Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages

I welcome the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney This is a Seanad Bill which was amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 118, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration," the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked on as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have also circulated the proposed groupings to the House. A Senator may only contribute once on each grouping.

Senators have tabled several amendments which arise from the changes made to the Bill by the Dáil. In view of the number of amendments and avoid repetition of debate, I propose that the amendments made by the Dáil and related amendments tabled by Senators be debated together in related groups. Decisions on the amendments tabled by Senators will be taken when the discussion of all groups of amendments has concluded. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the subject matter of each group of amendments made by the Dáil and the amendments tabled that arise from the amendments made by the Dáil.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I call the Minister to address the subject matter of the amendments in group 1.

I thank the Seanad for sitting today to, I hope, finalise this important legislation in order that we can get on with implementing it.

When this Bill was introduced in the Seanad, there was a good debate on excluding the rent certainty and rent predictability measures which we are looking to incorporate in the legislation. At the time, I said that when the Government finalised and launched a new rental strategy, there might be elements of that strategy which would need to take effect in law quickly. Accordingly, we would look to using either Committee or Report Stage in the Dáil to introduce amendments to allow us to make a decision on intervening in the private rental market and ensure that decision would take effect quickly. This would ensure there would not be several months in between the policy change and its legal implementation, which could have a skewed effect on the rental market across cities such as Dublin, Cork and elsewhere. Introducing legislation in the Seanad but not debating a significant element of it until Report Stage in the Dáil and then returning to the Seanad looking for its approval is not the ideal way to do business.

A judgment by me was required which I flagged when we debated this issue the last time in this Chamber. Given all of the circumstances with which I was faced, introducing a quick transition from policy change to legislation change was the right thing to do. We had a very extensive debate last week on that element of the legislation. There was a lot of discussion on fast-tracked planning measures, Part 8, planning permission extensions, the Tyrrelstown amendment and a series of other things, with which we are dealing today.

The first group of amendments primarily concerns the rent predictability proposal. When we debated it in the Seanad a number of weeks ago, I flagged that it would probably result in us bringing this legislation back to this House again to finalise the elements of the rental strategy that needed changes in law. Government amendments Nos. 1, 65 to 68, inclusive, 74 and 75 all relate to the commitment in action one of the strategy for the rental sector which I published last week to the introduction of a time-bound system of rent predictability based on the concept of rent pressure zones. Under the system proposed, areas where rents are high and rising quickly will be identified and then designated by order of the Minister as rent pressure zones. In these areas annual rent increases on foot of a rent review will be limited to a maximum of 4%. An area will be designated as a rent pressure zone for a period of three years and the provisions limiting rent increases will apply both at the start of the tenancy and to each rent review after that. These measures will give significant certainty to both landlords and, more importantly, tenants by allowing for reasonable growth in rents, while preventing the instability and uncertainty caused by the volatility we have seen in the past few years.

Government amendment No. 66 amends section 19 of the 2004 Act to provide that when a rent is being set in a rent pressure zone either at the beginning of or during a tenancy, the rent may not be greater than an amount to be determined by the formula set out in the section. For tenancies that were in place before an area was designated as a rent pressure zone, the first rent review may take place only after a minimum of 24 months after the time the tenancy was established or the time the rent was last set. The reference in the amendment to section 24(c)(1A) which is inserted by section 36 of the Bill provides that in the first rent review after that 24-month period, a maximum rent increase of 4% will apply. To be clear to everybody because there was some confusion about this in the Dáil, the initial idea was that we would have an annual rent review of no more than 4% in terms of increases. If somebody has not had a rent review for two years and an area becomes a rent pressure zone, the maximum increase for which a landlord can ask is up to 4%, which is, effectively, no more than 2% per year for the past two years. Subsequently, it is a 4% limit annually; therefore, it does not matter if there is a change in tenancy and a review after six months. If it is after six months, it is an annual increase of 4% on a pro rata basis; therefore, if it is after six months, it will only be 2%. There is no incentive for a landlord to evict somebody and bring somebody else in to be able to bump up the rent by 4%. There is also no incentive for a landlord to have a rent review every year because if they have it after 18 months, it will be 4% plus 2% because it will be a year and a half. If it is two years, it will be 8% and if it is a year, it will be 4%. In respect of the maximum on a pro rata basis for which a landlord can ask after the first review, which will only be 2% per year for people who have been on a 24-month gap because it will be a ceiling of 4% taking account of the past two years, the key issue is that there is certainty for tenants and landlords in order that they can plan accordingly and in order that, most importantly, tenants do not have to fear an upcoming rent review not knowing whether it will be 10%, 20% or 25%, which could force them out of that property. That is what this measure does.

It is the first time a Government has ever introduced - in living memory - a direct intervention in the private rental market to limit the rent increases that can happen. It is an appropriate and a necessary measure at this time. It will apply to Dublin and Cork initially. I will explain the reason for this, rather than reading a detailed note on rent pressure zones in order that everybody is clear. There was a lot of debate on this issue in the Dáil last week. The reason we are starting with Dublin and Cork is that the data we have from the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, which is the most credible independent source of data, are currently based on local authority areas only. They are not more localised than that. Under the threshold we are setting, which is more than a 7% annual increase and more than the average rent in the country, there are only five local authority areas that qualify as rent pressure zones in their entirety. They are the four local authority areas in Dublin and Cork city. There are undoubtedly many other areas that justify the introduction and designation of rent pressure zones, but because the information is based on local authority areas and averages in rural areas bring down the averages in counties such as Meath, Kildare and Galway, these areas do not qualify today because we collect data on a local authority area basis. With the ESRI and other sources of data, the RTB has already begun to look at areas on a much more localised basis, a local electoral area basis. If one looks at Cork, the largest county in the country, on its own from the Beara Peninsula to a town like Carrigaline where I live, and averages it out, one notes that it will not qualify. However, when one looks at a local electoral area like Carrigaline and Ballincollig in which there is a lot of pressure on rent, we will probably see a designation just like we will probably see designations when one localises areas within counties such as Meath and Kildare. When one breaks it down into local electoral areas, one is likely to see the introduction and designation of rent pressure zones in towns such as Naas, Dunshaughlin and Navan. That is why I have said through the debates last week and again this week that I must make decisions on designations on the basis of independently assessed data, not on the basis of politics and someone going back to his or her constituency or city and saying he or she has created a rent pressure zone. We are intervening in the private rental market and people's incomes and property rights and introducing measures to protect tenants. We have to make these decisions on the basis of independently sourced data that are not influenced by political considerations but on the basis of what is the current rental pressure in these areas according to the data. When we do this, we have an agreement with Fianna Fáil and other parties to fast-track the assessment of new areas that we suspect to be areas that are likely to result in more designations.

In January we will focus initially on the counties bordering Dublin such as Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow and the three large cities that currently do not have a designation, namely, Waterford, Limerick and Galway. I am told that there will undoubtedly be designations in these areas, particularly Galway, once the assessment is broken down into a local electoral area basis. I wanted to explain why we were starting with Dublin and Cork. I was anxious on day one to designate what we knew to be rent pressure zones. One intuitively suspects that Dublin and Cork are the obvious places in which to start and that the data prove that they are the places to start. I want to reassure people that this is not the end of it. As the rental market changes and develops in the coming months and years, we will respond to areas that are suffering significant pressure by creating rent pressure zones but only on the basis of independent data.

Otherwise, we are going down a road that is very dangerous if we are making decisions on the basis of being politically popular in different parts of the country. Amendment No. 68 is about rent pressure zones, how they work, what the threshold criteria are and so on.

There are some Opposition amendments about replacing the 4% with the CPI and seeking to put a blanket CPI limit on rents across the country. I do not think it is the right thing to do. If I did, I would do it. Designating rural parts of Ireland, whether it be Connemara, the Beara Peninsula or the north west of Donegal, as rent pressure zones would result in ensuring we would have no investment in these areas by potential landlords who may want to have properties there for rent. Limiting landlords to a CPI or 4% increase on top of what is a very low rent in these areas would result in nobody providing rental accommodation in these areas. We need to ensure supply in the market too.

In areas in which there have been dramatic falls in rental increases, due to the property crash, and which are starting to recover, we must allow this recovery to take place. However, if it gets out of hand, a rent pressure zone will be triggered which will prevent rents from going beyond a certain point. That is why the rent pressure zone approach is a much more nuanced, targeted and accurate way of dealing with the pressures that are different in different parts of the country. The pressures in Dublin are very different from those in many parts of the midlands, the west or the south west In my country the pressures in Cork city and suburbs are very different from those in north Cork and west Cork generally in terms of vacant properties and rental markets. We need flexibility to target areas that need a sharp, clear intervention. We need other areas to provide solutions based on increasing supply over time.

Senator Frances Black proposes to introduce amendment No. 4. There is a serious intent behind the amendment which provides for the substitution of subsection (6) with a new subsection which would provide that the amendments would apply even where a notice of new rent had already been served before enactment. During the drafting of the new rent provisions, legal advice was specifically requested from the Office of the Attorney General on a proposal for the measure to apply to rents in respect of which a notice of review under section 22 had already been served. The advice received raised a particular concern that such a proposal would constitute a retrospective interference with the property rights of the landlord and that it would be particularly vulnerable to legal challenge. In effect, it would provide that a notice that was legal and valid at the date it was served and served in good faith would be illegal. Therefore, as a result of that legal advice, subsection (6) was inserted to ensure section 19(4) did not operate in a way that was retrospective. It should be noted in that context, however, that a landlord may not serve a notice of new rent until a rent review is due. A landlord cannot, for example, give nine months’ notice of a rent increase six months before a rent review is due and thereby evade the operation of the new provisions. The notice of new rent cannot be served until two years has elapsed since the date of the last review.

We also wanted to do what the Senator asked. However, I must take the Attorney General's advice. If I do not, somebody will legally challenge the legislation and, potentially, delay it for a long time, given that it will be shown to be inconsistent with the law and, potentially, the property rights in the Constitution. I take the Senator's point and do not disagree in terms of wanting to achieve it. However, if I introduce legislation that makes something that is legal today illegal tomorrow retrospectively, it will be challenged and the advice is that we will lose. Instead, we are relying on the provisions that were introduced by the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, to ensure rents cannot be reviewed within 24 months, which was a good measure at the time and is still a good measure, although it has had some unintended consequences. No landlord can anticipate that an area may become a rent pressure zone and suddenly start the process of a rent review until the two years are up. This is the safeguard that is in place for towns which people may think are going to become rent pressure zones. If it has been 18 months since a landlord's last rent review, he or she cannot trigger another review, but he or she must wait for the full two years. There is a protection to prevent landlords from trying to anticipate what is coming down the line and trying to compensation for it to get the rent review to happen sooner. We cannot retrospectively change the law without the legislation being successfully challenged.

There are some measures I would have liked to have introduced which I could not such as receivers taking on the responsibility of landlords. There are legal complexities and property rights, particularly in Tyrrelstown, on which I would be very foolish to ignore the Attorney General's advice. I hope this is helpful regarding the Senator's amendment.

I have probably addressed most of the issues. I appeal to people to try to work with me to have the measure introduced as quickly as possible in order that we can do what the legislation is allowing us to do, namely, to intervene in the market to protect tenants and provide certainty in a way that does not fundamentally undermine the appetite for increased supply which we also need and to ensure the balanced approach I am trying to strike will take effect before the end of the year.

We will move on to the second group of amendments. When we come to Senator Frances Black's amendment, I will allow each Member who has an amendment to move it and speak to it. Others can speak to it, but only the person who moved the amendment can respond. Sometimes there is overlapping which is inevitable. Although Senator Frances Black has not moved her amendment, the Minister has responded to it. The Senator is entitled to speak to it when we come to it. Perhaps the Minister, if he wishes, might save his response to each specific amendment until the Senators move them and speak to them. This is to avoid repetition and duplication.

Should we not take them in groups?

If Senators wish, we can. It is the same thing. It is a matter for the Senators. I was hoping to let the groups be dealt with. No decision will be taken on them. Let each Senator who has tabled an amendment move it; let it be seconded and debated and the Minister can respond. I am trying to stop him from having to respond twice to the amendments.

My understanding is we will debate the groups of amendments, as we did on Report Stage in the Dáil, that everybody will raise what he or she needs to raise regarding the amendments and that I will try to respond to them collectively. We will simply move and vote on them. Perhaps the procedures are different here.

