for every two families that presented to homeless services, one family was found a home immediately.