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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Jun 2018

Vol. 258 No. 12

Short-term Lettings Bill 2018: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English, to the House. We have spoken about this Bill several times but I want to go back over some of the history. I brought this Bill forward in early 2017. I did not push it in the hope that we would see the report commissioned by the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, who was succeeded by Deputy Eoghan Murphy, which was due in late 2017. We have still not seen that report and we are now seven months behind. There have been several leaks but nothing substantial. I had concerns because it was being chaired by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which has skin in the game. If we introduce legislation and regulation in respect of short-term lets, and I want to be honest with the House about this, it will lead to a reduction in holiday bedrooms in many of our urban areas.

I have always realised that this is not zero sum as it will effect on another part of the economy. The tourism industry will be affected. More and more, however, we see that working people cannot get accommodation in our urban areas, and not just in urban areas. I have received complaints from Leitrim, Galway, Kerry and elsewhere where people are competing against short-term lets. I use the phrase "short-term lets" because many people use the language of Airbnb. That is not, however, the only platform with short-term lets. There are 16 different platforms operating and it is a wild west show. That is why we need legislation and regulation.

On my street alone, in the heart of Dublin, there are nine short-term lets. Up to two years ago, they were all being let to families working in the economy. They have now been displaced. We were in the headquarters of Airbnb two weeks ago with the now mayor of Galway, Mr. Niall McNelis. He explained the impact that Airbnb is having in Galway. The specific example he used was of one family being evicted to allow the house to be substantially upgraded. When that was finished, the house was going to be a short-term let. We are looking at a working family losing its accommodation because of the unit being turned into a short-term let. That example can be repeated across Ireland.

One of the Minister of State's own officials gave me the figure of approximately 20,000 short-term lets operating across the country. That is a substantial figure when we are fighting to get working people back into homes. It is also a frightening figure because fewer flats and homes mean higher prices. The Government constantly tells us that if we get the supply right, prices will equalise. I am not saying this Bill will fix all the problems, but it will have a significant impact now. It will bring a significant number of units back into the market across Ireland, reduce rents and allow working people an opportunity to get into accommodation.

At a meeting this morning in Buswells Hotel, which many Senators attended, the students' unions pointed out the impact of short-term lets on student accommodation across the country. The rent-a-room scheme can no longer compete with short-term lets. These warning signals have been there for two years. One of my earliest speeches in this House highlighted the impact of short-term lets and we are still waiting for action. We have been promised reports but there has been little action. This is now big business but not necessarily good planning. We have seen communities hollowed out when residential units become a holiday village. Where there were families, we now have tourists. This has to change. I am not saying this is a perfect Bill because it was drafted prior to the committee.

Members of this House did a lot of work on short-term lets. The recommendation from the committee was 90 days. I will show flexibility in respect of amendments to the Bill. My preference is to have engagement with the Minister's Department and to speedily bring forward proposals that will alleviate this problem for so many of our citizens, our families and our workers. How am I doing on time?

The Senator has almost six minutes.

What am I proposing? Under section 2 of the Bill one would have to apply for planning permission to let a self-contained residential unit for periods of six weeks or less. To use a dwelling for short-term letting is to use it for commercial and not residential purposes. We are still operating under the old bed and breakfast legislation that allows people to use their units in this way if they contain four bedrooms or fewer. This is no longer viable in the economy we have. In the Bill I recommend obligations on the platforms such that they would have to record transactions and that planning enforcement officers could write to these platforms to seek information on whether specific residential units have been advertised on them. I know that some of the platforms are currently assisting Revenue but they have refused to assist planning enforcement officers in our local authorities. I see that as problematic. I have spoken to many planning enforcement officers and I have asked them what problems they have in respect of enforcement. At the moment there is some legislation on these apartments but it is not sufficient. Part of the problem is proof. Officers need to prove that units are being used as short-term lets but they have no access to those apartment blocks.

The legislation is pragmatic but it can be tweaked and there can be improvements. Will the Minister of State consider Government progressing this Bill during Government time so that we could get as many as 3,000 units back into the market? If we look at what has happened in Berlin, Barcelona, San Francisco and many other cities where regulation has been brought in, the market has returned to long-term lets very quickly. Berlin brought in approximately 6,000 units. If one looks at the statistics in the city centre area, when the city brought in legislation similar to that which I am proposing, 3,000 units came back into the long-term let market very quickly. If we got half of that across the country imagine the impact it would have for working families and on the possibility of them getting accommodation at a reasonable price. I will finish with that because I promised the Minister of State and his officials I would keep it brief. He really does have a good overview of what is in the Bill. We need to move quickly to legislate in order to try to get those units back into the long-term residential letting market and to alleviate the housing crisis that we all want dealt with as quickly as possible.