There will be no vote until everything has been dealt with, given that this is Report Stage. There are eight amendments tabled by different groups of Senators. Each group can call a vote on those amendments, not the Dáil amendments, unfortunately. I will let the Minister go through the various groups first and then each group of Senators can move, second and debate their amendments and the Minister can respond. I am trying to be helpful and ensure the Minister does not have to say the same thing again. If anybody wants to speak to the first group of amendments, he or s he may. When the amendments come through, I will allow ample time. Will we move on to the second group?

Are we speaking to the first group?

The Senator may speak to the first group. I am trying to avoid repetition. There is an overlap. There are eight amendments in the group. Senators may move them when we come to them. Each group must be dealt with first.

There can be no vote on them. They are dealt with en bloc.

I know, but when do we discuss the amendments in group 1, group 2 or group 3? That is what I am asking.

If the Senator wishes to speak to them, she can.

Will there be another point at which to do it? For example, when the Government-----

When the Senator moves her amendments, there will be a discussion. If Senator Frances Black moves an amendment, for example, every Senator who wishes to speak to it may do so. The issue is that only the Senator who moves the amendment may come back in.

That is fine. Is now the point at which we speak to the Government amendments? Have they been moved?

The Senator may speak to any of the Dáil amendments. She is quite welcome to do so.

Is there another point at which to do so?

Not really. Now is probably appropriate if the Senator wishes to speak to some of the Dáil amendments.

We are discussing the Dáil amendments now.

Unfortunately, it is a mixture of both. It is a complex issue.

My understanding is it is proposed that the Minister be allowed to give an overview of each of the amendment groups.

Yes, he has done so for the first group.

Once that is done, we can go through the group amendment by amendment.

No, the amendments in groups are discussed together.

To clarify, the Minister has spoken to group 1 and will now proceed to give an overview of groups 2 to 8, inclusive. Once he has concluded, we will be allowed to progress through each amendment listed-----

Each Senator may speak to those amendments. Is that correct?

It can work both ways. I am trying to avoid duplication for the Minister and Senators. If Senators want to comment on any of the groups or a point made by the Minister to date, they are quite welcome to do so. Some Senators have strong feelings and tabled their own amendments - some are from groups and some are from individuals - and they will have to be debated subsequently. There is an overlapping, but the debate will still take place. Subject to the Senators' approval, I propose we do all of the groups first - a vote will not be called - and we then move to the amendments as proposed and have a debate. If we do it the other way, there will be duplication as Senators make the same points. In other words, when Senator Frances Black's amendment arises, the Senator may move it and speak to it.

I understand there are thematic groups. In terms of the Dáil amendments-----

I will not stymie debate, but I want to prevent duplication. I raised the point because the Minister would have to give the same response to Senator Frances Black when she moved her amendment.

Do we speak to the Dáil amendments now?

If the Senator likes.

Is there a more appropriate time?

Now is the appropriate time.

I do not want duplication either.

If there is a particular Dáil amendment about which a Senator feels particularly strongly, now is the appropriate time to raise it. The Minister would be allowed to respond. We should use the group formula in that respect. If there is something in group 1 that should be discussed, please raise it now.

Okay. I had expected to speak to all of the amendments together.

The rental proposals are a small step forward. They may not take us on as far as I would like. I am speaking specifically to the proposals in group 1 on rent certainty or predictability. "Rent predictability" is probably the more accurate term. This is not giving as much rent security as I would like. A rate of 4% over three years adds up to 12%, which is still a very significant increase. That cost will be put on people who will not be seeing a 12% increase in their wages and they will not necessarily see a 12% increase in other areas of income. In that context, I regret that the Minister has chosen a figure of 4%. I would have liked to have seen a lower figure. However, I recognise that this is a step forward and it at least gives us predictability.

It is a positive aspect of the proposals put forward by the Minister that there is protection to ensure future tenants will not be set against current tenants. It is a positive aspect of how this has been constructed to ensure we do not create any perverse incentive for landlords to finish with one tenant and find a better or higher rate by going to another tenant. It is a positive aspect of how the formula is constructed. I am not opposing these measures and I am supportive of them to an extent as they are a step forward. I have questions about aspects of them, to which we will come in the debate on the amendments that will come through.

I do not know where it comes in terms of a debate or if this is the point at which I should raise the following point. I want to throw something to the Minister that will come in later. We need a deeper and further debate. I understand the urgency of the actions, but we will need an opportunity to revisit some of these points in a future debate. In three years, when these measures expire, I do not want us to be here again in the month of December for an urgent or last-minute debate. That is not ideal. I will not speak further on this issue now, but I will speak to a couple of amendments when they come up.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. On the rental market provisions in the Bill, we are seeing that what we raised in a previous Seanad debate is correct. There is a fundamental difference in ideology between my party and the Government on the issue, but I will not go into it again ad nauseam. We have debated it quite clearly. There are issues about the rental strategy put forward which is very much loaded in favour of landlords, rather than tenants. It sounds fantastic in theory, but the reality is we will see rent increases above and beyond what we have seen.

The Minister indicated that we would look at areas such Galway in the new year, but there were 13% increases in rent in Galway in the past year. The get-out clauses for landlords remain the same; therefore, it is reasonably easy for a landlord to get out of a position when he or she wishes to increase rent. Practically, we see on a daily basis that people are being turfed out of their homes and asked to move because of get-out clauses already available. For example, one possibility is the landlord indicating that a family member will rent the property. I do not see the measures being introduced tackling the issues. The issue was encapsulated by the Minister saying we must be careful as this will interfere with incomes and property rights. That demonstrates the differences in opinion and ideology.

I am very disappointed that the amendments made by the Seanad were unpicked in the Dáil. Fianna Fáil did well to get the amendments put through here with our support and that of Independents, but it is very disappointing that they were utterly unpicked when the Bill went to the Dáil. Fianna Fáil flip-flopped on it owing to pressure from the Government under the supply and confidence arrangement. They were progressive amendments and improved the Bill. They certainly favoured tenants as opposed to landlords. I urge the Fianna Fáil Members to consider their position on the Bill.

We will be going through the motions today, about which we may as well be clear. The deal has already been done between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that the amendments will be pushed through, which is very disappointing. Coming up to Christmas, we hear stories about people and they can be highlighted. While I was coming here the other morning, one of the national radio stations had a vox pop with people going to a viewing of an apartment in Dublin. One professional couple - a banker and an architect - were trying to get out of their parents' houses and rent their first home together, but they found it impossible, as there were queues of over 40 people for even very basic and meagre apartments. A couple expecting their first child were also looking for somewhere to live. Neither this strategy nor the Bill will really tackle these issues. As Senator Alice-Mary Higgins argued, it will give rent predictability to landlords, in particular, and make it much easier for them to predict a 12% increase over a number of years.

I will speak a little more about the specific detail of our amendments. What we are seeing is very disappointing and very much a missed opportunity to stand up for tenants. I am very disappointed that Fianna Fáil has backed off on these issues. The party has reneged on its commitments to the people.

As we are speaking generally-----

We are speaking to group 1 amendments. We do not want a Second Stage debate. Early in the day I will be flexible, but as the day progresses, I will be very strict on procedure.

If Senators could distinguish between opinion and fact-----

Sometimes Senators think their comments are helpful, but they only promote debate and retaliation by other speakers.

I will speak now and move our amendments at a later stage.

They will all be dealt with separately.

I just want to be helpful to save the Minister having to repeat himself ad nauseam.

Since the deal has been done between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and we are going through the motions, as was pointed out, there is no real reason to unduly delay the legislation. I would have preferred to see the rent pressure zones tied to the CPI. I know that the Minister mentioned in the Dáil that he had expert advice on that issue, which is why he set the figure at 4%. I would like to see that expert advice to understand from where it came and what the submissions were.

As I know from school, increasing rent by 4% every year for three years does not result in 12%; as it is compound interest, it is greater than 12%. As Senator Alice-Mary Higgins pointed out, nobody - certainly nobody in the private sector - will see their salaries increase by 12% over this period because wage inflation is very slight in the private sector and it is getting increasingly difficult for people to meet rent payments. The amendment which I will formally move at a later stage seeks to link the rent zones with the CPI.

The other amendment is related to Tyrrelstown. We amended the figure to five dwellings, but it went back up to ten in the Dáil. I think it is much better tied to one. I understand from where the Minister is coming.

In the past year a number of Senators have raised the issue of housing supply. There is a decision to be made on supply. The regulations are not being enforced in the case of Airbnb. In the Dublin rent pressure zone 1,000 units could come back into the market if the Minister introduced legislation to control Airbnb. I know that it would reduce the number of bed nights in the tourism sector, but it is a matter of choice and decision. The right decision is to bring in some of the legislation that has been introduced in other countries.

In the Dublin rent pressure zone there is a huge migration from apartments that were on the market last year and have now moved to Airbnb. I am aware of a house on the South Circular Road divided into six apartments, the tenants of two of which qualified for rent allowance. All six apartments are now available through Airbnb. That could be multiplied by 100 across the Dublin area. I have listened to landlords on radio say: "I've turned my apartments in Smithfield from the rental market to Airbnb and now I'm a full-time manager in Airbnb." We have lost those apartments.

It is a tough decision because we will lose tourist bed nights, but the housing crisis means that we should move quickly. I note An Bord Pleanála's decision in that regard. The Dublin local authorities have not been able to implement it across the city.

On numerous occasions we have referred to the fair deal scheme. A number of housing units are empty because their owners are in nursing homes. We need to rebalance the situation.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for the latitude he gave me. I will formally move the other amendments later.

It is good that we are sitting today. We need to be realistic and state we have a housing crisis. The Minister failed to consult in any meaningful way with all parties in advance of the announcement of this scheme. I have major issues with this. I know that he is doing things for the right reasons. He initially restricted the provision to Dublin and Cork because they are the most critical areas he needs to address. However, I welcome Fianna Fáil's impact on the legislation in that Leinster and other areas must be considered under the criteria. Carlow and Kilkenny in my area fall into the second level. There should have been more discussion. I am Fianna Fáil's housing spokesperson in the Seanad and felt we did not know enough about it. I have concerns that it came too quickly.

The Minister spoke about working with the PRTB, which is important. He needs to ensure it has the appropriate staffing and resources. It does a great job. Rent is a massive issue. The lack of housing is the biggest issue. We have no housing, which is something I know the Minister will address.

I believe a review of the criteria is scheduled for June 2017. I want to clarify the matter because it is crucial. On leaving here today we need to ensure people get a certain amount of rent certainty and that all areas are included. It is great that Dublin and Cork have been given top priority. However, we need to remember that rural counties are as much of a priority as other areas. We need to ensure everybody is in this. This is not just for Dublin and Cork but for everybody.

With what does the Minister plan to come back in June regarding the criteria? What exactly has he put in place? What will he do from here on? What exactly does he have in mind?

I welcome the opportunity for Senators to give their opinions on the rental sector provisions in the Bill. As the Minister outlined, when it was last debated in the Seanad, we did not have that detail.

As other Senators said, we are debating this important Bill at a time when we still have a very dysfunctional housing market with inadequate supply to meet the needs of our society. It is important to make as many legislative interventions and provisions as possible. We have debated the various planning interventions and measures, which are welcome. As Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor said, we have to address the fundamental problem, which is supply. Those planning measures include fast-tracking or making housing more quickly available in places of high demand. Student accommodation is also very important as it impacts on the rental sector.

The Minister's proposals represent a reasonable and balanced approach. It is important to note that they are time limited; once the three-year period passes, the designations lapse and fall immediately. The maximum increase of 4%, as outlined by the Minister, is a reasonable approach. We need to caution that any intervention we make in the housing sector could have a detrimental impact on housing supply. We need to ensure the existing landlords are not driven out of the market. We need to incentivise more investment in property and housing in order that we can meet the needs, allowing the housing sector to normalise.

The Minister's proposal for rental pressure zones is an appropriate mechanism, but it brings its own challenges. I ask him to address some of the areas in which I foresee challenges. The PRTB which is critical to identifying pressure zones needs to be adequately resourced. It needs the professional staffing to meet the demands that will be placed on it.

Senators have rightly outlined areas outside Dublin and Cork where there is rising pressure. They may not meet the criteria, but there is rising pressure on them. My city of Waterford is one of them and there are other urban centres. It is important that the PRTB works ahead. I agree that we should deal with the critical areas now, as the Minister is doing.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor has said the legislation came too quickly; I believe it was not quick enough. We are sitting today to ensure we make an intervention on behalf of the people who are under serious pressure in paying rent. This legislation will assist them because it will bring certainty to what they will pay in rent in the next few years. It will allow them to plan for it and will also allow landlords to plan in order that there will be full transparency on the legislation in this area. I welcome the certainty it brings. However, as I believe we all agree, until housing supply increases, unfortunately, volatility will remain a threat in the rental sector. At least this legislation will remove some of that volatility, especially in the rental pressure zones, as the Minister outlined.

