I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am sharing time with a number of colleagues. The first legislation I introduced following my election to the Dáil was the Rent Certainty Bill 2016. At that stage, rents had been already rising sharply for two years. The purpose of that Bill was to link rent reviews to an index such as the consumer price index. As CPI was at virtually zero at that stage, that would have constrained rents and given renters a break. Unfortunately, on that night, on the floor of the Dáil, a coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies defeated the Bill. Not once, but on five separate occasions during the course of the previous Dáil, legislation and amendments tabled by Sinn Féin and other Opposition spokespersons to do exactly that were blocked by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The impact of those votes was very significant. Rents continued to spiral out of control and renters continued to be burdened with ever-increasing rents, not only placing themselves in enormous family hardship, but also damaging the local economy because that reduced the disposable income they had to spend on local goods and services.
The introduction of the rent pressure zones commencing in January 2017 did very little to constrain that rental inflation. Even though it was meant to cap rents at 4% annually, in and of itself too high, it did nothing of the sort. Many loopholes and little effective policing in the early stages of that regime meant that, for many renters, increases over the past four years have been in the region of 18% to 38%, depending on where they live. What that means in financial terms is that those renters who have experienced the burden of rent increases because of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael objections to rent certainty are today paying between €4,500 and €6,500 more annually than they would have paid otherwise had the Sinn Féin Bill been supported in 2016.
The problem now is rents are so high that linking them to inflation is not enough. That was a policy for four or five years ago, not for today. The reason for that is inflation is rising. The most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, clearly show that the harmonised index of consumer prices rose by 1.9% last month and it is on an upward trajectory. For the overwhelming majority of renters, no rent increase - not 4%, 3% or 2% - is acceptable. It is for that reason Sinn Féin is retabling its ban on rent increases legislation.
The legislation is simple. It seeks to give renters a three-year breathing space by introducing an emergency ban on rent increases for three years. This is one of three key measures for which Sinn Féin has been arguing for a number of years. We also want to see rents reduced. We believe the quickest and most legally sound way of doing this is a refundable tax credit that would put a month's rent back into the pocket of every renter. We also need to see dramatic increases in direct State investment in affordable cost rental to deliver somewhere in the region of, on average, 4,000 affordable cost rental units annually with rents of somewhere between €700 and €900 per month, depending on size and location.
There are two arguments that were made against rent certainty when we introduced it and there are two arguments that are often made against a ban on rent increases. The first is that it will discourage new supply in the market. I do not accept that, particularly given the scale of investment we are advocating for cost rental. The idea that a private investor could not make a reasonable return where rents are at the highest point since the Celtic tiger era, or higher, makes no sense.
There is also an argument that it could be unconstitutional. Again, eminent professors of constitutional law in Trinity College have debunked this. In addition, we had a two-year ban on rent increases before, introduced by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. If that was constitutional, a three-year ban would also be.
Our rental system is broken. Renters simply cannot take any more. Linking rents to inflation is the wrong policy at this point. We need something much more dramatic and much more urgent. That is why an emergency three-year ban on rent increases, coupled with the other policies I have outlined, is the only approach that will give renters a break. Any Deputy in this House who wants to stand up for renters has no other choice but to support this Bill, which I commend to the House.