Who is seconding the Bill? It is Senator Bacik.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I am delighted to second this Bill on behalf of the Labour Party group. I commend my colleague, Senator Humphreys, for his long-standing work in this area and for bringing this issue to the attention of the Minister of State and the Government in order to try to do something practical about addressing this real problem that has arisen. We see the extent and the growth of short-term letting and the way in which it undermines the provision of long-term rental properties for families and individuals who need them. This Bill is hugely timely. We, as the Labour Party group, are putting it forward when there is immense public concern about growing homelessness, a growing housing crisis and a stagnation of supply. We see an effective drying-up of building in terms of public, social and affordable housing and, equally, a real diminution of supply in the private rental sector. I am proud to say the Labour Party has always stood for the provision of decent affordable public and social housing. Our Ministers in government who were in charge of housing during a very tough time - Deputy Alan Kelly and Deputy Jan O'Sullivan before him - pushed for more building and to kick-start building programmes.

We know that this will need a really big push and that the Government needs to do more. It is acknowledged by all sides that more needs to be done, for example, to ensure that local authorities have the resources they need to deliver higher levels of building or to ensure that there is more input from, and a greater role for, not-for-profits and housing associations in the housing sector. We see such organisations deliver so much of the social and affordable housing in other jurisdictions. I am thinking of my experience of living in London where housing associations provide a huge amount of housing for the in-between group that is currently so squeezed in Ireland. These are the people who do not have any chance of getting public housing on housing lists but who cannot afford the rising rents we are seeing, particularly in our capital city. It is this group that we need to make provision for and that is where we are seeing a real squeeze.

This is where the issue of short-term letting has become a real problem. As I have said, we see the supply of long-term rentals being greatly diminished, particularly in areas such as Dublin city, Galway and Cork. Like Senator Humphreys, I met recently with Councillor Niall McNelis, a Labour Party councillor in Galway, who is exercised about this. He is right to be because the growth of short-term rentals is a very serious issue in Galway city. I recently had occasion to look for a short-term rental in the Dublin area for my own family. I should say for a somewhat longer-term rental. It is short-term from our point of view - about six months. That is a longer term, however, when we look at what is actually available. In fact there was almost nothing in any way affordable available for a family to rent in the Dublin 8 because all the rentals that would previously have been available are now being rented out for much shorter terms. We are talking about nights or weeks - the sort of model Senator Humphreys is seeking to address.

As he said, this is not just about Airbnb, although I know this Bill is being colloquially referred to as the Airbnb Bill. Many of us are great supporters of Airbnb. I have used its very impressive service in other countries. It offers a really professional model. There are many other platforms also now engaged in short-term letting. It is not about seeking to undermine or criticise them. It is really about trying to ensure a balance and to ensure we have in place an appropriate model of effective regulation, such as we have seen in other jurisdictions and other cities. These include cities like Berlin, which has taken a very strong proactive role in regulating the supply of short-term lettings. In other countries and other jurisdictions we have seen that regulation of short-term letting is well established in order to ensure a balance is in place. We are still operating under a very outdated model of regulation. Effectively we have very little regulation.

Senator Humphreys's Bill, our Labour Party Bill, would give reasonable powers to local authorities to enforce rules and would ensure a much more balanced system of provision of both short-term and long-term letting in order to ensure that a better supply of housing is made available to people who need it and to ensure that we are, at last, doing something about the terrible housing crisis that really is, and should be, such a priority for Government and for all of us as legislators. We are trying to do our bit as Opposition legislators to push the Government on this. I believe the Government is not opposing this Bill on Second Stage. We are very glad about that, but we want to see it pursued and we want to see the Government taking it up and ensuring that it enters into force as legislation in due course. I commend Senator Humphreys and my Labour Party colleagues again for bringing this forward.

I too welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the House. I note the Minister of State has been spending quite a bit of time in Seanad Éireann in recent weeks, debating the various issues and challenges society currently faces. At the outset, I too want to recognise the purpose of the Bill, which is to try to address the concerns regarding short-term letting and the impact it is having on residential tenancies. I acknowledge the work of Senator Humphreys whom I recognise is well placed in terms of his experience of representing urban areas. He is based in Dublin city centre. I know he is very much on top of issues that are very current. The impact of short-term letting on sustaining residential tenancies is certainly an issue of concern. I too recognise that.