There are some exemptions, including where a property is substantially refurbished. How is it defined? Who adjudicates on whether a property has been substantially refurbished?

I presume that if question marks arise, the PRTB may have the final say on it. Perhaps the Minister might clarify that matter.

My party has been charged with being a landlords' party, but I certainly do not agree. This legislation proves that we are working to bring certainty to renters throughout the country and ensure their rental accommodation is sustainable. I reject some of the threats that the Irish Property Owners Association has made. The threats are unfair, untimely and the association needs to review them. We are here to work on behalf of all citizens. All stakeholders should come to the table to work with the Minister and ensure a sustainable and properly functioning rental sector. That is what we all require.

We will now come back to group 1. The Minister is entitled to respond at this stage, if he so wishes.

I will try to answer some of the issues that have been raised.

First, I wish to nail the issue of a 12% or 12.25% increase once and for all. The majority of people will not face a 12% increase, even in a rent pressure zone in Dublin. Obviously, it is true to say three times four equals 12. However, if somebody has a rent review this December, he or she will not be allowed another rent review for two years. That means that for the first two years of the rent pressure zone designation, the maximum increase that can happen at the end of that period will be 4%. We are, therefore, talking about no more than a potential 8% increase because there is a year to follow after that for such a person. Effectively, therefore, for the first two years he or she will have an annual maximum possible rent increase of 2% because he or she will have a 24-month rent freeze. In addition, the amount by which a landlord can increase the rent in terms of the first rent review at the end of the two-year period is no more than 4%.

A small minority of tenants will happen to have a rent review coming up in January that will result in a 4% increase and the following year and the year after that. The vast majority, however, are somewhere in the middle of their 24-month rent review period and, therefore, unlikely to have a third 4% increase in the next three years. As it is far more likely to be 8% over three years, let us talk about the actual facts concerning what tenants and landlords can expect. I wanted to make that point because some people make the simplistic argument as to where they are going to find 12.25% more in the next three years. If they are in the unfortunate position of having a rent review at the start of January and, therefore, close to three in three years, in the first instance, they will not have to find the 12% until the very end. Second, most tenancies are mid-stream some way between rent reviews. There could be six, 12 or 18 months to go. If they have a rent review after a shorter period than two years, the limit will be less than 4% because effectively the formula covers a maximum of 4% after a two-year review. If it is after one year, it will only be 2%. lt is important for people to understand this.

One of the disagreements and changes that happened in the Dáil last week concerned that formula. I am trying to ensure the commitment I am making politically is actually the case in the mathematical formula. Those Senators who are accountants will see exactly what is meant by that formula if they examine it.

I take the point that there has been a lot of pressure in County Galway, particularly in Galway city. That is why the city is very close to designation as a full city, if one was to take the full local authority area of Galway city. When the data come in from the last quarter of 2016, it may well get over the line. I am not sure, but it is not 1 million miles away; therefore, it may be like Cork and Dublin. When we examine more localised areas, I am sure there will be areas in Galway that will qualify early in the new year. However, that is not for me to determine. Data coming from the PRTB will determine the matter.

As regards changes to some of the amendments made in the Seanad, I presume the Senator was referring to Tyrrellstown where we went from 20 to five and are now back up to ten. That was on the basis of legal advice. In principle, I have no problem in going to five, but if I have legal advice from the Attorney General telling me that if one is going to interfere with a person's property rights - in other words, the right of somebody to sell his or her home without a tenant in it - Senator Kevin Humphreys should not shake his head. That is legal advice from the Attorney General's office. There is a conflict between a person's property rights in the Constitution and a proportionate response in terms of an acceptance of it. There is a legal judgment call.

For example, undoubtedly, if a person owns 20 or 30 properties and is selling them all at the same time, it is a proportionate response to say an individual's property ownership rights do not trump the interests of 30 tenants who may all be evicted because of that property right and, therefore, the number should come way down. However, if the owner of a single property has a tenant in it, does the constitutional protection of property rights require that that person be allowed to sell his or her home to maximum value, that is, without a tenant in it, or is it consistent with the Constitution that the tenant's rights take priority over property rights? That is where we get into a difficult legal debate. It is why the Attorney General's advice to me was that ten was a figure with which they were comfortable in terms of a legal challenge, but five was not. That is the only reason I proposed to change it. To be fair to Fianna Fáil, it wanted five, but it was not willing to ignore the Attorney General's advice, which I think was very responsible. We all wanted the figure to be five. I took advice and would have been a fool not to do so. That was the only reason we changed it; there was no other motivation.

We have examined changing the planning regulations concerning Airbnb. An Bord Pleanála made a decision consistent with a local authority's decision, which I have endorsed and supported. That is that if somebody is using Airbnb for short-term or immediate-term letting and if he or she is essentially behaving like a bed and breakfast or hotel owner, he or she needs to obtain planning permission for a commercial operation of that sort. That is very different from somebody who is allowing a family to stay in his ro her house for two or three weeks on a summer holiday through Airbnb. We need to make a distinction between the two. We have written to local authorities to support that distinction in planning enforcement, which is a good way of dealing with the issue, without having to go through legislative change. Airbnb has a role to play, but it should not be replacing permanent tenancies in terms of housing solutions. It certainly should not be facilitating people to use properties that are not their homes, effectively as bed and breakfast accommodation, without having to go through the procedures that every other bed and breakfast accommodation must go through, including standards, inspections and tax treatment. A change in the planning treatment is a good way of dealing with it, which is what we have been supporting.

Senator Jennife rMurnane O'Connor referred to a lack of consultation, but we have spent three months making the rental strategy. We had almost 500 written submissions as part of the consultation process. We had a number of stakeholder consultations at conferences and seminars in various parts of the country on the rental strategy. Fianna Fáil made a detailed submission as part of it, as did Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and others. Therefore, there was a lot of consultation before we settled on what I regarded as a balanced rental strategy, an element of which was rent predictability, for which we have to legislate. I have also tried to keep some of my colleagues and other parties' spokespersons up to speed on where all of this is going, even when those party spokespersons might not share the same views I have on some matters.

I have been as open as I can, within reason, and had to be cognisant of the fact that I had to sell it to my Cabinet colleagues. If we had taken the approach of some strategies in the past, we would have been reading about it in the newspapers before it was launched. There would have been pressure groups and lobbying and a process, the final outcome of which might have been warped and not balanced. I had to keep it reasonably tight, while engaging in significant consultation in the lead-up.

I understand the point about extending the criteria and accept that there are many pressures outside Cork and Dublin. We have agreed to review the effectiveness and implementation of the rent predictability measures after six months, as one would do with any policy. We will ask if it is working, rolling out properly and having the impact we want it to have. We will discuss the review with other parties. Fianna Fáil, in particular, was interested in it for understandable reasons.

Senator Paudie Coffey asked about substantial refurbishment. We do not want landlords to change the wallpaper and then say there has been substantial refurbishment, making them exempt from the 4% limit. That will not happen because the Residential Tenancies Board has clear guidelines on what is substantial refurbishment. We want to encourage substantial refurbishment to ensure the quality of properties is improving. If a tenancy is changing, it is not desirable that a landlord cannot put a penny into a property because he or she can only get a 4% increase. It is better that they put the €5,000, €10,000, or €15,000 which is needed into the premises and then go to the RTB and ask to factor some of it into a rent increase.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest there is no incentive for a family working with the fair deal scheme to make an empty property available because the senior citizen who vacated it would have moved into a nursing home and the majority of any income would have been included in the fair deal scheme. People in these circumstances ask why they would bother going to the hassle of renting the property and possibly reducing its value by having tenancy and landlord issues, while getting no income for it because it would all go in the coffers of the fair deal scheme. We are speaking to the Department of Health about this issue and it has accepted that if elements of the fair deal scheme result in significant disincentives to bringing vacant properties into the rental market, we will look at addressing the issue in the new year.

Group 2 includes amendments Nos. 2 to 7, inclusive, 9 to 45, inclusive, and Seanad Report Stage amendment No. 1.

This is about the strategic housing development provisions, on which we had a very long debate when I was last in the Seanad; therefore, I do not propose to spend as long on the issue as on the rent predictability measures, unless Senators want to do so. This group of amendments includes 43 amendments made in the Dáil to Chapter 1 of Part 2 which provides for time-limited streamlined arrangements for the consideration of applications for strategic housing developments. The new arrangements constitute a significant element of the Government's response to the current housing supply shortage as set out in the Rebuilding Ireland action plan.

The amendments made in the Dáil to the strategic housing development provisions include the following. The definition of strategic housing development in section 3 has been amended to clarify the extent of other uses that can be incorporated as part of a strategic housing development. Provision has been inserted in sections 5 to 9, inclusive, that a person shall not question the validity of measures taken by An Bord Pleanála or a planning authority under the sections concerned on the grounds that the relevant procedures were not completed within the time limits set out in these sections. Section 8 now provides that the time period that members of the public have to make submissions to the board on a proposed strategic housing development is five weeks from the date of receipt of the application by the board. Section 10 now provides that where the board grants permission for a strategic housing development that would materially contravene the planning authority's development or local area plan for the area, the board’s decision on the application must state the main reasons and considerations for the material contravention. A new section 24 has been inserted into the Bill providing for the payment of compensation under section 190 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 where the value of a person's interest in land is reduced by the refusal of the board to grant permission for a strategic housing development on that land. A further new section 25 inserted into the Bill provides that the inadequacy or incompleteness of an environmental impact statement or Natura impact statement submitted with an application for permission for a strategic housing development is a non-compensatable reason for refusing permission for the project.

Senator Victor Boyhan proposes in his amendment No. 1 to the amendments made in the Dáil to delete part of amendment No. 38 which amends section 12 empowering the Minister to prescribe by regulations the proportion of the planning application fee for a strategic housing development that the board is required to pass on to the planning authority following the making of a decision on the application. This is considered to be a fair and reasonable way of ensuring planning authorities will recoup costs incurred in assessing proposals and applications for strategic housing development. Amendment No. 38 also enables the Minister to prescribe circumstances in which the board would not be required, after it makes its decision on an application for permission for a proposed strategic housing development, to pay a proportion of its fee to the local planning authority.

I understand from Senator Victor Boyhan’s amendment that he has concerns about this provision and that local authorities could be unreasonably financially penalised within what is clearly intended by the legislation to be a collaborative process between local authorities and An Bord Pleanála and that there may be alternative mechanisms to ensure the local planning authority submits its observations and report on strategic housing development proposals to the board in a timely manner. Therefore, I envisage providing, in subsequent legislation, that this sanction will only be applied in extreme situations such as where a planning authority fails to submit its report on a proposed strategic housing development in such a manner that jeopardises the board's ability to make its decision on a planning application within the statutory 16-week period prescribed in the Bill. I am sure the Senator will agree with me that, if the planning authority fails to support the work of the board such that the board cannot meet its determination deadline and, therefore, must pay a penalty fee to the applicant, it would not be reasonable that the board would be required to pay a proportion of the application fee to that local authority. For that reason, I oppose the Senator’s amendment, but I can assure him that, whether by primary legislative amendment in the forthcoming Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, by regulation or both, the provisions of section 12(2)(b) will be tempered to avoid this being an overly rigid or penal requirement and that, instead, positive measures will be progressed to ensure local authorities and the board will work closely together in dealing expeditiously with strategic housing developments in support of the Government's objective to streamline the planning consent process as one part of tackling the housing crisis.

If any Senator has a particular interest in one of the 43 amendments made in the Dáil in relation to the strategic housing development provisions, I will be happy to go into more detail about it.

I thank the Minister and have listened with interest to his response. I will not talk in detail about my amendment as I will move it later. The strategic housing development provision may be the most controversial provision for local authority members and planners.

