The Chair suggests that amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 11 be taken together.
Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill, 1966: Committee Stage.
The object of my amendment is to delete subsection (4) altogether but it seems to me that the object of amendments Nos. 2 and 11 is to amend subsection (4), as it stands. I wonder whether it might not be better to take the first one first?
The three can be taken together and separate decisions taken if necessary.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete subsection (4).
The reason I put down this amendment is that in this section we are introducing a new piece of legislation which is designed—as far as I can see —to discriminate against people because they happen to be spinsters or bachelors. That is a wholly undesirable form of discrimination in any kind of legislation, in view of the fact that already the bachelors and spinsters are making their contribution to the welfare of the State. Under the income tax legislation they pay more income tax, by reason of their single status, than do other members of the community.
I cannot see any reason why we should single out bachelors and spinsters for this discriminate treatment when you may well have a widow or a widower in exactly the same financial circumstances, without any children, as the bachelor or spinster. It is wholly unfair to relate a discrimination of this kind not to the needs of the individual concerned but to the status of the person; as to whether they happen to be married or single. Speaking as a married man, I think the bachelors and spinsters of this world are to be sympathised with on the joys they do not get out of life—the rearing of a family, the sharing of joys with another person. All this is something which the bachelor or spinster does not have in as full a measure as the married person. I do not see any reason for discriminating against them because they have chosen to retain their single status.
What to me is of great importance is the fact that a bachelor or a spinster may well be a person who is supporting a dependent relative, an aged father or mother, a father or mother in ill health, or a brother or sister and this section does not propose, as far as I can see, to take any account of that fact.
How can one justify penalising or discriminating against a spinster—and there are many of them in the community—or a bachelor—again there is a considerable number in the community—who, during her spinsterhood or his bachelorhood remained in that condition for the purpose of supporting a dependent relative to whom she or he owed a filial or a fraternal obligation? It is wrong to take bachelors and spinsters and have no regard for the fact that they may be in that condition for the purpose of supporting a dependent relative. For that reason the House should reject the subsection.
Again, the Income Tax Act makes appropriate adjustments of the incomes of bachelors and spinsters if they are liable for income tax. I wish to point out also that bachelors and spinsters in the community, while they continue to pay taxation, direct and indirect, in the same way as other members of the community, as far as I know do not in practice qualify under the Housing Acts for the acquisition of houses or flats built by local authorities. The test for the purpose of getting a tenancy from a local authority is the inadequacy of existing accommodation and the number of children a person has. The present situation in Dublin is that one must be a married person with three in family: a married person with two is not yet qualified to get a corporation house. There is, of course, the luck-of-the-draw system for newly married couples. I do not know of any local authority who make any effort to qualify bachelors or spinsters who may be in need of houses for any form of a house. In view of the fact that such persons pay their share to the public weal, I do not see why we should discriminate against them in this way.
This subsection has no regard to the condition of health of a bachelor or spinster. It proposes to treat them more harshly and less well than a well-to-do widow. There may be a person who has been obliged by ill-health—a person who had tuberculosis or who suffers from epilepsy or a person with a bad heart condition—to remain a bachelor or a spinster all his or her life. The court is not to be permitted by this subsection to have any regard for that situation. It would be a grave hardship that a bachelor or a spinster in a bad condition of health should be treated as harshly as this subsection intends to do. I appreciate that the purpose of this legislation is to provide as many houses as possible; I appreciate that the general purpose of the Bill is to provide as many dwellings as possible and to give more incentive to put more houses on the market. However, on the final stages of the Housing Act, 1966, the Minister mentioned that the rate of house building has only kept pace with obsolescent houses in recent years. While this is the position there will continue to be an acute shortage of houses for letting. We ought to act fairly by all sections of the community, whatever their status. I, therefore, ask the House to accept my amendment which proposes to reject the subsection.
This subsection as it stands is intended to amend section 3 of the Principal Act and thereby decontrol a dwelling or flat, let to a bachelor or spinster of more than 21 years and less than 65 years. The amendment which the Minister has put down—the second amendment in the Minister's name and, perhaps, other amendments in his name—goes a long way to meet the case in that it excludes "a separate or self-contained flat, being a house or flat" and substitutes instead "a house the rateable valuation of which exceeds £10". I think it is perfectly clear that the Minister's intention is, in fact, to make available as large a pool as possible of houses which will accommodate those in most immediate need and I think Senator O'Quigley more or less accepts this. This would generally apply to young married couples— indeed to married couples of all ages with large families. I am one of those myself. I still feel, however, an anxiety in regard to what I might call a restrictive section such as this, restricting as it does the rights of those bachelors and spinsters. I think the Minister has gone and is going a long way to try to meet both sides of the case in his proposed amendment. I must say that my anxiety to a certain extent still remains. If in the course of time it becomes more attractive for landlords to let premises —and the irony of the Bill is that it may—of more than £10 valuation to spinsters or bachelors—houses with a valuation of more than £10 will not be controlled—it is quite possible that they may in their own financial interest restrict the lettings of such houses to bachelors and spinsters because they would have less difficulty in recovering possession of the premises or in increasing the rents where there is no control than they would in relation to controlled premises. The irony of this measure is that it could work the other way rather than increasing the pool of houses available to married couples and those in immediate need. It could well happen that married couples or married people without families could find themselves faced with the notices which I referred to the last time, that married couples are not immediately desirable. I think this is a hazard that must be taken in this case at this stage. I would ask the Minister to bear in mind any such undesirable result. I think the Minister's amendment which we will discuss immediately following goes a long way to meet both the desirability of increasing the pool of houses available while at the same time not restricting the reasonable accommodation which should be available to all people irrespective of whether they are bachelors, spinsters or married couples.