I know, as does the Minister of State and I think everyone in this House, that supply of housing stock is currently a major issue. There is a finite stock. I want to recognise the Rebuilding Ireland programme that is currently under way and the priority it is being given within Government. It is now beginning to show real progress in terms of delivery of units at various levels. I will leave it to the Minister of State to outline to the House the progress Rebuilding Ireland is making in terms of increasing the housing stock, increasing the availability of units for letting and making more units available to meet the demand.

This week we heard that 1,000 jobs will be created in Dublin by Amazon. That brings added pressure on accommodation and tenancies. Students announced that one of their main issues is the cost of student accommodation. These are real pressures in an economy that is recovering and growing. It is creating a demand that we really need to meet. We have to recognise that we must leverage the full potential of existing housing stock for long-term sustainable tenancies where at all possible. I acknowledge that the Government has established a working group to closely examine the issue of the rental market and tenancies, including short-term letting. I am conscious that this is a democracy and that citizens' property rights must be taken into account. We need to respect individuals' property rights and be careful that we do not impede their constitutional rights. That said, the focus of the Bill is correctly on the use and designation of properties. From a planning perspective it is the proper way to focus in on the use of property so it is being used in the best way possible to meet societal demands. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's response to this debate regarding how he sees the working group, where it is at and whether there are any recommendations on what we should do as a result of its recommendations.

Senator Bacik quite rightly mentioned the squeezed middle. We should recognise that the Government is putting in place substantial funding for social housing. We are beginning to see a lot of the vacant housing stock being returned to use. We are also beginning to see many of the local authorities getting back to building again. That is something they were not doing for many years. With the assistance of the housing agencies, the number of units is increasing substantially and that is to be welcomed. Having said that, however, I agree with Senator Bacik about the squeezed middle. People who do not qualify for social housing and who are struggling to qualify for mortgages or meet rising rents are falling between stools. I know that the Minister of State will take this into account and that the Government will look at the area of affordable, sustainable rental solutions. The latter need to be long-term and sustainable in order that people might remain in the tenancies. A great deal of legislation is being introduced, especially in the context of rent pressure zones, in order to try to address that particular issue. There is capacity for Government to assist that cohort.

I mentioned Amazon earlier and the 1,000 jobs that are to be created. That is only one example. In September, when students come back to college, there will be increased pressure to try to find suitable accommodation in Dublin and in other large urban centres. We face a huge challenge in terms of meeting existing accommodation needs in Dublin and in other cities and large towns in order to allow them to function normally. It is important that we think outside the box. It is important that we all continue to search for solutions. None of us has a monopoly on solutions and ideas. We all have a role to play in offering solutions. This Bill is one of those solutions. It recognises the demand and the growing trend whereby long-term tenancies are being eroded in favour of short-term lettings for tourism and financial gain.

The debate is welcome because it focuses our minds as policymakers and that of the Minister of State as a decision maker. It also focuses the minds of the officials in the Department. We always have to look around the corner. We always have to be out there searching for small interventions that can make a big difference. Senator Humphreys mentioned the thousands of units that could come back into use if changes were made to regulating short-term lettings.

I welcome the debate and the Bill. I know the Minister of State will elaborate further on the fact the Government is not opposing the Bill on Second Stage. That is a recognition that this is an issue. Senator Humphreys acknowledged that fact. I also welcome that the Senator is willing to work with the Minister and his officials on the wording of the Bill and on amendments that might be needed to make it more effective or efficient. That is the way parliaments should work and I welcome the manner in which the Senator has approached the matter. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply and other contributions.

Fianna Fáil supports the Bill. It is similar to a Bill we introduced in the Dáil. People like to enjoy a nice place to stay when they go on holiday. For both Irish staycation guests and foreign vacation guests, Airbnb has filled a requirement when hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation is unavailable. That is important. The growth of short-term lettings such as Airbnb across the globe has presented serious challenges and we are not meeting those challenges. The Bill is before us because we are not meeting those challenges. We are catching up. This has to stop and we need to set the rules. The State has an important role to play in ensuring proper planning is fully adhered to and the housing market is protected. That is why this is so important.

I will have to ask for the Minister of State's ear again because I feel he is not listening. He is speaking to Senator Coffey.

I cannot keep turning towards the Senator but I am listening to her.

The Minister of State will understand. The Bill is important.

I am absolutely listening to the Senator.

The Senator should make her contribution and the Minister of State will have an opportunity to reply. Please do not engage.

