Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, to the House. I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on an amendment on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.

Before commencing, I ask for a Clerk's correction. I would be obliged if, in accordance with Standing Order 140, the Acting Chairman would direct the Clerk to make the following minor drafting correction to the text of the Bill: in amendment No. 56, made on Committee Stage in the Seanad, inserting section 16, in paragraph (f), to insert “and” between subparagraph (i) and subparagraph (ii). This amendment is being inserted in the interests of textual clarity and does not affect any substantive amendment.

I will direct the Clerk accordingly.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 16, in the section inserted by amendment 1, in subsection (2)(c), to delete “service of the most recent notice served under section 22(2) of the Principal Act,” and substitute “that most recent review of rent,”.

The purpose of amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, is to clarify that the 24-month period between rent reviews will run from the date of the last rent review and not the date of service of the notice of new rent.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 16, in the section inserted by amendment 1, in subsection (2)(d), to delete “of service of the most recent notice served under section 22(2) of the Principal Act,” and substitute “of the most recent review of rent carried out before the coming into operation of subsection (1),”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 16, in the section inserted by amendment 1, in subsection (3)(b), after “referred to in paragraph (a)” to insert “during the period for which subsections (4) and (6) of section 20 of the Principal Act have effect”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, and 9 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 4:
In page 16, to delete lines 3 and 4.

These are technical amendments to provide for the deletion of sections that were replaced on Committee Stage in this House.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 5:
In page 16, to delete lines 5 to 42.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 6:
In page 17, to delete lines 1 to 15.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 7:
In page 17, to delete lines 35 to 40, and in page 18, to delete lines 1 to 6.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 8, 13, 14, 18 and 19 are technical drafting amendments and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 8:
In page 21, in paragraph (b) of the section inserted by amendment 2, in the inserted subsection (4)(d), after “tenancy concerned,” to insert “and”.

These are technical amendments to correct minor omissions to Committee Stage amendments Nos. 83, 87 and 91.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 9:
In page 21, to delete lines 17 to 29.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 10:
In page 21, paragraph (c) of the section inserted by amendment 3, in the inserted subsection (2), to delete paragraph (d) and substitute the following:
“(d) include a statement in respect of a material change to particulars which have been entered in the register in respect of the tenancy where that change has occurred since—
(i) the tenancy was registered in the register, or
(ii) information in respect of those particulars was furnished to the Board under subsection (1).”,”.

As I indicated on Committee Stage, amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, provide that a landlord may update or give additional particulars in respect of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, tenancy, at any time and the board will update the register to reflect the additional or updated particulars.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 11:
In page 21, in paragraph (d) of the section inserted by amendment 3, to insert the following after the inserted subsection (6):
“(7) (a) Without prejudice to subsection (1), a landlord may, at any time, notify the Board in writing of—
(i) any changes in respect of particulars entered in the register, and
(ii) any additional particulars to be entered in the register, in respect of the tenancy.
(b) In subsection (4), the reference to information shall include particulars notified under paragraph (a).”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 12:
In page 21, in paragraph (d) of the section inserted by amendment 3, in the inserted subsection (7), to delete “(7) In paragraph” and substitute “(8) In paragraph”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 13:
In page 21, in the section inserted by amendment 4, in the inserted section 148C(6), to delete “and such regulations may contain such incidental, supplementary and consequential provisions as appear to the Minister to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of the regulations”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 14:
In page 21, in the section inserted by amendment 4, in the inserted section 148P(5), to delete “with the modifications specified for those sections:” and substitute “and where modifications are specified for those provisions, those modifications shall apply to such tenancy:”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 15:
In page 22, in the section inserted by amendment 5, in the inserted section 177A(1), before “a ‘designated” to insert “in this Act referred to as”.