Surely the test in relation to local authority accommodation nowadays is that of the immediate and pressing need in regard to a particular application, rather than membership of the working classes, a phrase which was very widely defined. Whether a person is a bachelor, a spinster, an old-age pensioner or a young person, I do not think has any particular relevance when you balance the need of one as against that of another. That, surely, is the criterion which is applied and which, in the nature of things, should be applied.
I recommend in this instance that the Minister's amendment be adopted. I would not be disposed to support Senator O'Quigley's amendment in full with the qualification I have mentioned that I would like the Minister to bear it in mind in the light of any undesirable results.
Senator O'Kennedy has made an excellent case for supporting Senator O'Quigley's amendment. The fact that the Minister, in his amendment, has tried to meet the case looks well to me on paper but in practice will not work out as he probably intends it to because there is always a case or many cases of spinsters and bachelors in respect of whom, because of having lived for many years in that happy state—to some it may seem an unhappy state—it would be a tremendous upheaval in their lives if they were to be changed from their habit of living. To my mind, on that the Minister's amendment will fall down. Senator O'Quigley made the case that the section should be deleted altogether and thereby save a tremendous amount of hardship and disturbance to a great many people in those sections of the community.
I undertook here in my reply on Second Stage to meet the views put forward here in the Seanad half way, as it were. I have incorporated my ideas in this respect in amendment No. 2 which is being taken with amendments Nos. 1 and 11. My undertaking to the Seanad was to remedy any hardship which might result to spinsters or bachelors between the ages of 21 and 65, by taking them out of the protection of the Rent Restrictions code and transferring them to the protection of the Landlord and Tenant Act. 1931. I have gone practically the whole way in remedying that possible injustice by deleting from the original section first of all "self-contained flats" and secondly "houses with a rateable valuation under £10." I feel I am going as far as possible to meet that possible injustice in the light of the main principle in the Bill which is to ensure the maximum utilisation of all the house space available for the benefit of the community as a whole. That was the basic thinking in the section as it originally stood and I made it plain here in my Second Stage reply that from the community point of view and, indeed, from the individual point of view an unwarranted position could arise if you had a large number —a certain trend in this direction is already there—of rent controlled houses peopled by spinsters and bachelors, where those houses could house large families of 3, 4, 5 or 6 times the number of people concerned. It would be undesirable from the social point of view to encourage people living alone to retain larger properties when they could be in smaller quarters. This would appear to be common sense. It is the basic principle behind the Bill as originally framed.
It was pointed out here, and this is why I brought in the amendment, and I am very glad it was pointed out as it is constructive and a legitimate point, that as the section stood it could render injustice in the case of certain spinsters and bachelors. There is nothing wrong with being a spinster or a bachelor. I accept that it could be a source of injustice to such people living in flats or small houses if they were to lose the protection of rent control. I have met this legitimate objection made by Senators by excluding self-contained flats and excluding houses under £10 valuation from subsection (4) of section 2.
I ask the Seanad to accept this amendment as it provides a balance between the two points of view. It permits the maximum utilisation of house space available to the community and avoids injustice to bachelors and spinsters, particularly those living in accommodation reasonable to their way of life and means.
Senator O'Kennedy need not have any fear in regard to this question in the future. This provision does not relate to the creation of future lettings, only to existing lettings, where bachelors or spinsters become tenants by family assignment or inheritance. Lettings created in the future are being decontrolled in any event because it is provided in the Bill that on the landlord obtaining vacant possession of a premises the premises automatically fall outside the scope of the Acts and will be decontrolled. Therefore there could be no reason why a landlord would wish to make a new letting to a bachelor or spinster once he has vacant possession rather than to a family.
This should dispel the fears expressed by Senator O'Kennedy. This provision applies only to the extent to which bachelors or spinsters are there in succesion to a member of their own immediate family. I suggest that amendment No. 2 is a reasonable way of dealing with the problem discussed in the Seanad on the last occasion and it goes a long way to meet the point made by Senator O'Kennedy.
I agree that the Minister has gone some distance to meet the difficulties which he has created. He put it nicely from his own point of view by saying that he struck an even balance. All he has done is to remedy one half of the mistake and all credit to him for that.