We all know that we have a housing crisis and nobody doubts the Minister's absolute commitment to, and passion for, resolving the issue. I do not want to rehearse too much because we have said all this time and again at the joint committee hearings and in the Dáil and this House. We have had a long debate, but there are genuine concerns about the roll-out of critical infrastructure and strategic housing developments. However, Members are going out of here and bellyaching about a housing crisis and homelessness, the need for more housing and rented accommodation, the need for more affordable accommodation, people's capacity to purchase accommodation and the right to homes. Almost €1 million a week is being spent by the four Dublin local authorities on housing. I do not agree with everything the Minister said, but we have an opportunity to address the crisis now. On the whole, we have to go with this policy. The previous Administration had a Minister of State with responsibility for housing and this crisis did not happen yesterday or the day before; it has been ongoing for years. I commit myself to supporting this legislation because it is the right thing to do. Members had an opportunities to table amendments; they did not. The amendment list speaks for itself covering all 31 councils when public representatives are telling me that they tried their best. They have not tried their best. They have not tabled amendments or engaged in the process. Members will walk out of the House having abstained and thinking that is a good day's work politically. It simply is not and it will not wash with the public who are crying out for affordable homes that they can rent or purchase.

While I have grave concerns about the Minister's efforts on strategic housing developments, I will go with them and he should push on with them. The honeymoon is over. As Senators, Deputies and county councillors, we have a task in the next six months, which is to ask the Minister and the Government to deliver on a plan. Let us have something and monitor it. I note what the Minister said. I do not wish to prolong the debate on my amendment and I am happy to accept, in principle, what the Minister said in the spirit of moving the process on and getting the job done. I sincerely wish him and his officials well in delivering every stage of Rebuilding Ireland. Let us be clear that we will be on his case and the Department's case looking for delivery of tangible measures that will result in homes for people.

I am not sure the Minister needs to respond to that contribution. It seems self-explanatory.

We will move on to group 3, environmental impact assessment screening provisions, the subject matter of amendments Nos. 46 to 56, inclusive. This group does not entail any amendment from the Seanad. There is no interaction by any Member on this group of amendments.

This group is self-explanatory and nobody has a problem with it. Unless Members have questions to ask, it was dealt with the last time we debated it. I am in their hands. If they want me to go into detail, I can.

That seems to be okay. Group 4 concerns an extension of the duration provisions, the subject matter of amendment Nos. 8 and 57 to 61, inclusive. There is no interaction by any Member on this group of amendments.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins and others clearly made the point the last time we had a debate that they wanted to ensure it would not be easy to get an extension to a planning permission granted through the new streamlined measure because they did not want developers and investors using a streamlined system to obtain planning permission on a site for speculative purposes and then sit on it and do nothing. I said we would try to accommodate the spirit of the amendments and that is what we have done. Unless there is substantial work under way on a site where a developer has obtained planning permission through the new streamlined decision-making process, it will not be easy to renew it after five years. That is the way it should be because we want to incentivise developers to get on and build houses. If they are going to benefit from a streamlined decision-making process and have the certainty of that timeline, we want to make sure we do not have a scenario such as that in Dublin where there are between 27,000 and 28,000 planning permissions and only 4,500 houses being built.

The good news is that the number of planning applications for apartments in Dublin which can give us a fast return is up 300% in the past three months. What we are doing in getting the construction sector functioning again, getting confidence into the market and generating an appetite for risk again among banks, financiers, builders and developers is starting to work. We need to ensure we will continue to put systems in place that will build on that momentum, whether it is for starter homes, in respect of which the number of planning permissions and the number of commencements are also up significantly, or social housing, in respect of which the number of which is also up significantly. We will add more than 5,000 social housing units to the stock this year - the target at the start of the year was 4,200 - through a combination of acquisitions, voids, new builds and so on. Next year we will go well beyond that figure.

We have work to do. I take the point made by Senator Victor Boyhan. One of the elements is the extension of duration provisions and factoring in an incentive to get builders building, rather than people speculating on land that is more valuable when there is planning permission. We cater for that element in this group of amendments.

This matter was raised in the previous debate. One of the features at the end of the so-called Celtic tiger era was many developers obtaining planning permission for sites and flipping them almost overnight. Many of those to whom the sites were flipped were less than reputable in terms of the quality of houses they built. Many of the old style developers realised everything was about to go south. I understand the simple principle that applicants will have to use the planning permission within five years, which is good. If someone receives planning permission in a pressure zone such as County Limerick and an occupancy clause is included, it means that buyers will have to live in the house for so many years after it is built. In certain cases, people are unable to build a house and want to sell the site. The person to whom they sell it must fulfil certain criteria or be approved by the local authority. If a developer sells a site to someone, can a process be put in place whereby the local authority can state the developer who is purchasing the land is fit and proper? I do not know if that is possible. Too many developments were flipped at the end of the Celtic tiger and many of the houses built were not fit for purpose. Perhaps it is a procedural issue, but I ask the Minister to take advice on it.

I would like to contribute on the amendments in group 1. It is welcome that the Minister is prioritising reviews for cities. Rent increases have been a major feature in my city of Limerick in recent times. I ask that the review be expedited and that something be put in place in a relatively short time for all cities.

I thank the Minister for taking on board some of the proposals we put forward.

It is very important that those availing of a new fast-tracking process will not be able to sit on their planning permissions and drip feed property onto the market. It is welcome that the Minister has taken this on board in respect of future strategic planning developments.

On Committee Stage, a proposal was made that the Minister felt he could not take on board. It is not covered in the group under discussion, but I want to highlight it because I believe we will have to return to the matter. I refer to the problem of those sitting on planning permissions, those who have been speculating on land with planning permission attached and those who have been hoarding land. We do not have a pressure point to address that issue. The Minister spoke about encouraging and incentivising, but we also need to be able to demand and require. We need to apply greater pressure.

A key issue that has arisen very recently in the general debate, including the public debate on Apollo House and other matters, is people's frustration about vacant buildings and sites. I acknowledge that the circumstances related to Apollo House are different. People know of buildings and sites with planning permission attached, as the Minister has mentioned. I refer to the 27,000 outstanding planning permissions not being acted on in Dublin. I ask the Minister to commit in the next few months as part of a strategy to having a debate on what a vacant site levy or vacant building levy might look like. What are the tools we could use? I understand they are not provided in the Bill and that it might not now be possible to include them, but I believe they comprise a leverage point that we could potentially have used. Perhaps another instrument is required, but we need to address the speculation on and hoarding of land to date, in addition to protecting against it in the future. I would like an indication of the Minister's position on the issue.

There is considerable concern about properties held by NAMA. Simply waiting for the agency to maximise the potential commercial return on the property gives rise to the question of what social return might gained from them in the interim. This may not apply to Apollo House but to other properties held by NAMA. A public question arises in that regard.

The Minister referred to the question of balancing. I understand we cannot finish this debate today, but a discussion must be had on balancing the wider public good against property rights and the right to maximise profit. We are getting a strong signal from the public, as evidenced by gestures such as the occupation of Apollo House. Surveys indicate people are saying they believe the balance is wrong between property rights and the common good. I acknowledge that both are covered in the Constitution, where they are accorded balance, but perhaps we will need to examine this issue at constitutional level down the line. There is a feeling the balance is off and not delivering. It is very clear that people cannot abide to see vacant properties in the knowledge that the State has a stake in them but is not putting them to social use.

I do not want to open a huge debate. The Minister might suggest whether we can have a debate in the future on a vacant site levy, a vacant property levy and the question of how we interact with NAMA and the owners of other properties. This is about addressing the problems of the past. With regard to the specific amendments that reflect the proposals we made, I thank the Minister and look forward to seeing them enacted.

The Government and that which preceded it debated the issue of a vacant site levy. We have taken advice from the Attorney General on how soon we could introduce it. If one is to tax somebody for inactivity on a site he or she owns, he or she must given due opportunity to ramp up activity in seeking planning permission and finance.

An aspect of the assessment of the property market that is not often discussed is the fact that there are still many sites throughout the country to which planning permission still attaches but which are not viable propositions for development. The proof is that they cannot be financed. Most developers do not have finance. Some of the big developers such as Hines do, but most Irish developers have to get finance from the banking system, an equity fund or some other investor. If they cannot show some certainty as to the rate of return on the sale of houses by comparison with the costs of financing the site and building, they will not get finance. That is how the market works. Partly because of a very broken housing market, we needed to have been compensating with significantly more social housing in recent years. The problem with that is that we did not have the money to do it. We do now, which is why we are committing to spending €5.5 billion or so to provide approximately 50,000 new social houses.

There are consequences to a recession in which a country goes bust. One of those consequences was that we relied too much on the private sector to provide social housing solutions. The private sector collapsed also. Even in Dublin, there are some sites for which it might be difficult to get finance, even for the construction of houses to be sold at current prices, because so much was paid for them. Having said that, I do not buy for one minute the contention that there are 27,000 of these cases. There are many sites, in respect of which speculative behaviour is occurring and people believe they would make more money in two years than they would now if they were to develop them. Alternatively, they could flip on in two years' time knowing the pressures exerted. That is why we need a vacant site levy. That is why it was supported by the previous Government and the current one, but the timelines for introducing it have to take account of advice coming from the Attorney General. There will be more debates on the issue. Some of my colleagues, such as Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, are actively proposing that we shave a vacant property levy or tax to incentivise people to put property on the market and put it into use. Again, there are legal issues that we need to tease out. Unlike many countries that have introduced something similar, Ireland has a written Constitution that is very definitive on issues such as individual property rights and so on. That limits what we can do. I am not saying it rules out a vacant property levy but that we need to tease out these considerations before we jump forward with solutions. It is, however, part of the mix and part of the discussion that needs to be had.

On the point made by Senator Kieran O'Donnell, my note states the local authorities already have the power under section 35 of the Act of 2000 to take account of past performance of developers in assessing planning applications. They can refuse planning applications on the grounds of past failures or non-compliance with conditions. In other words, where a cowboy who broke all of the rules the last time he or she obtained planning permission is seeking to go again, the local authority would be very foolish to ignore his or her past performance and record unless it received some assurances. It is important to note that point. The point the Senator is making concerns the selling on of a privately-owned site to other developers.

Where a reputable developer receives planning permission to build more than 100 houses on a site but sells that site six months later to another developer to whom the council would likely be averse to granting planning permission, what is the control mechanism? Many such developers obtained land towards the end of the Celtic tiger period.

The control mechanism is the enforcement of the planning regulations which are now a lot tougher than they were seven, eight or ten years ago. We need to ensure the standards are very clear. Many developers give out about them because they make houses more expensive to build, but they are in place for a good reason. The regulations should be enforced to the full to ensure we will not see people cutting corners. Unfortunately, we saw this happen in the past.

On a point of clarification, is the Minister saying that if a developer who has acted recklessly or gone into liquidation sets up another company after a certain period, he or she will not be looked on favourably in seeking planning permission? Is the Minister saying developers who were bailed out or financed by the State, for example, will not be allowed to build houses? Will there be restrictions on them? What is to stop such a developer from setting up a company in another name?

This is a judgment call for the local authority planning authority, not for me. It is not the decision of the State per se but of the local authority planning authority. It has powers under section 35 of the 2000 Act to take account of past performance of developers. It will have to make a judgment, hear the proposal and ask the questions to get reassurance on quality and so on in the light of the previous record of the individuals involved. The important thing is that it has the powers under law - which is our job - to be able to make the right judgments in order to ensure the outcomes are consistent with planning permissions given. That is the only point I am making. People who have made mistakes in the past can build in the future but local authorities have to make the judgment as part of the planning process, taking into account past performance. That does not mean that they rule anything out or in; it just gives the provision in legislation that it is a consideration.

I thank the Minister.

There is a huge responsibility being put on local authorities.

I am sorry; the procedure-----

I want to make one final point because I think-----

The Minister has already replied.

Can I just make this point?

I am sorry, but will the Senator make the point on the next group of amendments?

It is on the role of the banks in all of this and how-----

With respect, the Senator is out of order.

We are missing a huge part of the picture in terms of the actions of the banks.

The Senator will have another opportunity. I am ready to move on to group 5. Does the Minister want to outline something on group 5?

The amendments in group 5 are on the Part 8 process. As we had a very good discussion on this matter in the Seanad, I do not need to go into detail. We made a change, at the request of Senators, to the final decision on a Part 8 process. The language stated there would be a need to have a council majority to vote through a Part 8 process. We have changed it to reflect the concerns expressed here and in the Dáil, such that it will be a majority of the elected members present at the meeting, which is the way it is. We do not want there to be a Part 8 process, for example, at a time of the year when a lot of councillors are unable to attend the meeting or something like that and they cannot make a decision. It will now be a majority of the councillors present at the meeting that will make the decision, which is a sensible response because there might have been an unintended consequence of the previous approach. If there is a Part 8 process and it is not possible to get a majority of members in the chamber to support it, serious questions would have to be asked about whether it was important enough to be a Part 8 process at all. There may be unintended consequences in that regard and we have to trust the members at the meeting. If a majority of the members present make the decision to pass a Part 8 process, I am okay with it.

