That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2020 so as to provide for greater security of tenure and rent certainty for tenants, and to provide for connected matters.
This is the Labour Party's Residential Tenancies (Tenants’ Rights) Bill 2021. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to introduce it. I have drafted this along with my Labour Party colleague and comrade, Senator Moynihan, our housing spokesperson. I pay tribute to her for all her work on this issue which is a very important one.
During the Dublin Bay South by-election campaign, following which I was so proud and honoured to have been elected, we heard from so many people, renters and homeowners alike, who were so concerned about the difficulties everyone was experiencing in rented accommodation. These are widespread but they amount to difficulties in three particular areas, namely, difficulties for those who lack security of tenure because they are facing eviction or fear eviction, difficulties with unaffordable rents and rent hikes - even where people have been paying rent at a particular level for years they fear unaffordable rent increases - and third, difficulties with poor quality of life and low standards in rented accommodation, which again is a very serious and persistent issue for so many.
These are the three issues that this important Bill seeks to address in a range of constructive and positive ways. They are also issues that were identified in a report published this week by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in conjunction with the Economic and Social Research Institute. Their study highlighted disadvantages experienced by particular cohorts including those with disabilities, single-parent families, Travellers and others in the housing system, but there are widespread issues facing those who rent. Their stark findings underline and emphasise the issues that were raised with us during the by-election campaign and underline the need for this important renters’ rights legislation.
First, we believe it is vital that we strengthen protections against evictions for all those who are renting. We know there remains a significant risk that homelessness levels will rise following the lifting of pandemic restrictions. We are also anxious that our homeless figures would include those in so-called "hidden homeless" situations, that is, those who are staying with friends or couch surfing and whose situation is not sufficiently recognised.
The legislation I am introducing today would significantly restrict the circumstances in which evictions can be carried out or tenancies terminated. Among other provisions, we seek to remove grounds for so-called "no fault" evictions and we seek to ban the practice of landlords terminating tenancies on any grounds after six years of a Part IV tenancy. We are providing that evictions can only happen for renovation purposes where no reasonable measures can be taken to maintain the dwelling fit for human habitation. We are also looking to reduce the range of family members that a tenancy can be terminated to benefit. That is the first set of provisions which seek to address the security of tenure issue.
The second challenge we are addressing in the Bill is that of rent hikes and the fear of rent increases that we have heard so much about from so many. We know that despite the introduction of rent pressure zones in 2016, rents have increased by almost 40% in Dublin and 20% elsewhere. To tackle this, our Bill would link annual rent increases to the consumer price index after a three-year rent freeze and would declare the entire State a rent pressure zone among other vital measures.
The third issue we are addressing is that of quality of life related to quality of accommodation which mirrors the findings of the IHREC report. Particularly in Dublin, many renters are faced with very poor quality housing and a host of unfair restrictions that impede their long-term stay in accommodation and contribute to the enormous demand for house and apartment purchase. In other European countries it is common for renters to be able to keep pets in their homes, to air-dry clothes and laundry on a balcony and to request an unfurnished property so that they can bring in their own furniture and the comfortable things that they want to have around them in their home. This contributes to seeing rental accommodation as a longer term prospect for single people, families and households generally. In addition to the simple measures I have outlined, our Bill would require landlords to file a statement that the dwelling meets minimum housing standards when registering a tenancy.
We are keen to see this Bill debated and are hopeful that it will be debated in Private Members' time next week. Indeed, I made a commitment during the by-election campaign that if I was elected this would be the first Bill I would introduce and I am very proud to do so. I want to ensure that we are building on existing legislation and building in better protections for renters. People are tired of five wasted years of inadequate housing policy from the two larger parties in government and are weary of the continued failure to put forward an inclusive vision for homes and housing in this country. Renting must be seen as a long-term and viable option. It must be made an option that is much more attractive to people, and those who are renting must be given greater protections and rights. We want to address the power imbalance between renters and landlords and that is the key issue that we seek to address in this important Bill.