On principle, the discrimination contained in this section against persons who are bachelors or spinsters ought not to be permitted in Seanad Éireann and the Minister did not deal at all with the case I made in relation to that aspect of the matter. We are all concerned to make as large a pool of houses as possible available to the community. I pointed out to the Minister before and I want to impress upon him that neither the Government nor the Oireachtas are making a proper effort to make available to the community for housing purposes the existing stock of dwellings. I referred on the last occasion—I think with relevance—to the fact that at present in this city and in other cities throughout the country houses are being demolished which are capable of being used as dwellings for housing the community. Why are they being demolished? They are being demolished to enable English companies coming here to build office accommodation so that they can draw big profits. "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed": they are outside the fold and are not to be let in but these English companies are allowed by law to demolish habitable dwellings in this and in other cities merely for the purpose of making profits for themselves and other investors.
If the Minister and his colleagues were to take proper measures to deal with that situation I would be all in sympathy with increasing the stock of houses available to the community, through this Bill, but, so long as the Government permit the demolition of perfectly good houses in this and other cities I will not consent to any discriminatory legislation against people simply because they are bachelors or spinsters.
The need of a widower without children may not, indeed, be as great as that of a bachelor with a common law wife and children and the latter will not be protected under this section. The bachelor living with an unmarried woman with children will not be protected by this section. Mind you, he, with his offspring and common law wife, as far as the law is concerned, is as much entitled to protection in his misguided relationship as are the other more fortunate members of the community. I do not see any reason why we ought to discriminate against those people. We are not visiting on the widower who is well-to-do any discrimination of this kind. This particular section is designed to hit those people who have for good and sufficient reason or through personal choice remained in the single state and I do not think it is right.
The Minister referred to a point raised by Senator O'Kennedy. In seeking to dispel Senator O'Kennedy's fears, the Minister has now raised similar fears in me so far as increasing the stock of houses for necessitous families is concerned. In a broad sort of way this may well have the backfiring result of tempting landlords to increase the rents of houses let to bachelors and spinsters. There is always a flow in the population of bachelors and spinsters passing into the married state. The number of houses may increase but the net result may be that the landlord will enjoy a higher income from the greater number of houses made available to accommodate the necessitous families in our community.
There are landlords who get round the law without consulting lawyers. If the unfortunate spinster or the unfortunate father of a family consults a lawyer he will not be very happy with the section as drafted. While the Minister says this will relate to future lettings where a person has become a tenant, I am not satisfied that it will apply to that category of persons only. It does not refer to a letting made after the passing of the Act.
The section decontrols a dwelling or flat, now subject to the new valuation, of which, after the passing of the Rents Restrictions (Amendment) Bill, 1966, a person being a bachelor has become the tenant. You can become the tenant through devolution. If a spinster working in the city of Dublin or elsewhere is in possession of a dwelling with her widowed mother at a rateable valuation of £10 10s—and she is obliged to remain a spinster because she has to support her widowed mother—and the mother dies and under the mother's will the spinster becomes the tenant, after the passing of this Bill that premises is decontrolled because the section does not apply to a letting made after the passing of this measure, unlike a person who, after the passing of the Act, becomes a tenant on the devolution of the property on death.
Therefore, it does not apply to the letting but to the manner in which the person becomes a tenant. Therefore, if the property were only worth £10 10s the spinster who lived with her mother and got the property under her mother's will would be liable to have her weekly or monthly tenancy terminated and if she did not get out she would have a civil bill served on her.
That is what the section says and that is what is going to happen in the case of all dwellings of which bachelors and spinsters become tenants after the passing of this Bill. On the service of a week's or a month's notice to quit, whatever is the nature of the tenancy—or if there is a written tenancy with provision in it for a month's notice, on the service of a month's notice to quit—the landlord can terminate the tenancy and if the person does not get out he will have an ejectment civil bill served on him. When one looks at all the ramifications of this subsection, while the Minister's amendment narrows the range of flats which would be subject to decontrol on paper, in practice I should think that the number of flats with a valuation of over £10 is very small, so that while he appears to have brought the valuation down from £30 to £10 nobody should assume that there is a corresponding decrease in the number of flats that will be affected. Therefore, I ask the House to accept my amendment and strike this blow for a decent section of our community.
Did I hear the Senator aright? Self-contained flats are being excluded by the amendment and the valuation only applies to houses.
My amendment applies to the houses.