I thank the Minister. Does the Senator want to say something about that? If not, will the Minister speak to group 6?

The amendments in group 6 are on security of tenure. Government amendments Nos. 69 and 87 increase Part 4 tenancies from four years to six. We had a good discussion on this matter in the Seanad. Many Senators would like no time limit on tenancies and for there to be tenancies of indefinite duration. What we say in the rental strategy is that we would like this to be the case at some point in the future. We received a great deal of feedback and my judgment was that if we jumped straight from four years to indefinite tenancies, it might spook certain landlords who might pull their properties from the market. We do not want that to happen because the consequence would be to reduce supply in the short term. We are taking a step by step approach. We are going from four years to six. We have effectively done away with the mechanism whereby there would be a second six-month probationary period after the six years. We are saying Part 4 tenancies are now going to be for a six-year period. After those six years, decisions need to be made by the landlord and tenant and so on as to whether they want to go into another six-year period. We are moving in the direction that most people want us to move in, while at the same time ensuring we do not do something that will result in a lot of the smaller landlords, in particular, pulling properties from the market because they believe they will be stuck with tenancies indefinitely, with which they may be uncomfortable for whatever reason. It is a good balance to go from four years to six with the stated intention within the rental strategy that at some point in the future we would like to move to tenancies of indefinite duration.

We have two amendments - amendments Nos. 6 and 7 - to this section. Our objection to section 30 is essentially to the Tyrrelstown amendment. We were happy to see the threshold reduced on Report Stage. We are disappointed that it was overturned and rolled back on in the Dáil. The subject of amendments Nos. 6 and 7 which we put forward generated considerable debate in the Seanad. On Second Stage, the Minister outlined that he was keen to draw the threshold back from five to ten. There is no value in giving a minority of tenants this valuable protection, whether it concerns landlords with 20, ten or five properties, when the vast majority of tenants will not get that protection, particularly those most vulnerable as a result of the financial insecurity of their landlords.

The Minister knows Sinn Féin's view on the Tyrrelstown amendment. We have discussed it before. The problem with the threshold of ten - I will come to the issue of five - is that it means that the vast majority of people who are currently at risk of homelessness or who are in emergency accommodation because they were made homeless as a result of properties being repossessed by banks and landlords giving notice to quit will get no additional protections. The Minister has introduced the amendment to strengthen the rights of some tenants, but the vast majority of people who need this protection will have no additional protection, either under the initial proposal or the reduction to five. The Minister knows that landlords who own 20 properties or more represent approximately 0.56% of landlords and 15% of tenancies. It will be great for them, but the other 85% of tenancies will be left out. We are acknowledging that it has been reduced to ten, but we urge the Minister to accept the amendment we are putting forward. We do not want to see two classes of tenants being protected. I refer, for example, to a tenant, whether the threshold is five or ten, who will receive protection when a property is repossessed and when there is an attempt to sell it on versus the poor unfortunate who is in the property of an accidental landlord. I do not see how that can be justified in the light of the impact on the tenant and the need for equity in the protection of tenants' rights.

I have said from the outset that I want to support the Minister on this Bill in any way I can, although I have some reservations. One of these reservations is in the area of the rights of tenants. I can understand a situation where there is an innocent landlord who has invested in a property and for one reason or other has to divest him or herself of that property. The one thing I cannot understand and which I have been trying to figure it out all week is why we have allowed financial institutions to send in receivers to take back buy-to-let properties that they gave out on interest-only loans? Why did we not force those banks to set up a letting agency, transfer those properties to the letting agency and allow the tenants who are paying their rent to continue in these properties? In some cases, landlords were pocketing the rent and not paying the banks. The latter were ultimately pushed to the point where they had to repossess properties and the tenants could not understand what had gone wrong because they had been paying their rent regularly. When we are talking about security of tenure, we have to look at the difference between a landlord who is operating in a private capacity and doing his or her best to make a living and the banks and financial institutions that set up these buy-to-let mortgages. These entities threw out money like confetti in the noughties and now find that the people to whom they loaned it cannot meet their repayments or, in some cases, that they have been pocketing the money, while the poor old tenant who paid his or her rent religiously every month finishes up out on the street because some financial institution has decided it wants vacant possession.

The Minister told us in a previous debate in the Seanad that tenants have rights and receivers cannot chuck them out on the street, but the truth of the matter is that they are doing so. For the Minister's sake, I hope the Bill is passed today. One of the matters he needs to examine is the possibility of forcing the banks to come together and set up a letting agency that would take repossessed properties into ownership.

They remain an asset of the bank which can continue to lease them out where it is getting the rent from the tenant. It would save throwing tenants out on the side of the road in order to sell the house at a massive discount. From that point of view, I ask the Minister to look at the issue.

The Tyrrelstown amendment did not go to a vote in the Dáil. A little information I have received is that the Minister was threatening to pull the Bill in its entirety if a vote was called on the Tyrrelstown provision. I have since heard that there has been legal advice and that the number has to remain at ten instead of five. All of this needs to be clarified.

We all are working to ensure we look after tenants and that people get housing. We are in a crisis and all have to be responsible today. It is important when we are considering Bills and amendments that we seek legal advice first to see what will pass in the Seanad. Instead, we stayed here one night and debated on the basis that we felt what we were doing was right and for the right reasons. We had moved from ten to five and then were told that, legally, it had to remain at ten. I note originally the Minister had provided for 20. This is all new to me, as a first-time Senator, like some of my colleagues. In a position like ours, we have to ensure clarification on what is legally binding and what is not. From now on, can I have clarification from the Minister on this matter?

As a Fianna Fáil Senator, we are here to be responsible. Blaming everybody will not resolve the housing crisis. We are where we are. In the future we all have to work together to ensure we get this sorted.

The Senator is abstaining. She is not voting.

The Senator is abstaining. It is a contradiction in terms.

This is an area where I regret we are not having the amendment which was put forward and received such support across this House to bring the number to five. It is unfortunate. I recognise that the number, in protecting tenants from evictions in order to ensure vacant possession at point of sale, has come down from 20. I recognise that the amendments on the tightening of the exceptions for landlords in this measure which we put forward to address the loopholes in some of the get-out clauses for them were accepted and are still in the Bill, which is positive. The inclusion of ten is clearly better than 20. We need to be clear in framing it that this is not a balance that has been reached. The position, as I see it, is the Minister is telling us that he can only go to ten because of the advice from the Attorney General. I cannot support going from five to ten in that regard.

There are two big concerns. We need to have a rigorous discussion on the Constitution. We cannot have it that the property clause, in the most abstract form, is constantly invoked in every area. We need to have a robust debate on the provisions in the Constitutions which relate to the common good and the provisions which relate to property rights and how the balance is achieved.

Turning to the key points, what we have is not a balance. When we talk about protection for those when ten units or more are being sold, we know that a tiny fraction - less than 10% - of all landlords are in this category. We know that the vast majority of landlords will in no way be affected by this amendment, at the level of five and ten, and also that the vast majority of tenants will have no protection from this measure, yet we also know - I will not rehearse the argument because we debated it in this House - that owing to the large number of properties purchased between 2012 and 2014 with the express condition that they be held for seven years, from 2019 many of the owners of these properties which were bought as part of a speculative measure during the capital gains tax waiver period that was attached to that property will be looking to sell. No doubt it will be their preference to sell these properties with vacant possession. We are looking at a potentially large number. What happened in Tyrrelstown will not be an exception. We are looking at a large number of properties containing multiple dwellings being put on the market and being flipped within the next three to five year period. That is a key danger. We are looking at a dangerous situation in increasing the level of homelessness. That is key. I want the Minister to tell us-----

We will hear the Minister in response.

-----what will be done to protect us from that dangerous situation which we know is about to arise. It is predictable. I do not want us to be here in two years' time saying we did not know it was coming. We know that it is. We know that there is a danger of large numbers of properties changing hands. We know that the preference is for there to be vacant possession. As described by my colleague, certainly, when there are receivers involved, a property is in their possession.

I am asking the Minister who I know cannot do it in this Bill to indicate whether he will be looking at measures to tackle this issue. For example, in situations where landlords have multiple properties and there may be five units in each, where does that fit into the question of striking a balance? When we debated the issue, the Minister was of the view that where there was somebody with ten units, he could stand over it and that such landlords were in a different league to the accidental landlord and the professional, but when one has a property owner who has a portfolio of houses along a street - there are streets in Dublin where there are houses in a row all owned by the same landlord and they may contain five, six or seven units in each - can we find a way, perhaps not in this Bill but subsequently, to address that issue and that kind of landlord? That would ensure he or she could not sell each of the houses in a row and evade the protections the Minister is trying to put in place.

Are we talking about this Bill or a Bill in the future?

We are talking about this Bill.

I will call Senator Marie-Lousie O'Donnell.

About which Bill are we talking about? Is it this Bill or a Bill in the future?

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is right. I am sorry, but we must stick to this Bill.

We are speaking about this Bill because I am asking-----

I am sure the Minister will comment.

I thought Senator Alice-Mary Higgins was talking about a future Bill because she stated the Minister could not do it in this Bill.

No. The Minister could.

We are dealing with this Bill.

I am saying we are removing a protection that is in the Bill and I am asking if there will be a replacement measure to try to address the fact that we are removing that protection.

The Minister has already clarified, as he did previously in the Seanad debates, that we have a written Constitution and that any legislation we pass must not contravene it. The concern was about property rights and the Constitution that we all respect and to which we adhere. The legal advice from the Attorney General was that if we reduced in the so-called Tyrrelstown amendment the number down to five, it would be unconstitutional and subject to challenge. We need to take account of this advice, as the Minister has said quite clearly. It would be negligent of this or any other Minister to ignore the Attorney General's advice. The Opposition would rightly criticise the Minister if he did and ignored that advice. We need to listen to what the Attorney General is saying. The Attorney General is the protector of the Constitution and advises the Government and Ministers. It is clear that the Minister has gone as far as he can in this sphere on this Bill and we should respect that.

Does the Minister wish to respond to any of the points made?

I do not want to repeat the points I made earlier about what I can and cannot do. I think ten is the right figure. We have halved the figure that I had originally proposed because people wanted to bring it as low as possible, but we have to make a distinction between professional landlords, investment funds and the kind of landlord in Ireland who owns one property and perhaps is renting out a family home or something for a couple of years.

Apart from the legal advice, what I am afraid of is that if we apply this measure to a landlord who has only one property - approximately 88% of landlords are in this category - some of them will decide not to put up the family home for rent for the next few years because they will not be able to secure vacant possession if they seek to sell the house. There is a balance that needs to be struck. We need to constantly look at how we can protect tenancies, to extend them and to look at it as a permanent solution for those who are looking for this. We are also doing other things, both in this Bill and the strategy, to seek to do that.

In terms of buy-to-lets and banks, in particular, looking for vacant possession to sell properties and so on, we have agreed to set up a working group with the Department of Justice and Equality to, where possible, transfer the obligations on landlords to receivers. It is very complex legally. It is one thing to say we are going to do it but another to figure out the complexity in doing so. I have given the Housing Agency €70 million to start buying up vacant properties from banks that are in this position in order that instead of a bank selling a property and insisting on vacant possession and so on, the agency can buy up vacant properties and consider solutions to keep people in their homes. We are also relaunching and revamping from an owner-occupier mortgage collapse with banks a new mortgage-to-rent scheme which is also intended to keep people in their homes. We are doing a load of things in this area, but in this Bill, for the purposes of this debate, the lowest I can go credibly on the back of advice from the Attorney General on the Tyrrelstown amendment is ten. I thank Fianna Fáil for its support in facilitating me in the Dáil, which was responsible, given the legal advice available to me.

We are moving to group 7 which concerns the Residential Tenancies Board publishing statistics.

I see that they call for a report on a three-monthly basis.

Can we let the Minister speak on the group briefly?

This is essentially the issue to which I have just referred in respect of the receivership amendment, if we can call it that, to transfer to receivers the obligations on landlords in respect of tenants' rights and so on. I am comfortable with the principle of it and we want to try to achieve it. That is very clear in the rental strategy, if Senators read it. Once we started to delve into how to do it in law it became a lot more complex than we had thought in terms of the law on receivership and company law and all the rest, as well as the legalities surrounding the relationship between landlords and tenants and the legalities, rights and responsibilities of both. We need to consider how we take legislation and the appropriate amendments and use legislation at some point in the future to deal with or try to deal with it through regulation. We are committed to doing this, but we cannot accept the amendment that has been tabled, even though I am comfortable with its spirit. I do not think it is sound, which is why we cannot accept it.