I was listening.

I have just attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government at which we discussed homelessness with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The issue is crucial. This plays a massive part in it because we have so many homeless people. We are talking about hubs and bed and breakfast accommodation and we are talking about finding houses. This is just part of the solution. It is very important.

I was listening to the Senator so she should please not keep saying I was not listening.

I thank the Minister of State.

In fairness to the Minister of State, he is one of the best attenders in this House-----

Absolutely. I welcome that.

-----and he has a perfect record of listening to Senators and responding to them.

He was speaking to Senator Coffey so I raised it. I was being polite.

The Senator should make her contribution and the Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond.

I thank the Minister of State.

What we are doing must protect communities and ensure homes are not lost from the long-term rental market and enable a genuine collaborative economy and home-sharing. The latest report on rental availability illustrates the need for the Government to progress regulation of Airbnb and other short-term letting platforms. As the figures show, one in two properties is only available to tourists. There were 1,103 entire homes booked for more than 80 nights in all of Dublin during 2016. It is probably more of a city issue. It affects rural areas now but it is definitely affecting cities. It is important that we support this.

Fianna Fáil supports the 90-night limit as a fair and proportionate response to the short-term lettings issue. This will not discourage home-sharing but it will prevent the loss of homes from long-term renting into professional short-term lettings. The Bill makes provision for a six-week limit and we will seek to amend this on Committee Stage. It is important that clear data-sharing protocols are established to ensure homeowners are not allowed to bypass the system. Local authorities will need to be effectively resourced to empower them to identify rogue lettings and penalise them. On 23 October, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government issued a circular stating that planning permissions for short-term lettings should be refused if there is a short-term let of over 60 days. The guidelines were unclear about who had to apply for the permission and on what grounds it would be granted or refused. It also outlines the refusal of permission for stays of more than five nights or more than four people, which would rule out families for week-long stays. The Minister of State needs to clarify that for me. This has been met by bewilderment and confusion by stakeholders. Why has 60 nights been selected? What is the basis for restricting it to four people? The guidance is contradictory and confusing and risks damaging the sector without properly regulating it. As a result, it is necessary that a new, clear and easy-to-understand regulatory framework - with recommendations from the task force - be put in place.

We should not be afraid of regulation. Our international neighbours have introduced regulation and it has worked. In New York, the city's rental law bans apartments and buildings with three or more units from being rented out for fewer than 30 days. Barcelona owners have to list their apartments with the city's tourism register, obtain a licence and be responsible for collecting the daily 65 cent tourist tax. London has imposed a 90-night limit per year on short-term lettings. We, as legislators, cannot be gazing idly from the outside in. As this sector takes over, we need to make it work for our wider economy and society. As we have a housing crisis and homelessness, this will play a role and that is crucial. From talking to the Minister at the committee meeting earlier, it is obvious that the crisis continues to obtain. There is lack of supply of accommodation and apartments. There are many issues.

With all of us working together with proper legislation it is to be hoped that we will try to solve this problem as best we can in the short term.

I welcome the Bill proposed by Senator Humphreys. It contains very progressive objectives to deal with what we know is a major obstacle to rentals, in particular in the city, namely, short-term rentals. Short-term letting and home sharing make a really valuable contribution to the tourist economy, as has been mentioned, and also allow families to bring in much needed extra income. However, there is clearly a problem with commercial landlords with multiple listings using Airbnb to maximise profits and, in some cases, to circumvent planning regulations and tax laws.

We do not have much data and what we have is quite patchy. It is clear that in certain cases in high demand areas like Dublin 1, 2, 7 and 8 a significant volume of properties which would otherwise be used as standard rental units are being transferred to short-term lets, which is obviously having a negative impact on our city and neighbourhood. In turn, it is adding to the homelessness and rental crisis.

The proposed legislation obliges persons who provide services in connection with the short-term letting of dwellings to furnish information upon request to the relevant planning authority. This is absolutely necessary. In October 2017 the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government published a report which contained 13 recommendations aimed at tackling the lack of regulation and oversight in the sector. One of those proposals stated that the regulations would be supported by a licensing system which would require all short-term letting platforms to register all hosts with the relevant local authority. The introduction of such a system would legally require the platform to provide information with the local authority on the letting type, availability and amount of revenue generated.