We are excluding from this provision flats, self-contained or otherwise, and we are excluding all houses up to £10 valuation. Our objective is to remove from the Rent Acts the big house that is being held by a single person who is paying a controlled rent. However, we are not seeking to deny that person the benefit of other protection. A later section—section 13—makes it clear that he is entitled to the full protection of the Landlord and Tenant Act. This means that he cannot be ejected and the rent will be in accordance with that Act. We are also providing that hardship can be pleaded by the tenant in any fixation of rent under the Landlord and Tenant Act. The fundamental thinking in this matter may have escaped the Seanad. It is a question of economic utilisation of houses. The whole purpose of this Bill is to provide for such a degree of decontrol as will further such utilisation but will be done without hardship. This is done by reducing the valuation limits, by the provisions we are discussing, the one giving possession to the landlord on vacant possession and the provision prohibiting the transfer of the tenancy outside the immediate family of the tenant. These are the provisions of the Bill which are aimed at a degree of decontrol consistent with preventing any injustice to tenants. Decontrol along these lines has been set out in the Programme for Economic Expansion as being desirable. We hope that the necessity for rent control which was born of emergency conditions during the First World War and renewed in the Second World War, will disappear as we make available a sufficient stock of houses, and that it will be possible to remove this legislation from the Statute Book entirely. At the same time, one must move very slowly in this direction. I am well aware of the fact that we have a number of tenants who are not well off and who still need the protection of the Acts both in regard to the ejectment and the level of rent. That is why we are moving very slowly in this Bill, which might be regarded as a conservative measure having full regard to individual rights and hardships and possible injustices.
I would suggest that the amendment No. 2 which I have put down here meets in a reasonable way the danger of individual injustices which might have arisen under the section as it stood. We are now ensuring by amendment No. 2 that any spinster or bachelor in future living in any form of flat, self-contained or otherwise, or in any house under £10 valuation, will continue to be entitled to the full protection of the rent restrictions code. Only in the case of a house over £10 valuation will the tenant concerned, if a bachelor or spinster, be decontrolled but he or she will then be transferred to the protection of the Landlord and Tenant Act, which, in effect, will provide for an economic rent subject to any hardship which can be pleaded by the tenant in the court, which can have regard to any such hardship. Section 13 is so long that it will help Senators to remind them that subsection (3) (viii) is the relevant hardship provision which ensures that a tenant of over £10 valuation decontrolled under the provision we are now amending or any other tenant who is taken from the rent restrictions code by this Bill, will be fully protected against any hardships which might be suffered by being required to pay the rent appropriate to the Landlord and Tenant Act.
- Ahern, Liam.
- Boland, Gerald.
- Brennan, John J.
- Browne, Seán.
- Cole, John C.
- Eachthéirn, Cáit Uí.
- Egan, Kieran P.
- Farrell, Joseph.
- Fitzsimons, Patrick.
- Flanagan, Thomas P.
- Honan, Dermot P.
- Killilea, Mark.
- McGlinchey, Bernard.
- McGowan, Patrick.
- Martin, James J.
- Nash, John Joseph.
- Ó Donnabháin, Seán.
- O'Kennedy, Michael.
- Ó Maoláin, Tomás.
- O'Reilly, Patrick
- Ryan, James.
- Ryan, Patrick W.
- Ryan, William.
- Teehan, Patrick J.
- Carton, Victor.
- Conlon, John F.
- Crowley, Patrick.
- Davidson, Mary F.
- Dooge, James C.I.
- Fitzgerald, John.
- McDonald, Charles.
- McHugh, Vincent.
- Malone, Patrick.
- Mannion, John.
- O'Quigley, John B.
- Rooney, Éamon.
- Sheehy Skeffington,
- Owen L.
- Stanford, William B.
On the section, I just want to mention in passing that I had hoped the Minister might introduce an amendment which would get rid of some of the difficulties that will arise in relation to furnished lettings. It seems to me we shall still have under the Rent Restrictions code, however amended—I may be wrong in this— partly furnished lettings which will be within the provisions of the code. If that be so, the determination of whether a letting is a furnished letting or not will always be a matter of difficulty by reason of paragraph (d) of the relevant subsection. Would the Minister indicate if I am right in saying that partly furnished lettings will be within the code and if he has any idea of how to define the matters involved in the paragraph? Will he define how calculations will be made?
I have considered this and the difficulty is that if we define furnished lettings or partly furnished lettings it might react against the tenant. That is the considered view of my advisers. The courts, in their interpretation of section 3 (2) (d) of the 1960 Act and the corresponding provision of the 1946 Act have leaned considerably towards the tenant. Fully furnished lettings are clearly outside control: partially furnished lettings may be doubtful. What I fear is that if we tried to write in any statutory definition of such lettings this might have the effect of removing from control certain lettings which by reason of these court decisions are now taken to be controlled and this would, of course, be prejudicial to the tenant.
The Minister apparently does not intend to introduce any amendment. I see his difficulty but I think we should give some assistance to the courts. We are here to make the law but the courts will continue to be in difficulties in the matter of calculating the value of the furnished element in lettings.
The courts are probably fairer to the tenants than any statute could be.
Different procedures have been adopted by different courts in these matters and this is undesirable. One court takes one view and another court takes a different view. However, we might be able to deal with this on Report Stage.
I have already considered it carefully but I will have another look at it.
The object of this amendment is to confine the life of section 8 of the 1960 Act to two years from the passing of this Bill. Section 8 enables the basic rent which is automatically fixed by section 7 as the rent being paid on a particular date to be revised in certain specified circumstances, either on the application of the landlord or on the application of the tenant.