The purpose of this group of amendments is to clarify for the avoidance of doubt that the PRTB may withdraw interest accrued on a tenancy deposit account.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 16:
In page 22, in the section inserted by amendment 5, in the inserted section 177B(1), to delete “interest from” and substitute “moneys representing the interest which has accrued on”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 17:
In page 22, in the section inserted by amendment 5, in the inserted section 177B(2), to delete “151(1)(bb).”.” and substitute the following:
“151(1)(bb).
(3) For the purposes of the performance of its functions under section 151(1)(bb), the Board may, subject to section 177A(4), withdraw the moneys, representing the interest which has accrued on a designated tenancy deposit account, from a designated tenancy deposit account.”.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 18:
In page 22, in the section inserted by amendment 6, in the inserted subsection (5), to delete “include the information” and substitute “include information”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 19:
In page 22, in the section inserted by amendment 6, in the inserted subsection (5), to delete “specified in subsection (6)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank Senators for their contributions on this important Bill which represents another important step in the development of the residential landlord-tenant regulatory environment. We all agree a well-balanced housing sector requires a strong, vibrant and well-regulated rented sector. This Bill represents a significant further evolutionary step in the development of the rented sector and will ensure the continued emergence of that sector as an integral part of our housing policy for the future.

This Bill achieves several key goals in that regard. The extension of the Residential Tenancies Act to approved housing bodies is a crucial step in the development of a wider regulatory framework for the approved housing body sector. This will bring greater transparency and accountability to this important sector which is playing an increasingly active role in social housing provision. The Bill will also provide for additional operational efficiencies by the PRTB in the delivery of its functions. One of the key amendments which I introduced on Committee Stage deals with the issue of over-holding and gives the PRTB the power to deal quickly and effectively with tenants who do not pay their rent.

The Government’s amendments on Committee Stage also provided for the establishment of a deposit protection scheme, a programme for Government commitment. This is an important step in further professionalising the operation of the rented sector. The illegal retention of tenant deposits by just a minority of landlords poses a significant risk of homelessness for vulnerable families. The scheme will operate on the basis of a custodial deposit scheme and the PRTB will be charged with operating the scheme.

In addition, we have introduced amendments on Committee Stage to address the issue of spiralling rents. The rapid increase in rents seen in recent years is being caused by a mismatch between levels of supply and demand for rental accommodation where it is needed. We are addressing the supply problem but it will be some time before that supply comes on stream and the amendments introduced in this Bill will go some way to addressing the problem in the short term.

I acknowledge the work of my Department’s officials who worked tirelessly on this substantial and comprehensive Bill. I also want to acknowledge the role of all of the relevant agencies, non-governmental organisations, local authority officials, academics and others who have contributed to this important legislation. All share the objective of attaining secure, affordable and sustainable tenancies for citizens. There is no doubt we need a normalised, functioning property market. Increasing supply is fundamentally what we need to ensure a robust and good landlord-tenant relationship, as well as a normalised and sustainable property sector.

I acknowledge the role of the PRTB which already has contributed enormously to ensuring a robust and good landlord-tenant relationship. Its role is now enhanced with a greater involvement in ensuring this relationship is fair and balanced. I acknowledge Dublin City Council officials, as well as those in other local authorities, who have had to deal with acute problems with homelessness. I commend them for the manner in which they have responded to this challenge. All those involved, including Ministers, policy makers, officials and those working at the coalface, must work together and do all in their power to ensure we sustain tenancies until we have an adequate supply to meet the demands for those who need homes.

I again thank Members for their contributions on this important legislation and for the interesting and informative debate we have enjoyed during the passage of the Bill through this House.

I also look forward to the passage of this substantial Bill which will make a significant difference in terms of ensuring tenancies are sustained, reducing the pressures on families facing homelessness and ensuring sustainable tenancies into the future. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his co-operation.

I welcome the groups present in the Visitors Gallery. In particular, I would mention members of the Threshold organisation, the Peter McVerry Trust, Clúid, the Union of Students in Ireland, the Simon Communities and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. I would specifically mention, if it is appropriate, the presence of Mr. Tom Dunne, who was the chair of the original commission on the private rented residential sector and chair of the Private Residential Tenancies Board for many years. I would also mention members of the Private Residential Tenancies Board. I would further mention Mr. Brendan Whelan who was a particular champion of the deposit protection scheme.

The passing of this legislation through the Seanad today is a very poignant moment for me personally, particularly as chair of Threshold, for a number of reasons. One in five Irish families live in the rented sector today. Threshold as an organisation has been champion for the private rented sector for a significant number of years. Many of the measures included in this legislation are measures for which Threshold has campaigned over a long period.

