Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 so the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage may introduce regulations for landlords to prove their compliance with minimum standards and fire safety standards before a property can be rented.

Three years ago, this month, "RTÉ Investigates" broadcast "Nightmare to Let", which was a damning indictment of some of the worst standards in the private rental sector that many of us have seen for decades. It showed large numbers of people living in cramped, insanitary and, at times, seriously dangerous conditions in rental properties in Dublin and elsewhere. While the progammme highlighted the most extreme breaches of minimum standards in the private rental sector, it genuinely shocked many of us. Later that month, Sinn Féin tabled a Private Members’ motion on the issue of standards within the private rental sector and while it was not supported on the night by Fine Gael, all other Deputies involved in the debate, including those of Fianna Fáil, supported it. The motion called for a number of very simple and sensible measures. The first was for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to set out a plan as a matter of urgency to ensure full compliance with minimum standards in the private rental sector. It also called for a more comprehensive inspection regime of all properties within the private rental sector and specifically for the introduction of an NCT-style certification as advocated by Threshold and others to ensure compliance. The motion also urged Government to examine the penalties for those landlords, small in number but who nonetheless breach these standards, and for an annual report on progress to date.

While the then Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, allocated additional funding for the inspections to the private rental sector, which I welcomed, it was nowhere near enough to get us to the level of inspections that are required, and the most recent figures that we have are for 2018 from the National Oversight and Audit Commission, showed that just 7% of private rental properties were inspected that year.

Some of our larger local authorities in cities where the majority of private renters live did not even meet that. Cork city only had 4% in that year and in Dublin city where there is the largest concentration of private renters it was just 5%. My own local authority of South Dublin County Council, which has a slightly better record than others, still only managed 11%. The central problem is that the local authorities do not have the funding or the staff to conduct the level of inspections that are required.

It is often said that the overwhelming majority of are fully compliant with the regulations and I would genuinely like to believe that but the problem is that we do not know because the overwhelming majority properties are not inspected. The fact that it is only a minority of properties that are reported to the Residential Tenancies Board, which clearly indicates that very large numbers of landlords are complying with the standards but we need to do much better.

What this Bill does is very straightforward in that it empowers the Minister by way of regulations to introduce an NCT-style certification accompanied by a charge for this and to roll that out as a matter of urgency. Sinn Féin would like 25% of all private rental properties to be inspected once a year, which is is a very basic proposition. Every fifth year a landlord would have to get certification. That certification like the building energy rating, BER, certificate would be displayed within the property and would mean that when prospective tenants went to view a property they intend to rent, they could see if it is compliant with those standards. This could be done for possibly €100 per certification, which is not an onerous charge once every five years for a landlord. It could be phased in over four years so that four years after the enactment of the regulations, all properties would be inspected and would either have a certification or a compliance requirement to meet those standards.

This is not only a protection for renters but also for good landlords because good landlords who do their job, meet this standard and are fully tax compliant are continually undermined by those landlords who break the rules and break the law. Good landlords, therefore, would benefit from this and from better enforcement.

Deputies on all sides of the House deal regularly with tenants, including very vulnerable tenants who are in properties that may not be as bad as the properties that we saw in “Nightmare to Let” but still have significant problems with landlords not doing repairs, or not adequately responding to requests for maintenance. Sometimes those landlords themselves do not have the money and are not fully aware of their legal responsibilities but, in many cases, the landlords are simply refusing to do the work that they are legally required to do.

It is simply not acceptable, particularly given that a third of all tenancies in the State are subsidised by Government through housing assistance payment, HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, rent supplement and long-term leasing. It is simply unacceptable that properties are not regularly inspected. We urge Members to support this Bill on Second Stage. Let us ensure that all landlords are compliant, that all tenants get the standards that they deserve and that we do this in a way that makes the private rental sector better for everybody.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

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

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

Question put and agreed to.