When this provision was introduced in 1960, the intention was that any landlord or tenant who was able to show that the rent actually being paid on 31st December, 1960, was unduly low or unduly high, as the case might be, would be able, on complying with the requirements of the section, to have the basic rent revised. The Bill adds a fresh set of circumstances under which the basic rent—now to be the rent being paid on 8th June, 1966—may be adjusted. I refer of course to the provision enabling "small" landlords to have a fair rent fixed.
However, there seems to be no good reason why these provisions for adjustment of the basic rent should remain in existence indefinitely. They have been there—apart from the new provision I have just mentioned—since 1960 and any necessary adjustments should have taken place long before now. As regards the new provision enabling "small" landlords to have a fair rent fixed, I think that a period of two years would be sufficient to carry this operation through.
Accordingly, I propose that the provisions for adjustment of the basic rent contained in section 8 of the 1960 Act should cease to apply after two years from the passing of the present Bill. Apart from the actual merits of this proposal, it has the incidental advantage of removing a very complicated provision effectively from the Statute Book.
It would be a great merit if it got rid of section 8 and 9 altogether.
This is an amendment to subsection (3) of section 6 of the Bill which enables landlords of large blocks of property, who have been keeping them in good repair, to qualify for the 15 per cent increase on the basic rent, always provided that they had spent the prescribed sums, in relation to the aggregate of the basic rents of their dwellings, on repairs in the period 1960 to 1966.
In the course of the discussion on this provision in the Dáil it was agreed that it would be unreasonable to insist on evidence being produced in the case of each individual dwelling of the actual sums spent on repairs where a very large number of houses was concerned but that these considerations did not apply to landlords with only a small number of houses to look after. The provision as it originally stood did not distinguish between the two types of landlord and I therefore amended the Bill to provide that a landlord, if he was to benefit from the provision, should have more than three hundred dwellings let.
Representations have been made to me since which satisfy me that this figure is too high and that the same difficulties would apply to a landlord with a lesser number of houses. I am, therefore, proposing in this amendment to reduce the limitation from 300 houses to 100 houses. As I said the original Bill proposed to allow averaging in every case. The Dáil, rightly I think, were opposed to this and some speakers said that it was unfair that, where a smaller landlord could properly apportion his repair costs, the tenant of a house where no repairs were carried out should be burdened with a rent increase. I drew the line at 300 as being the limit above which the landlord could not be expected to have individual accounts of repairs. In meeting the Dáil view I am now certain I went too far. I feel 100 houses would meet the situation as it stands rather than 300.
You have very large and very responsible landlord companies in Dublin who have a substantial number of houses under their care. They have repair squads looking after those houses. They have a substantial invested interest in maintaining their substantial stock of houses in good repair because they yield an income to them. It was put to me, and this was the reason for the original provision that it would be very unreasonable to ask them to itemise down to every bolt and nail the substantial repairs carried out on their houses because, in fact, they had kept no such accounts since 1960. The Dáil saw the merits of that case but suggested that there should be some limit on it. I met it by saying 300 houses.
It has come to my notice that there are responsible house owning property companies in Dublin providing a very good service in the way of repairs who have blocks of houses in the 100 to 300 houses category and who are in a similar situation as the larger companies. There are, I think, only three companies with over 300 houses and only three more with between 300 and 100 and that they are in the same position. They do not keep itemised expenses of the actual repairs carried out on each house although they do keep a global figure.
Is the Minister satisfied in the case of these companies that there is a continuous staff on duty carrying out repairs or are we providing in this section that in cases where that is pleaded evidence to that effect will have to be produced?
The reality of the matter is that anybody with 100 houses or more is in business in a fairly substantial way. That sort of person or company is more than anxious to keep the houses in good repair because they represent a substantial investment. There are highly reputable companies here in Dublin who operate with a businesslike point of view and there is no danger that what is sometimes referred to as Rachmanism would arise. These are people with a large number of houses. The higher the number of houses you have the more highly organised the business. When there is a substantial number of houses they are more than anxious to keep them in proper repair. They have organised repair units but have not kept accounts of every item. They would have a squad doing 20 or 30 houses in a day, carrying out inspection and so on.
Does the Minister assume there is no such thing as a large unbusinesslike landlord?
We have, I think, only six cases and I am satisfied that the people concerned are very businesslike. They are the most businesslike landlords in the city at the moment. I will grant that a contingency could arise where you would have a large unbusinesslike landlord.
There might be some new operators.
I suggest that difficulty is unlikely to arise on the very practical ground that people would be concerned about their own investment. You are more likely to get good landlordism than bad landlordism. What in practice happens is that as the number of houses rise the good aspects of landlordism tend to rise and as the number of houses decrease the bad aspects tend to arise.
I should have thought that the difficulty of providing detail would be less in the case of the larger organisation than in that of the smaller organisation. I wonder whether the Minister has been walked into something by the companies concerned. I wonder whether he has taken counsel with the Revenue Commissioners about the method of keeping accounts.