Much of the media attention has been given to the measures relating to rent, which strike a fair and balanced response to the current emergency situation where a significant number of people are living in homeless accommodation, particularly in the Dublin region and where we are heading towards having 1,000 families living in such accommodation. There are other measures in this legislation that may have been lost sight of, and the Minister of State mentioned them. The one to which I want to refer is the deposit protection scheme. The retention of deposits is a significant hidden cause of homelessness. An average deposit is in the region of €1,000. Very few low income families, or very few families in any event, can afford to lose €1,000. The issue of deposit retention has dogged the rented sector for many years, particularly since the introduction of the Residential Tenancies Act in 2004. This issue has undermined the work of the Private Residential Tenancies Board but this measure and the setting up of a deposit protection scheme will enable the board to move forward in a progressive way.

I welcome the legislation to bring the approved housing bodies under the regulation of the Private Residential Tenancies Board and I hope in time that measure will be extended to local authority households also because it is not appropriate to have a scenario where an authority acts as judge and jury over its own tenants. The idea that there is an independent dispute resolution process available that is cheap and speedy, as the legislation sets out, is important not only for private rented tenants but for all tenants.

The number of illegal evictions in 2004 when the Residential Tenancies Bill was passed by this Chamber stood at 271 and that was the number of illegally evicted tenants who sought the services of Threshold. It is sad to say that in 2013 and 2014 that number rose to 651. In regard to issues such as minimum standards, the number of cases has increased tenfold, from 386 to almost 3,000. We have not reached the end of the line in terms of reform of the rented sector.

The one call I would make today is for a long-term strategy for the rented sector. One in five households depend on rented housing for their accommodation and we need to move forward. We need to tackle supply and to make it a long-term realistic option for people to live their lives with the kind of dignity and certainty that they deserve.

Like Senator Hayden, I welcome the visitors to the Visitors Gallery. All the amendments were discussed at length on Committee Stage. I compliment Senator Hayden, as chair of Threshold, who has fought the good fight for the rental sector in general. I welcome in particular all the various amendments we have dealt with at length on Committee Stage and which will make improvements for the rented sector. I would mention a few of them. The increase in the minimum requirement notice that a landlord must give a tenant from 28 days to 90 days is a big improvement which will give more certainty to tenants. The requirement of landlords to furnish tenants with information on their rights, the avenues for appeal to the Private Residential Tenancies Board, the measures regarding the over-holding of rent payment and the custodial deposit scheme will all bring certainty to this sector.

It is said in Ireland that people like to have a field and to have ownership of property but increasingly, more people have to rent in view of the situation regarding the banks and the availability of mortgages. All the amendments are welcome and will make tenancy a secure environment for tenants. I would point to the amendments that allow the Private Residential Tenancies Board to make determination orders to go to the District Court rather than the Circuit Court. Clarification notice for termination means that those who rent are not forced to live in an environment of tension and uncertain safety. Provision is also made for a swifter response in terms of an anti-social behaviour element. A multitude of noteworthy amendments were agreed, the detail of which I do not have the time to go into, which will make the process more effective for tenants and provide them with certainty.

I attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht earlier at which the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government laid out in detail the provisions that are being made for the delivery of social housing to bring 17,000 houses on-stream. That is a priority for the three Ministers who were in attendance at that meeting. They all spoke about what they are going to do in this area. Reference was made to €923 million in terms of housing provision in 2016 that will deliver more than 17,000 new units in 2016. That will make a huge improvement. I look forward to that and to the inclusion of all those amendments in this legislation which will improve the position for tenants.

On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I congratulate and commend the Minister of State on getting this Bill through the House and I wish him and the Bill well. I also congratulate Senator Hayden who has been very much to the fore in this debate. I welcome the heads of the other agencies, statutory or otherwise, and particularly those involved in the local authorities, who are at the coalface in dealing with housing throughout the country, particularly in the big urban areas. I have no more to add other than that on behalf of the party's spokesman who, unfortunately, cannot be with us here to wish the Minister of State well.

Does Senator Healy Eames wish to add a comment?

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 November 2015.