The Minister has made his position clear and the legalities are also clear. I do not see why there cannot be a voluntary code whereby Bank of Ireland, AIB, Ulster Bank and any other bank that was trading during the madness of the property bubble cannot set up a separate asset company to look after the properties. I am sure there are landlords of buy-to-lets who would be very happy to walk up to the bank, hand in the keys and say they had made a gross error. If we were truly honest in this country, we might do something like they do in the United States where people hand back the keys and walk away from the debt. The bank has the asset and the right to use it under its own letting agency. Let the banks set up a housing agency. The people bailed them out and now they want to cash in on the properties they repossess and some of them use less than nice tactics. We have heard of people around the country whose social welfare records have been interfered with by banks, etc.

I do not want to labour the point, but it might work if the Minister just asked them if there was any chance they would consider setting up a letting agency under the auspices of the bank. It could become an asset of the bank and appear on its balance sheet, or not. It could decide how it wanted to do it. I think it would make a lot of sense and stop people from being forced out of houses. Most receivers are very genuine who are trying to do a day's work, but there are some blaggards who put a lot of pressure on people to get out, even though they do not have to. I understand what the Minister is talking about, the complexities and the legalities, etc., but we might be able to have a voluntary code in the meantime, something to ease the pressure. Every time a family are moved out, the Minister has nowhere to put them.

I am delighted that the Minister has provided money for the buying of homes. I just hope the banks do not see it as a bonanza, €70 million of the Minister's money to buy now at inflated prices.

We have had conversations with banks on this issue. I have spoken to them, as have officials from the Department, as does the Housing Agency on a continuing basis. There are also other approved housing bodies that are looking to do deals with banks on baskets of properties that the approved housing bodies would buy at a knock-down price. Banks have made it clear to me and others that, while they want to co-operate, they are not in the business of letting properties but in the business of banking. It is important to ensure they focus on their core business. There are approved housing bodies and other agencies of the State that can do the kind of job the Senator suggests. That form of co-operation and transfer would be very welcome and some of it is already happening.

The amendment in group 8 is the receivership amendment.

This is just a technical amendment which speaks for itself. It is a non-issue. Government amendment No. 73 provides for a minor redrafting and a movement in the Bill to a more appropriate place of an Opposition amendment that was inserted on Report Stage in the Seanad. The amendment provides for the publication of statistics by the board. We are making sure that will be done.

On a point of order, there seems to be some confusion about the groups because the grouping list we received indicates that group 7 is about the publication of statistics.

It may have been addressed in the wrong sequence, but everything is included.

We need to be clear when we are debating them because we have been asked to speak to the different groups.

No decision has been made.

I know, but we want to come in at the right time.

Of course, the Senator need not worry. He will have an opportunity.

I am also a little confused on the groupings.

In respect of receivership, while it is not particular to this amendment, I will use the opportunity to mention the case before the High Court this morning, namely, that of Apollo House. I believe those involved in Apollo House would welcome a transition for some residents into more secure, safe accommodation, with an emphasis on the word "home". Up to 70 beds will become available in the next two days in Camden Hall and Ellis House. The only problem is that there is a Dublin City Council stipulation that they close between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. every day. The residents of Apollo House will not move to a place that will not be able to provide them with full-time accommodation in the coming months. How could we begin to consider that transition to ensure the residents to have secure, safe accommodation for 24 hours a day when the beds that are about to come on stream do not provide for this under the council stipulation? Could there be some negotiations to secure the residents places there?

Our amendment No. 8 to this section is about receivers appointed to mortgaged properties and their obligations. It states that, "Receivers appointed to mortgaged properties and lenders who have initiated repossession proceedings are regarded as the landlord in relation to existing tenancies...Where appointed, the receiver of the property shall be under the same tenancy obligations as landlords...[and that]...a receiver of the property shall be responsible for promptly refunding the tenancy deposit, subject to conditions [etc. in] the Residential Tenancies Act 2004". This was obvious from amendments made to the Finance Bill 2016 to close off certain tax loopholes that the issue in respect of mortgages being bought by various entities remained the so-called vulture funds, etc. Anybody who has been to the repossession hearings will see that they have acted deplorably. Some of the registrars have stood up for the tenants in these cases and it is very important that that happen. Some receivers collect rent and ensure tenants' rights, but, clearly, some do not.

The reinsertion of section 31 would ensure the responsibilities of landlords to their tenants would be transferred to anybody that took over. I appreciate that the Minister has spoken previously about the issue, but we call for the reinsertion of the section because of its importance, as outlined by other Senators.

It is totally and utterly unacceptable to us that somebody in a rented property could, through no fault of his or her own, be left in a position where the financial institution that has bought up the mortgage, bad debt or whatever else could try to force him or her onto the streets, even though he or she has been paying rent. This is the time to act. This is the Bill in which such a measure needs to be inserted and where we need to stand up for tenants' rights in such a scenario.

I concur with the sentiments expressed by Senator Lynn Ruane on Apollo House and other situations where people are trying desperately to intervene where there is a lack of accommodation available for homeless persons and a perceived lack of activity in that regard.

I commend the points made by my colleague on Apollo House. It is a very clear signal in terms of the balance people believe needs to be struck, which has not been the case up to now. There is also concern about some of the values people are trying to promote, for example, 24-hour access in centres for the homeless and ensuring the privacy and dignity of persons. I accept that they are priorities, but we must ensure such support is provided. I urge the Minister to engage and look at how constructive alternatives can be found. It points again to the wider question of needing to look beyond the maximisation of profit in the commercial world. The Minister used the term "home" with reference to landlords, but it must be used in the case of every person, given the importance of a tenant's right to a home.

The plan is that Apollo House will be demolished and developed commercially. There is a wider issue in that we have tax incentives for commercial property and a vastly inflated commercial property market in Ireland. The prices are extraordinarily high within a European context. It is also creating pressure in terms of residential development. The fact that it is a more lucrative option is something to which we can also point to the debate on homelessness. Again, it comes back to receivers, whose mandate will always be to maximise profit. Vacant possession is always the fastest route to that end.

I am aware that the Minister is in discussions with the Department of Justice and Equality, but I would be pleased if he could give us an indication of a timeline for where he sees the negotiations going, when a resolution will be reached and when we will ensure tenants' rights are appropriately protected. I refer to their right to a home and the various other things a landlord should provide that are also being delivered on and to when we will be in a position to put in place a disincentive in the drive towards vacant possession. There are two issues. First, there is the disincentivisation of the vacant possession dynamic for receivers. As some practical proposals have been discussed by the Minister and Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, I will not ask the Minister to reiterate them, but we could go further. Second, there is the Minister's estimated timeline for the Department of Justice and Equality's discussions on receivership and whether he plans to bring legislation before this House to address that question.

Receiverships in the context of people, in many cases, young families who are living in rented accommodation, many of them under the HAP scheme, come up too often when constituents come to our offices. One of the issues that could be considered is putting a protocol in place for how receivers should engage with tenants. Many receivers are very good in how they engage with tenants, but a protocol would help.

I welcome the units being provided for homeless persons, but, unfortunately, no matter what we do, we will always have some people who sleep rough. I would like to see specific funding being put aside for 24-hour night cafés. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul runs such a service during the day in Limerick city, but I am seeking funding to extend the opening hours throughout the night. It would be a help if people could come in out of the bitter cold to get a cup of tea or coffee during the night. It is a small thing, but it could be important in dealing with homelessness.

There has been much public comment lately on homelessness, which is quite right, as we need to keep it to the fore in our priorities as policymakers. However, some of the comment is misleading in the sense that the impression is given that the Government is doing little or nothing. I ask the Minister to clarify exactly what funding the Government is putting into homeless services. My understanding is that in excess of €70 million has been committed across a wide range of services. We should all acknowledge that homelessness is a very complex issue. This is not just about putting a roof over somebody's head. It is also about dealing with very complex issues such as addiction and mental health problems and trying to deliver a sustainable service. I acknowledge the homeless services and charities for the work they do. They recognise that the issue is complex and that it will not be dealt with easily. Given the public comment we hear locally, I urge the Minister to clarify what is being invested in homeless services because it is important in the debate on receivership.

We are in the middle of a crisis. In my 20 years in local government I have never seen homeless clinics before, but in the past year I have seen them packed every Wednesday. No extra funding is being put into that area, although I know that the Minister is working with local authorities to try to sort out the issue. People have come to me who are sleeping in their cars as a result of being homeless. We must put aside extra money to deal with the emergency. If someone rings a local authority looking for emergency accommodation, in the case of the local authority in my area, for example, there is none. We do not have hostels and there is not even funding for soup kitchens.

We are dealing with receiverships.

The Minister must find a way to address such issues.

I am sorry about the confusion in terms of the order in which the amendments are being discussed. I think the order I have is slightly different from the one specified by the House. I am not sure who is right, but that does not matter as we are dealing with the issues. The points I made about our approach to receivership still stand and provide an answer to some of the questions asked.

I wish to speak about Apollo House which I accept is a slight diversion, but I hope you will allow me, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, to devote two minutes to the issue.

The Minister should be brief.

The only outcome I want is to ensure for people who are homeless, who slept in Apollo House last night and the previous night that we will be able to manage an orderly transition for them into a solution to their immediate challenges in terms of what they face. Many people who are homeless have chaotic lives in terms of the challenges presented by mental health issues, family breakdown, addiction and many other issues. They usually face a combination of them at the same time. On top of this, they suffer from anxiety, worry and stress and sometimes face physical demands in trying to live night by night not knowing where they will be tomorrow. My understanding is there were more than 30 people in Apollo House last night. What we want to do is work with the people who have raised the profile of homelessness in the national debate this week and ensure the people who need help the most and who are currently resident there can make the transition to suitable accommodation, with professionals looking after them who know a lot more about homelessness than I will ever know. I refer to the Peter McVerry Trust, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Simon Communities and Focus Ireland. We must ensure the transition will not add to the already stressful and uncertain circumstances many of the people in question face. I ask the people in Apollo House to work with us to achieve that end.

Many good people are involved in the campaign who want to see the right outcome and continue a campaign to put me under pressure to deliver more quickly, which is fine, too. That is politics. It is my job to lead the political response needed to solve the problem of homelessness and I will do so. We have started that process. Even those most critical of Government policy on homelessness would accept that we now have the most comprehensive homelessness strategy that we have ever had. It is all about implementing it and getting results. That is why in the past six weeks we have used emergency powers to put leases in place for three new hostels in Dublin. We have had construction teams kitting out these facilities 24 hours a day in some cases. I have sanctioned more than €5 million for these three projects. If we need another hostel, we will provide one, but we will do so in a way that ensures the safety of homeless persons who will be accommodated there, learning lessons from other hostels that have not worked as well as they might have because of the need for better design and so on.

One of the three new hostels is on Little Britain Street and run by Depaul Ireland. There are 45 beds out of 75 open. In the hostel on Ellis Quay which is run by the Peter McVerry Trust 70 beds are open and a few more will probably be added. Carman's Hall on Francis Street was a more controversial project. Local residents sought an injunction to prevent us from opening the facility last week. We had to go to court to open it, but it will be open by Friday. It will be run by Simon Communities and 25 of 51 beds will be in place initially in the not too distant future. We are talking about days, rather than weeks. Another 20 beds will be provided on Wolfe Tone Quay by Civil Defence if there is a need for an overflow or extra spaces. When all of these facilities are fully up and running, we will be talking about adding about 240 beds to the system. When I was asked to provide more beds in advance of the winter by the NGOs working in the sector, I was asked to provide an extra 120 or 125 beds in the system. We will add 240 beds to it. It is just as well we will because we will need the vast majority of them. However, last night 50 beds in shelters were unoccupied and there were more than 30 people in Apollo House. I am sure there were also some on the streets last night. We, therefore, need these extra beds. I will not get into judgments on the people in Apollo House and the campaign. I am interested in resolving this issue before Christmas, if we can, and helping people who need the State's help to make the transition into hostel facilities in which they can trust and believe when it comes to their own security and, more importantly, getting them onto a programme that can help them to transition in time from temporary emergency accommodation to a home of their own, specifically a social housing solution. For the record, a record number of people have made that transition this year. More than 2,700 families and individuals will have moved from homelessness into permanent accommodation. We need to do more next year and we will as we have the resources to do it.