I do not agree. This was the point made in the Dáil. Under the Bill as it originally stood this was to apply to all landlords. The Dáil persuaded me, Deputy O'Higgins was particularly strong on it, that we should not exclude the small landlord of two or three houses from the responsibility of being able to itemise repairs to two or three houses. The danger is that the landlord might have half a dozen houses and carry out no repairs on two or three of them. The people in those houses, to which nothing was done, would be burdened with the increased rents.
There is no landlord of the size mentioned outside the City of Dublin. The reality of the situation is that in this city the companies concerned are highly efficient companies who have highly organised repair organisations continuously in progress. They feel it would be entirely unreal to expect them to account for every bolt and nut and pane of glass. This was accepted by the Dáil and the point of view made in the Dáil was met by me in fixing a limitation. I had only in mind three major companies. What happened since is that three companies of between 300 and 100 houses have come to my notice and they are organising an equally efficient service by way of repairs. Nobody below that is in this category which has got continuous services, tradesmen in continuous employment and workmen in continuous employment. I am satisfied that the only companies in this city who operate in that manner are now covered by the limitation of 100.
I find this section a bit disturbing. I want to ask another question to ascertain what the situation will be. If at present the landlord carries out repairs to a dwelling and then says: "I am entitled to increase the rent under section 10 of the Rent Restrictions Act" the tenant will, at any rate, know what repairs have been carried out and may make his own estimate. If the landlord says: "I spent £350 on repairs and maintenance in the last year and I gave you notice in writing," the tenant may say: "Not at all, you spent nothing like £350." He may say that the value of the work done was only £180. If the landlord chose to spend £350 he would not be entitled to get an increase relating to that sum.
How will it work out in the case of the multiple landlord variety of dwellings? I understand the provisions of the section now proposed are that if the landlord owns 100 houses and he spends, say, £5,000 on the repair and maintenance of these in a particular period he can divide that £5,000 by 100 and relate his increase to that particular sum or, rather, the calculation will be by reference to the rateable valuation of each dwelling. How is any particular tenant to know that the figures supplied for the aggregate of the repairs in the period concerned are accurate? I am open to correction; I may be misreading the section.
What the Senator is saying here is relevant to a situation that does not arise at all. The repairs referred to here are a pre-condition of the 15 per cent increase in the basic rent. The repairs must have been carried out since 1960. These are sums which must have been spent on repairs between 1960 and 1966 and averaging will not apply to future increases. So far as the future is concerned, these people now have notice that they must itemise. Otherwise, they will be penalised under a future Rent Bill. What we are seeking is to avoid the difficulty of penalising people who were not aware of this Bill and who did not, in fact, between 1960 and 1966 keep an itemised account. As far as the future is concerned the itemised account must be kept.
The Minister has brought some clarity into the position. Am I right in thinking that what the Minister is providing in this particular section is in relation to the flat increase?
That is right.
And the increase which was related to the Second Schedule in 1960 will go altogether under this Bill?
The section does not seem unreasonable in that case.
This amendment is necessary merely because the Bill did not become law before the end of 1966.
Under subsection (2) of section 6, it is proposed that landlords who spent money during 1966 or any subsequent year exceeding one-fifth of the basic rent on repairs or maintenance should be entitled to 10 per cent of the excess expenditure by way of a lawful addition to the basic rent. However, the Bill as introduced envisaged that a landlord might, before the enactment of the Bill, have expended money on repairs during 1966 which entitled him to a special lawful addition under the existing law. In such a case it provided that, if the landlord had obtained a lawful addition on foot of that expenditure, he could not benefit also from the new provision giving a 10 per cent return on expenditure over the prescribed limit in 1966.
As I have said, it is now 1967 and the same situation arises as regards expenditure which may have been incurred already by landlords during the present year and for which they have already obtained a special lawful addition. It is therefore necessary to provide, as this amendment proposes to, that a landlord who has got a lawful addition as a result of expenditure in 1967 will not get the benefit of the new lawful addition on the same expenditure.
The Chair suggests that Government amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8 be taken together.
The effect of these three amendments is to put a time limit of 12 months to the period within which a tenant can apply to the court to have an increase of rent disallowed or reduced on the ground mentioned in section 7.
The point has been made to me— and I think it is a fair one—that there should be some certainty in a matter of this kind and that it is reasonable that a tenant who wishes to invoke the rights given to him under the Act should move within some specified period. I think the period of twelve months I propose is adequate in the circumstances.
Under amendment No. 3 we had a time limit of two years. No application shall be made under section 8 of the Principal Act after the expiration of two years from the passing of this Act.
That related to the 1960 Act.
Why not two years under the amendment before us?
It is a matter which I will consider. I am primarily concerned with the principle of a time limit—12 months or 24 months would not matter.
It cuts both ways.
I shall look at the matter between now and Report Stage.
Would the Minister give some clarification as to what is intended by section 8?
We are amending section 15 of the principal Act. As the Senator sees, section 8 amends section 15 of the 1960 Act. The 1960 Act authorised the court to make a maximum reduction of 20 per cent in the rent of this limited class of controlled dwellings. This amending section brings such dwellings into a common category with all other controlled dwellings and instead of enabling the courts to reduce the rent by 20 per cent we are making 33? per cent the applicable reduction.
