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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 8 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 3

Ban on Sex for Rent Bill 2022: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to create an offence of requiring or accepting sex as a condition of accommodation and an offence of arranging or facilitating the requirement or acceptance of sex as a condition of accommodation.

This Bill seeks to introduce a specific criminal offence for the practice of demanding sex in lieu of rent. It will also create a specific offence for the advertising of sex in lieu of rent, both for individuals placing such advertisements and also for anyone, whether platforms or publications, publishing or accepting such advertisements. The intention in the Bill is clear. The penalties that are outlined in it include imprisonment of up to seven years or a fine. The Minister for Justice has confirmed to the Dáil that no specific criminal offence for this practice currently exists. The Garda has informed the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage that the PULSE system does not record sex for rent complaints as a specific category. This is not surprising, as the practice is not a specific criminal offence in legislation currently.

In a crisis, there are always people who will seek to exploit others who are vulnerable and in desperate need of accommodation. This practice shows the depraved depths of the housing crisis, where a small minority of grossly exploitative landlords expect sexual favours in return for putting a roof over people's heads. It is completely and utterly unacceptable. It is an abhorrent practice. No one should be subjected to these kinds of demands when they are looking for somewhere to live. It is particularly worrying that migrants, who often have reduced access to support networks, information and advice, have been targeted in particular. Unfortunately, no comparable research has been done in Ireland, but research done in the UK by the housing and homeless charity Shelter suggests that 30,000 women in the UK were propositioned for sex in lieu of rent between March 2020 and January 2021, which is a period of less than a year. That shows the extent of the problem.

I commend Ann Murphy of the Irish Examiner, who has highlighted this problem through her very high-quality investigative journalism. She has done a very important piece of work in giving visibility to what some renters have been subjected to. One young Italian woman told the Irish Examiner that trying to find a room in Dublin "is like falling in a dangerous hell". She made that comment after she had been on the receiving end of multiple requests and demands for sex in lieu of rent.

We are seeking cross-party support for this Bill and calling on the Government to ensure the speedy passage of the legislation. While this kind of exploitation can be more severe during a crisis and people can take advantage of the crisis, it is very important to reiterate that no one is suggesting that this type of abhorrent behaviour is any way reflective of landlords in general. In fact, rather than it being a practice linked to traditional landlords, there is some evidence it is linked, in some instances, to people who are attempting to sublet rooms.

Before I conclude, I wish to reference one example that Ann Murphy covered in the Irish Examiner. She told the story of one woman in Waterford city who responded to an advertisement for a room in October 2021. After the woman moved into the accommodation, the landlord told her she could live there without paying rent in exchange for sex, and she moved out. The landlord then tried, on multiple occasions, to contact the woman. After that, the landlord actually turned up at her workplace, which is utterly unacceptable. That level of intimidation has no place at all in Ireland. Renters should not be subject to such exploitative behaviour that makes them feel unsafe. Women and migrants should not be subjected to these attempts of gross exploitation when all they are seeking is simply somewhere safe to live and shelter. I ask for cross-party support for the Bill. The Government has committed to do something about this issue. The Bill is ready for the Government, if it wants to progress the legislation.

Is the Bill 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.

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for persistently raising in the House what is an abhorrent business.