I again raise the issue of renters, a group of some 300,000 renters across this State which the Taoiseach's Government is failing badly. Ten months ago, his Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage stripped renters of vital Covid-19 protections. Deputy O'Brien's first act as Minister was to pass the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020. This ended the blanket ban on rent increases, notices to quit and evictions, which had been introduced by his predecessor. This ban, which was necessary on public health grounds, led to the most dramatic drop in people losing their homes in a decade.
In its place, Deputy O'Brien introduced a highly restrictive and unnecessarily cumbersome protection for a small number of renters only. If a renter had lost income due to Covid-19, was on a Covid-19-related payment, in arrears, at risk of losing their tenancy and had submitted a written declaration to the Residential Tenancies Board, he or she was protected from rent increase or eviction.
The renter had to meet all five of those onerous tests, however, or else he or she lost all of the protections.
When tenants advocacy organisations such as Threshold and those of us in opposition warned that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien's Bill was too restrictive, we were accused of scaremongering or of playing politics. Figures obtained this week by my colleague, Teachta Ó Broin, from the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, prove that far from scaremongering or playing politics, Threshold, the advocates and those of us in the Opposition were right. We now know that since last August, almost 4,000 tenants have received 28-day rent arrears warning letters from their landlords and that 1,100 notices to quit have been issued. Yet, only 475 tenants have submitted this written declaration to the Residential Tenancies Board to protect them from eviction. There are 300,000 registered tenancies in this State and the fact is that the so called protections introduced by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, apply to just 475 of them. That is 475 tenancies out of 300,000. This comes at a time, as the Taoiseach knows, when rents are sky-high and unaffordable for many workers and families. Yet, many have faced rent increases with more increases on the way as landlords roll two years of hikes into one.
It is clear and the evidence demonstrates that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien's highly restrictive protections are not fit for purpose. In light of data, facts and experience, does the Taoiseach accept that the Government's policy has failed renters? Is the Taoiseach willing, as a matter of urgency, to reintroduce the blanket ban on rent increases and evictions for all renters until at least the end of this year?