I am obliged to the Minister.
I raised on the Second Stage the necessity for and the effect of subsection (3), which says that an assignment in contravention of subsection (2) of this section shall be void. I wonder whether we are not going back somewhat to the provisions of Deasy's Act which we lately amended in the Ground Rents Bill. The Minister said that he would have a look at it and see the effect of the subsection in the context of our discussion on the Ground Rents Bill.
Yes. I am satisfied that there is no danger there at all. This is very limited here to this particular code and no more than that. There is no question of any encroachment on the Seanad amendment we passed on the Ground Rents Bill.
The question is whether we are not introducing into rent controlled property the malevolent provisions of Deasy's Act.
Yes. I will have another look at it, but I think we are safe enough.
The Chair suggests that amendments Nos. 9 and 10 be taken together.
These are purely drafting amendments. That phrase sometimes covers a multitude of sins but in this case I do not think it does. It is proposed in the first of these amendments to delete in subsection (3) line 51 "the tenant has covenanted in writing" and to substitute "there is a covenant under which the tenant is obliged". I think that makes for better drafting. Amendment No. 10 proposes in subsection (7) page 10, line 24 to delete "by the landlord or the tenant" and to substitute "under which the landlord or the tenant is obliged". Again, this improves the reading of the particular subsection.
On subsection (4) on page 10 two points seem to require some comment from the Minister. The subsection says that the covenant implied by this section shall not be construed as requiring the landlord to carry out any works or repairs for which the tenant is liable by virtue of his duty to use the dwelling in a tenant-like manner. This phrase seems to call for explanation. We have no definition in this Bill of it, and I wonder might a court looking to the interpretation of this phrase where a landlord complains that a tenant is using the banister as firewood say that this is just like a tenant, this is what might be considered as behaving in a tenant-like manner. There are, in other words, good tenants and bad tenants, and both of them are behaving in a tenant-like manner, and I am not quite happy that the phrase will be sufficiently clear for a court of law to decide whether or not particular behaviour is carried out in a tenant-like manner.
The other observation I want to make is on paragraph (b) which says "to rebuild or reinstate the dwelling in the case of destruction or damage by fire, or by tempest, flood, or other inevitable accident". The implication of these words "other inevitable" is that no damage by fire could ever be avoided, and I do not think that this is the case. It is possible, of course, that damage by flood would be inevitable, but even damage by flood might be due to lack of sufficient precaution and certainly damage by fire might not be inevitable. I wonder whether the wording there is quite satisfactory. It seems to imply that all these are always inevitable accidents, but both damage by fire and damage by flood might really be due to neglect.
There is validity in the last point made by Senator Sheehy Skeffington and I will have a look at it between now and Report Stage. His point is that it is wrong to equate damage by fire or flood with inevitable accidents in all cases. I will look at it and see whether we can avoid the implication which appears to be as the Senator has stated.
As regards the phrase "tenant-like manner", this is purely in relation to the landlord-tenant relationship, and there is no question of interpreting the expression in the sense which he cites.
This refers only to the noble, virtuous tenant.
It is only tenant-like behaviour in the accepted landlord-tenant sense, not matters which the Senator has in mind.
If I might assist the Minister and reassure Senator Sheehy Skeffington by saying that the term "tenant-like manner" is to be found in all the textbooks on Landlord and Tenant and, of course, the lawyers understand the phrase quite easily. It is contained in every lease, that the tenant shall keep the premises in good tenantable order, repair and condition. No difficulty arises in that. If Senator Sheehy Skeffington has a difficulty, a lawyer will tell him what the definition is.
Would it not be sufficient to say "a good tenant"?
There is always a presumption in favour of virtue.
"Good" is a very dangerous word in certain contexts.
There is always a presumption that Senator Sheehy Skeffington is advocating the cause of the downtrodden tenant, but here he is presuming that tenants do not all behave in a good manner.
Justice for all, even for landlords.
There is another point which arises on this, and we should be grateful to Senator Sheehy Skeffington for stimulating thought on it, when he talks about the fact that damage by fire or by flood might not be caused by an inevitable accident. You could have premises merely licked by flames or perhaps a few of the rafters burned from a fire next door that would cause a leaking roof and cause substantial inconvenience perhaps to the tenants through rain coming down the whole flank wall of the house. The section would entitle the landlord to say "that is damage done by a fire for which I have no responsibility. It happened to the house next door." I think we ought to provide that damage should be substantial damage by fire.
I think what the Minister has in mind is where a premises is half burned down, then the landlord will not be liable to put the whole of the premises, or the proportion let, into repair. But we ought to qualify that by saying—so as to permit the landlord to escape the covenant—that the damage caused should be damage of a substantial character. A court would have no difficulty in construing what is damage of a substantial character.
I shall consider what has been said by Senators O'Quigley and Sheehy Skeffington between now and Report Stage on that aspect.
This is really designed to include hardship to the landlord as well as to the tenant. That is really the purpose. I think it is fair we should have it on that basis.