On resources, this year the allocation from my Department for homelessness services was €70 million. Next year it will be €100 million. A lot more money on top of that, about €36 million next year, will come from the Department of Health and multiples of it will be spent on social housing, including acquisitions. I think I mentioned that we had spent €203 million this year acquiring more than 1,000 properties through the local authorities across the country, again to tryi to get social housing numbers up. There is a really strong commitment to get on top of this problem, not because of the politics of it or anything else but because if a state cannot house people who are so vulnerable that they have literally nowhere to go, we must ask ourselves some serious questions. It is my responsibility to make sure we answer those questions, but this cannot be done overnight. We are ramping up services quickly. I have spoken to the relevant NGOs. Yesterday I met the CEOs of the four key NGOs and think all of them would accept that by the end of this week, we should have enough beds in the system to deal with everybody who wants a bed. We need to start working with people who are refusing beds who are on the streets to try to get them into a shelter.

We move to group 9 which concerns the local government fund, It includes amendments Nos. 76 and 77.

Give me one second.

The Minister can take his time.

Sometimes I get a little carried away when I talk about homelessness because I feel strongly about it. I do not think there is anything controversial about thee amendments. As this is just about transferring money, unless the Seanad wants more detail on what we propose, I propose to move on.

That concludes the discussion of the Dáil amendments. We now move to Seanad Report Stage amendments. Senators Victor Boyhan and Gerard P. Craughwell are not here to move amendment No. 1.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

Amendment No. 2 is in the name of Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Rose Conway-Walsh, Máire Devine, Paul Gavan, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Niall Ó Donnghaile and Fintan Warfield.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 39, to delete line 33 and substitute the following:

“R x (1 + c x t/m), where c is the percentage change in the consumer price index since the last setting of the rent,”.

The amendment has already been discussed with the amendments in group 1.

In fairness to the Leas-Chathaoirleach-----

I have called the Senator because he might want to comment further on the amendment.

It will have to be seconded.

I think one of my colleagues is on the way to second it.

There was much confusion in the Dáil about the calculations, the percentages, changes, etc., but it has been pointed out by my colleagues, Deputies Eoin Ó Broin and Pearse Doherty, that there was an error in the original formula for calculating the allowable rent increases. I wish to be associated with the words of thanks and appreciation of my two colleagues for the officials who under considerable time pressures prepared an amendment overnight which sought to close the loopholes. We still hold to the idea that the consumer price index and proportionate changes are the best way to measure real changes in the cost of rent. At the risk of repeating myself, there are very good reasons for using the consumer price index and, to date, they have not been effectively challenged by the Government. Last Thursday Deputy Eoin Ó Broin specifically asked the Minister on occasions both in the Dáil and the media to provide the evidence on which he based his claim that CPI-linked rent certainty would lead to either a reduction of existing stock or act as a disincentive to landlords entering the market. If the current yields are 6% to 7% for new investment in the private rental sector, I do not see what the evidence could be. We ask the Minister for this information. As I do not think it has been provided to date, perhaps he might clarify it for me.

I second the amendment.

Does Senator Alice-Mary Higgins wish to say a brief few words?

No, I will wait. I can contribute later because there is a similar amendment to be discussed.

I am calling Senators before I call the Minister to respond.

I will speak very briefly and my comments will do for the next amendment too.

Proposals have been put forward in this and the other House concerning the model of rent certainty involving the consumer price index. I have also put forward amendments in that regard. I do not think this discussion is going to go away. The fact that the issue is dealt with on the list of amendments at this late stage is another signal that it is of concern. We are considering new models and the Minister has put forward one regarding rental pressure zones which are due to be reviewed in June 2017. However, there is still a question mark. I do not believe there is necessarily a benefit to voting on the issue today. The key measure concerning the consumer price index will need further debate. We are looking to the introduction of the new rental pressure measures and the 4% constraints, about which the Minister has spoken. As I have said before, I do not believe rent predictability gives us quite enough rental security. I hope the Minister can address the issue.

Perhaps we might have a period of time in which we are not operating under this constant threat, where we cannot speak about the consumer price index proposition because it is complicated or we must put it aside because we are afraid of scaring the horses. This emergency measure is being introduced by the Minister and we need to have a debate about what will happen in the long term. In the long term is this pressure zone approach or a consumer price index approach the best? Perhaps we might have an opportunity to have further debate on this model.

We have had short or truncated debate at every stage. First it was because the rental strategy was coming in and then it was because nobody wanted to create difficulty for the Bill. The debate has been truncated at every point. This issue needs more discussion and a formulation is being put forward by Sinn Féin. The Labour Party has also put forward a formulation and groups such as Threshold have also suggested formulations. There have been many versions of what a rent certainty model might look like and the Minister has his model. Coming up to June 2017, when we review the pressure zone model that has been put forward, we should look at the possibility of using the consumer price index. I hope the review in June 2017 will not just be about the question of whether the conditions attached to this process are appropriate, as we may need to examine if the 4% figure is appropriate. We may need to consider how we should be deriving a figure. Perhaps the consumer price index and one of the formulations put into circulation might be from where the figure could be drawn. This discussion will need to continue. I hope the Minister will recognise that we have not had as full a discussion as we could have had on the consumer price index proposal and that it may need to be part of the discussion after a six-month review of the proposal he is putting forward.

People have heard me speak a lot in the past week or so about the 4% figure. There is no perfect figure and different countries do different things. All of the examples of where there has been intervention in the private rental market that I have seen involve the factoring in of rent inflation. In Berlin in Germany they have looked at limiting rent increases to 20% in the next three years; in New York the figure is 7.5%. Scandinavian models have a figure between 4% and 6%. We looked at what many other countries and cities were doing. If we are determined to try to solve a supply problem, as well as trying to give some certainty to tenants, we must try to do both. There must be an incentive for landlords to stay in the market and invest in it within reason. I take the point that in some parts of Dublin landlords are making big returns. We must introduce a measure that will apply everywhere.

People have spoken about the consumer price index as if it were a perfect model, but we do not even know what it will be next year. We do not know what it will be in two or three years. We are designating rent pressure zones, but the consumer price index could be at a figure of 3%, 4% or 5% in two or three years. We do not know. We are talking about rent certainty. This year the consumer price index rate is in the negative; therefore, if that intervention was to be applied, we would reduce rents. What incentive would that bring to increase supply? There are arguments in favour of using the consumer price index, which we considered. When the rate increases, it is generally on the back of an economy growing and so on.

We also considered if we should link the rate with medium-term economic growth, which would have been approximately 3.25% or 3.5%. We looked at a figure at the rate of the consumer price index, plus 2%, on the basis of the target inflation rate for the European Central Bank, which is 2%. Again, that brings us to a figure of approximately 4%. We looked at what was seen as a medium rate of return, but people have tried to twist my words in that respect. That was not the sole determining factor, although it was one of them. We looked at a medium-term annual return for a five-year investment for the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, which is 4%. There were many discussions on different models which resulted in a landing point of approximately 4%.

The advantage of the 4% figure in a temporary intervention in the market is that it provides certainty for the next three years. Using the consumer price index would not have given us this and although the predicted figure next year is 1.3%, it could be higher or lower. The prediction for the following year is approximately 3.7% or 3.8%, but we do not know that if it will be higher. I want to give tenants some certainty on what the ceiling will be. If we deliver on supply, I hope that in some parts of Dublin they will not get to that ceiling and that there will not be unjustified rent increases because tenants will have choices. We are a few years away from that happening, which is why in the interim we need some certainty.

The 4% figure is the result of much discussion and debate in trying to land on the right balance and ensuring we will continue to get supply into the market. We have received much criticism from some landlords on the 4% figure, but others say they can live with it. Another approach would not have provided the same level of certainty.

This is disappointing and the Minister's comments outline the reality in the difference in ideology between my party and the Government. Many people who may be listening to the debate have seen their rent increase by hundreds of euro in the past couple of years or have been driven out of tenancies to lesser or smaller properties because they could not pay the proposed rents. They would probably welcome a small decrease by the amount of the consumer price index in their rent. I know that many people in Galway would certainly welcome it.

The knock-on effect of this process is the creation of a landlord class once more. Many of the case studies before us and about which we are hearing in the media, in particular, involve people who not only find it difficult to get into rental accommodation but who, when they get there, find that the amount of money they must pay means that, if they had any pretence about buying a house, it would become virtually impossible to do so. They cannot save money because rents are so high. The rental strategy works much more in favour of landlords, although the Minister will disagree. It is certainly biased in that regard. The model we propose would have been much fairer to tenants and it is very disappointing that the Minister has not taken it on board at this stage. There is much opposition from people who own property, etc., and the Minister indicated that even at Cabinet level, he had a job selling the 4% figure. It is quite clear where the Government is coming from.

Senator Kevin Humphreys made a very valid point about people working in the private sector and the fact that their wages would not increase by 4% in each of the next three years. Their disposable income will decrease, as there will be a de facto increase of more than 12% when we use compound interest for those who are already renting. Rather than help the process, this will exacerbate it. We are working much more towards having a landlord class and a corporate landlord scenario where big companies will own much property, with people being forced into renting at very high prices. Young couples who are trying to buy their own house will find it even more difficult to do so. For that reason, we will push the amendment to a vote.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Niall Ó Donnghaile; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared lost.

We will move on to amendment No. 3 in the names of Senators Kevin Humphreys and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin which arises from amendments made in the Dáil. It has already been discussed with the amendments in group 1.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 39, to delete lines 33 to 37, and in page 40, to delete lines 1 to 11 and substitute the following:

“R x (1 + c)

where—

(a) R is the amount of rent last set under a tenancy for the dwelling,

and

(b) c is the change between—

(i) the All Items Consumer Price Index Number last published by the Central Statistics Office before the date the rent will come into effect after its determination under this subsection, and

(ii) the number so published in respect of the month that was 12 months before publication of the number referred to in subparagraph (i),

expressed, in decimal form as a fraction of 1, as a percentage of the first-mentioned number.”.

I acknowledge the Minister's response to the earlier contributions. I welcome the efforts he is making with regard to Airbnb which will make a difference in dealing with the problem of supply. Furthermore, I will do anything I can to assist him with reference to the fair deal scheme and the number of vacant units in the Dublin rental pressure zone. The number of vacant units across the city is extremely noticeable when one is calling door to door. When we ask the neighbours about these empty units, they will often tell us that the occupant has gone into a nursing home and that the house has been empty for a number of years. We must adjust the fair deal scheme in order that it will not incentivise people to leave their homes empty. I accept the Minister's good intentions in bringing the HSE on stream in that regard. We are all trying to make adjustments in order to increase supply as quickly as possible. Certainly in the Dublin area, if we were to deal with Airbnb and the fair deal scheme, we could be looking at bringing between 1,000 and 2,000 units back into use, which would have a significant impact. I welcome the Minister's good intentions in that regard.

The issue of the consumer price index, CPI, has been well debated in the context of the previous amendment. We disagree on the issue. Rent increases should be tied to the CPI, but I am not going to repeat the arguments that have just been made. However, I will be pressing the amendment.

I second the amendment.

I support my colleagues on the tying of rent increases to the CPI. I understand the advice the Minister has been given, but it is regrettable that he was given that advice. It is also regrettable that we are moving in the direction chosen by the Minister because we will see increases in rent over time that are greater than any possible increase in salaries.

On the issue of improving supply, I had not realised until I researched the matter that the housing market had a perverse demand curve in that when prices increased, the number of properties completed also increased. That is worrying because as the Minister tries to stimulate the market, which is admirable, we may see a spike in prices. As we have already seen that happen in south Dublin, I am somewhat concerned about the issue.

I support my colleagues from the Labour Party on the issue of the CPI.

I have addressed the process by which we came to the 4% figure. I would not like people to underestimate what we are doing in intervening in the market for the first time. This is a radical change to Government policy to intervene in the private rental sector. Initially, this intervention will affect approximately 150,000 tenants, 132,0000 of whom are in Dublin and 18,000 of whom are in Cork city. Soon many more tenants will benefit when other pressure zones come into the system.

The core issue for us, in terms of medium-term solutions in Dublin, is supply. If we go below the 4% figure, we will undermine the appetite which is clearly there because we have seen an increase of 300% in the number of planning applications for apartments in Dublin in the past few months. Clearly, what we are doing is working in the signals we are giving to the market. We need to build on this, while at the same time protecting tenants from excessive rent increases. Members should remember that in the case of Tyrrelstown, what was being proposed was a 28% increase in rent. We are talking about limiting such increases to a maximum of 4%. The tenants to whom I have spoken are very happy with this change because they feel they can plan for and adjust to it, as opposed to facing the uncertainty of very significant rent increases.