On Second Stage I raised the question as to whether the rights given under this section are attached to the premises merely by virtue of the premises and that there is no qualification imposed on the tenant himself. No amendment has been introduced by the Minister. The Minister may be satisfied with regard to the case I was afraid of, namely, that of a person who goes into occupation of a premises which becomes decontrolled at any time and automatically gets the right under the Landlord and Tenant Act to a new tenancy. I am anxious to hear the Minister's views on it. If that is so, it certainly confers rights on what we might call casual tenants which one could not in reason give to them. They would have no equity simply by virtue of going into occupation of a premises which had become decontrolled under this Act to be given a new tenancy. One can think of foreign students or indeed of anybody who might go into occupation of any such premises to which this measure applies.
I should like to be assured by the Minister that it is not intended to give such people the rights under the Landlord and Tenant Act. I should like to have the Minister's view on the matter.
The position is as Senator O'Kennedy has stated and it has been giving me some concern. I feel justice would be done all round if we confined the application of section 13 to sitting tenants and their successors in title. If we did this, then there would be no anomaly involved. We have been considering this. We did not put an amendment down for Committee Stage but we propose to have one down for Report Stage.
This is a section which follows somewhat along the lines of section 54 of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1960 in bringing within the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act, premises which were being decontrolled. I am glad to see that the time limit within which a notice of intention to claim relief is six months from the date of termination of the tenancy. There is one thing only which disturbs me in the section, and it is a very real difficulty for landlords, tenants, lawyers and the courts and which is, to my mind, quite an unnecessary and obsolete form of procedure. We say in subparagraph (v) of subsection (3) that the notice to quit for the purpose of terminating a statutory tenancy shall be—and I am glad to observe—"not less than three months' notice, expiring on any gale day...."
This is the kind of thing which gives rise to unnecessary complexity. It is one of the legacies of landlord and tenant law of this country, arising from a desire on the part of the courts to mitigate the hardships imposed on tenants heretofore by reason of the strict laws applicable to them. Many notices to quit were found to be defective because they did not expire on a gale day. To my mind, in this day and age, talking about a notice terminating upon a "gale day" is a waste of time. It is an obsolescent phrase which has no particular value and the only thing it does is introduce uncertainty into the law. What I think desirable is that adequate notice to quit be given to a tenant by the landlord and that it be quite certain and definite. What we should say here is: "by not less than three months' notice"—three months from a particular date to be named. There is such a rigmarole to be gone through when drafting notices to quit when the gale day is uncertain that I have often to look up the book of precedents for the appropriate wording. There is an awful lot involved in getting over the difficulty where a landlord does not know on what day of a week, a month or a quarter as the case may be a tenancy begins or terminates. What we do want is that a tenant be given sufficient notice to quit and that the day on which the tenancy is to terminate is a certain definite date. "On any gale day" has no value except to introduce unnecessary complexity into the situation.
The Minister might have a look at this in order to bring in an amendment to get rid of this uncertainty and provide that the tenant will get three clear months' notice in writing to expire on the date of service of the notice to quit. If we had an amendment of that kind, then there could be no doubt as to the date on which the tenancy terminated. It is important that the tenant apply under the Landlord and Tenant Act for relief within a stated period and there should be certainty as to the date when the period begins. I should be glad to hear the Minister say he would introduce an amendment along those lines, which would be a more modern and sensible way of dealing with the situation.
I have a lot of sympathy with the points of view put forward by Senator O'Quigley. We have got a number of obsolete terms we are seeking in various pieces of legislation to remove. This particular one—"gale day"—as the Seanad knows is the day upon which the rent is due and it has been known and accepted over the years. The difficulty in eliminating what we might call definitive phrases of this kind is deciding what to put in their place because these phrases and what they meant have become known over the years by lawyers and courts and they are referred to in a number of statutes. There is a case for preserving a phrase of that kind which is known to practitioners, which has been the basis of court decisions and incorporated in statutes over a number of years.
However, I shall have a look at it between now and Report Stage to see if the removal of "gale day" here— whether by doing that or by having a more definite period of time written into the section—will stand up and not in any way prejudice provisions in other legislation. I shall have a look at it between now and Report Stage with a view to having a definite period of time written in rather than the reference to "gale day". I have every sympathy with the point of view expressed.
I do not think it will affect any other part of the measure because there is no provision for the service of notice to quit in the case of a statutory tenancy in the 1960 legislation.
Perhaps I should have said this on section 15 but, with your indulgence, Sir, I shall say it now. When we introduced the Rent Restrictions Bill of 1960 we introduced a new measure affecting rent restrictions. I suggest that on Report Stage we might be permitted to introduce an amendment to the Title of this Bill calling it simply the Rent Restrictions Act, 1967. I see no reason for putting into the Title the word "Amendment". It is mere verbiage, and a waste of space afterwards in referring to the Act. Everybody referring to it will call it the Rent Restrictions Act, 1967. I urge the Minister to consider accepting an amendment on Report Stage which I hope it will be in order to put down.
I will have it considered.