I appeal to Members to acknowledge that the balance we have struck in the 4% figure is the right one. We need to implement it and then assess its effectiveness.

I thank the Minister. He is right that we are faced with a series of choices, but we believe that connecting rent increases to the CPI is the correct choice. The suggestion landlords will desert the market is not plausible. I spent the earlier part of the autumn driving younger members of my family around Dublin to view houses. When they got to the end of the process, the person with whom they were competing was an investor, a landlord. They travelled all over the Swords area and every time they got to the last stage of the bidding process, they were always competing against a landlord who was driving up the price of the unit.

In many ways, they were driving up the price of the units, especially in the Swords area, because they were looking at a return of between 5% and 7%. Landlords say the purchase price of property for cash buyers is well exceeding a return of 7% on their investment. I only have direct experience in the Dublin area. I have been talking to landlords, one of whom told me that he was looking in Ballyfermot, Crumlin and Kimmage because he would generate a good return, but he is competing with first-time buyers and the local authorities for these properties. The choice was made by the previous Government to allow local authorities to open their cheque books and purchase units and I still believe that was the correct choice. However, it is an intervention in the market, which has a knock-on effect.

The Labour Party believes the formula is fair to tenants and landlords and that it will not spook people from entering the market. The opposite is happening in the rental pressure zones. Landlords are entering the market aggressively and pricing out people on modest incomes who want to get on the housing ladder. I accept the Minister's good intentions. He is trying to do his best in difficult circumstances. Our proposal fine tunes his and I urge him to accept it.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gerald Nash and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 4 has already been discussed with the amendments in group 1.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 40, to delete lines 25 to 30 and substitute the following:

“(6) Where immediately before the relevant date a notice under section 22(2)—

(a) has been served on the tenant, or

(b) the rent review concerned has commenced,

then subsections (3) and (4) shall still apply to the new rent referred to in section 22(2), if such said notice or review has not expired before the relevant date.”.

I am aware that the Minister is passionate about the homelessness problem and has made a commitment to dealing with it. I am not sure, however, many people are aware that he is because of the issue at Apollo House. Hundreds of people were outside the Four Courts this morning because of the occupation of Apollo House. Those in Apollo House have asked me to invite the Minister personally to go there and have a meeting with them, as well as to see the work they are doing. I hope he will take up the invitation and consider calling in to see them because they would appreciate it, with the people of the country. They would then have an understanding of how he does care, which is important.

I understand the legal dilemma facing the Minister with the amendment. However, I want to state why I felt it was important. The amendment intends to close a loophole in the legislation that could see many tenants face massive hikes in their rent. In one case of which I know, a tenant has received by express post a notice from his landlord stating his rent will rise from €1,300 to €2,000 per month after the necessary period of 90 days, a 56% rise. The Bill, as it stands, will allow this to happen. It states the proposed rent caps of 4% per year do not apply where a landlord has served a valid notice or where a rent review has commenced. We fear many landlords will take the opportunity to raise rents provided by the gap in time from when the proposals were announced to when they actually become operative. I am aware that only landlords who had not raised rents in the past two years and served a valid notice, etc., could try to do this. Some landlords may have been prevented from raising the rent owing to the legislation passed by the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Alan Kelly. The notice they must give must contain a statement that the proposed rise is not greater than the market rent for the area and contain details of this.

The problem is that it is entirely possible that the market rent would allow for 50% increases in some areas, especially if the rent has not changed in the past two years. This is not because it is not fair or just but because the market is completely insane. The context is that there have been average rises of 10% to 15% nationwide, with the rises being considerably higher in some areas. In parts of Dublin rents have risen by almost 60% since 2011. Unless the Bill is altered to protect such tenants, they face unsustainable rent hikes as landlords take advantage of the opportunity in the time gap between the legislation becoming law and serving notice of a rent change.

The amendment would replace subsection (6) of the relevant section to state simply that rent caps of 4% in rent pressure zones would apply to all tenants, even where a valid notice from a landlord had been served, unless the notice had expired, that is, unless it was served 90 days before the legislation became law. This would prevent attempts by landlords to load large hikes in rent before the door closes on them when the Bill becomes law. It does not refute this is happening but suggests it is okay as 90 days notice is needed and that it can only happen if the landlord has not previously raised rents in the past two years. This ignores the madness of the rental market. Market rent is well beyond the ability of many.

I understand the legal aspect to the Minister not taking on board the amendment. However, will he consider undertaking an awareness campaign for tenants who do not understand this provision to ensure they will know what is going on?

Perhaps the Minister might consider putting resources in place for Threshold and similar organisations. That is important and would highlight the reality. I hope the Minister will consider it. This is an important amendment.

I second the amendment. It is looking to highlight a certain point. The Minister clarified that many of those who might be seeking to use this loophole were not entitled to use it. My colleague addressed this point. I am aware of the danger of opening a larger loophole if we leave it for a long period. I am cognisant of this and have listened to the Minister in that regard, but we have a concern. Many landlords are sending letters to notify people of rent increases. Many of the landlords who are sending letters are not legally entitled to do so and the Minister has stated as much correctly. They cannot send a letter requesting an increase in rent if there has been a review at any point in the past two years. There is a lack of awareness of that point. There is a concern that tenants who are receiving the letters will be rightly frightened and concerned. They may believe they are under an obligation to accept what is an undue request from their landlord, an out of time or out of sequence rent review increase.

Many of us received a letter from the Irish Property Owners Association. I am cognisant that the group does not represent all landlords. I have spoken to many landlords who are shocked by the proposals and what almost amounts to threats put forward by the Irish Property Owners Association. I have seen a list of 12 measures that the association proposes to put in place, all of which are inappropriate and many of which are illegal. They include measures such as asking people for special payments for keys, seeking extra costs and finding ways in which to hike prices. This is something we will have to take up with the Department of Justice and Equality at a later point. The association has threatened barring orders for anti-social behaviour and linked this with an economic measure. That is extraordinary and obviously wrong. The association threatened to use this set of measures.

I recognise that the Irish Property Owners Association represents only 2.6% of landlords. This measure and the response of the association indicates how it is not a credible agent. We need to look with absolute concern at the proposals put forward by it. There is a need for a public awareness campaign. If the association is sending this to Members of the Oireachtas, what is it telling vulnerable tenants? What pressure is the association putting on to play on tenants? How might it be giving false information in advance of the Bill or as it is brought forward? How might it be using it as an opportunity to introduce unjustified hikes, out of time rent reviews and rent increases and arbitrary charges?

A communication issue arises. I echo what my colleague said. It would go a long way towards addressing the concern behind the amendment in a more meaningful way if the Minister were to commit to undertaking an awareness campaign to ensure all tenants knew what their landlords could not do on the back of the Bill. They should be made aware of the fact that if a tenant has had a rent increase during the past 24 months, he or she cannot face another rent increase in December. That is not acceptable. The arbitrary charges landlords are proposing are not, in fact, acceptable. We know the law, but we must look at the situation in terms of the experiences of people who are powerless and in fear of being thrown to the wider rental market. It is a difficult rental market during winter. We need to be clear that tenants should be strongly supported in knowing their rights and that landlords should be properly sanctioned if they are employing any of these measures.

I acknowledge the Department funds Threshold. However, there may be a need for specific resources within the Residential Tenancies Board and potentially within Threshold to target the one-month period when the legislation is coming through. This would ensure all tenants would know that they could ring a body to check if the letter, threat or measure from the landlord was legal. I know that the Residential Tenancies Board is stretched and that the Minister has given the board further resources. I know that Threshold is stretched and that the Minister has given that body further resources also. However, I am referring to specific resources to ensure no landlord will be able to exploit this moment to give false information or seek out of time rent increases.

I understand the legal concern expressed by the Minister. I am concerned about opening up a larger loophole in terms of a longer delay. That is a concern. If the Minister were to do something to ensure landlords who are not qualified to use the loophole referred to by my colleague did not use the loophole or were not allowed use it, it would go a long way towards satisfying our concerns.

As I mentioned, I cannot accept the amendment, although I understand the thinking behind it. Even if a rent review is due, landlords cannot simply pick a number and demand it of their tenant. The law under the Residential Tenancies Act prohibits a landlord from setting a rent that is in excess of the market rent. They have to obtain reference rents for similar properties in the area. Unfortunately, many tenants do not know this and accept what they are given because they are afraid they are going to be thrown out otherwise. A communication job needs to be done by the Residential Tenancies Board. That is very much a part of the rental strategy. In the broader housing strategy we have agreed to increase resources for Threshold. This will start on 1 January and ensure landlords will know what their legal responsibilities are and that tenants know their rights.

Effectively, Ireland is one of the few countries in the world that has a private rental market regulator. That is the function of the RTB, but not everyone is complimentary of it. We are making changes in that organisation too in making decisions faster, provision to go to the District Court to enforce rulings and so on. I take the point about the need for a proactive communications campaign to ensure people will know what their rights are and the protections provided. Certainly, we intend to follow through in that regard. There has been considerable publicity about this issue because of the politics of the past week. There will be further discussion of the issue as we move into January and new areas receive consideration as rent pressure zones and so on. It will raise the profile. There will be an opportunity on the back of this for both Threshold and the RTB to get the message out that if tenants are concerned, they should contact the RTB. There will be an online portal that will contain a great deal of information, far more than what is currently available for landlords and tenants on legal obligations and protections.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 5 has already been discussed with the amendments in group 1.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 43, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

“(f) Cork County Council;

(g) Limerick City and County Council;

(h) Waterford City and County Council;

(i) Galway City Council;

(j) any Local Electoral Areas or District Electoral Divisions where rent price inflation has been 5 per cent or above on the preceding 12 months as determined by the Residential Tenancies Board National Rent Index;”.

We have discussed the amendment in general terms. Confining rental pressure zones to Dublin and Cork is a mistake. We have serious issues. The amendment tries to have them taken on board for Cork County Council, Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council, Galway City Council and any local electoral area or district electoral division where the rate of rent price inflation has been 5% or above on the figure for the preceding 12 months, as determined by the Residential Tenancies Board national rent index.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell referred to Limerick. There are extraordinary pressures in all of these areas. I appreciate that the Minister has said he will address them early next year, but I do not see why the immediacy of the problem in these areas cannot be addressed today, seeing that we are doing it for Cork and Dublin. We have seen the figures for the numbers of families appearing before registrars owing to mortgage difficulties and so on and know about the lack of rental properties.

The recent Daft.ie survey showed that there were very few properties available for rent in Galway and even fewer available under the HAP or rent supplement schemes. There is a massive and chronic problem in Galway and other places, which is why we have tabled the amendment.

I second the amendment.

As I have already answered the points made on the amendment, I will not delay proceedings.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 9; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Niall Ó Donnghaile; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 44, line 40, to delete “10 or more” and substitute “1 or more”.

We discussed this amendment with the others in the group. We differ from the Minister in his reading of the situation and are looking for the substitution of "10 or more" with "1 or more".

I second the amendment.

We tabled the same amendment as Sinn Féin, asking for the substitution of "10 or more" with "1 or more". As the Minister gave his response earlier, I will leave it there.

I have already addressed the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 44, line 40, to delete “10 or more” and substitute “5 or more”.

This amendment is similar to the previous one. It would give more certainty to those affected by the Tyrrelstown amendment.

I second the amendment.

It is the same issue and I have addressed it.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 9; Níl, 24.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Niall Ó Donnghaile; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 8 arises from amendments made by the Dáil and has been discussed with the amendments in group 8.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 45, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

“Receivers appointed to mortgaged properties and their obligations

41. (1) Receivers appointed to mortgaged properties and lenders who have initiated repossession proceedings are regarded as the landlord in relation to existing tenancies.

(2) Where appointed, the receiver of the property shall be under the same tenancy obligations as landlords as specified in Part 2 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and associated regulations.

(3) Where appointed, a receiver of the property shall be responsible for promptly refunding the tenancy deposit, subject to conditions in section 12(4) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004.”.

For the reasons outlined during the discussion on the group, we will be pressing this amendment because it is important that the rights of tenants be upheld when properties go into receivership. It is vital that they be given this certainty at a time when the likes of vulture funds are buying up mortgages.

I second the amendment.

Does the Minister wish to respond or has the amendment been addressed?

I dealt with it in some detail.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 23.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Niall Ó Donnghaile; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 9.

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony; Níl, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Niall Ó Donnghaile.
Question declared carried.
Question, "That the Bill do now pass," put and declared carried.