Ireland has been quite slow to act on this issue. I have visited cities in Europe, including Barcelona and Amsterdam, which have taken decisive action. In many other European countries action has been taken at a municipal level. Due to our weakened local authority system that is not possible in Ireland. Dublin City Council is dependent on regulation and guidance from central Government. For example, Barcelona was engaged in a long-running dispute with Airbnb, which listed hundreds of properties that did not have the required permits for city hall, and threatened Airbnb that it would not be able to operate in the city. Airbnb removed the listings which did not comply with city regulations from the website. There are more examples in Berlin and Québec. The enforcement of planning law is a key issue. Local authorities have to have the required resources to make sure that planning regulations are adhered to, which in turn requires greater investment in inspection teams and a higher level of inspection.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, on behalf of Sinn Féin, contributed significantly to the committee report I mentioned. Parties are united in saying that Airbnb is an issue which needs to be grasped effectively. The city is quickly becoming like larger European cities which reap the benefits of tourism but fail to cater for residents. I note queer clubs are being replaced with hotels and the heart of the city is being broken. People who do not subscribe to the mainstream are being cut out.

The Bill has the support of Sinn Féin. It is something for which we have advocated in recent years and I commend the Senator on highlighting the issues around it. It is time for the Government to act on the proposals in the Bill and the committee report. They are simple and change is overdue.

I wish to thank Senator Humphreys and his Labour Party colleagues for bringing forward this Bill and providing us with another opportunity to discuss short-term lettings, a matter which is a priority for this Government. I am conscious that the Senator has worked on this area for quite a while. We have had discussions about it in the House and it is to be hoped there will be some progress quite soon. I acknowledge his efforts with the Bill, which, as he said, predated the committee report. He has said he is willing to change the Bill, which I accept. That is why we will not oppose it even though we may not agree with parts of it, something I will discuss. We all agree this is an area on which we want to try to make some progress as soon as possible.

I want to set out from the start that home sharing, that is to say, people providing overnight and short-term accommodation in their own homes, is a good thing. It can be an important source of income which can help home sharers to meet the cost of mortgages, rents and other household expenses and hence support tenure security. It also supports tourism and associated economic activity, and even social and cultural exchange, something everyone who has contributed to the debate recognised. We all recognise the importance of home sharing as an option to encourage tourism and allow visitors to be able to avail of more options and what we have to provide as a country. However, this does not reduce the number of residential units available in the economy when used properly. Importantly, planning regulations have traditionally recognised that home sharing and overnight guest accommodation is permissible in certain circumstances in houses, but not apartments, without the need to obtain planning permission. However, the Government is concerned about the growing availability and use of online short-term letting platforms and the potential commercial opportunities they provide, which may lead landlords who normally provide residential rental accommodation to move into short-term letting to tourist and business traveller customers because of the higher returns available from this activity. Similarly, people may well purchase or rent properties specifically for short-term letting as an investment option, taking them out of the residential market, which is not something we want to see and is not ideal.

Short-term letting under either of these scenarios will lead to a direct loss of units in the rental sector and, by extension, the broader housing system, points which were well made by all those who contributed to the debate. This means fewer longer-term and secure accommodation units being available to the increasing numbers of families and people who need to access it.

Of course there is the potential for positive impacts as well, such as increased economic activity and tourism revenue. With the housing system under severe pressure, the positive impacts are outweighed by the negative ones. The social and economic impacts faced by families experiencing difficulties in accessing accommodation are significant and will not be compensated by the broader economic benefits a shift of residential units into shorter-term letting could bring.

Equally, increased tourism revenues or footfall in urban restaurants, shops and local businesses will do nothing to compensate the front-line worker who has to move from the city to the periphery of the commuter belt with all the associated burdens, such as increased travel time, costs and dislocation in terms of schools and social networks. A number of contributors highlighted this and Senator Humphreys referred to workers who want to be able to avail of accommodation in the city and find it extremely hard to so, a point to which I will return. We have to try to prioritise those who need support.

At the same time we do not want to deny people the opportunities associated with short-term letting, in the traditional bed and breakfast accommodation manner or via online platforms, that allow people to let out rooms in their homes as a means of earning some extra income. This type of activity could actually help front-line workers pay their rent or mortgage and keep them in their homes. It is important to emphasise that we do not want to close that down.

That said, I understand and appreciate the motivation and bona fides behind this Private Members' Bill, and I think we are all in agreement about what we are trying to achieve. To specifically address the Bill's proposals, I will take the opportunity to set out the Governments position on each proposal.

Section 2 proposes to introduce a definition of short-term lettings. At present, there is no such legal definition. The Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011 uses a figure of eight consecutive weeks, but this does not take into consideration the cumulative effect across an entire season or year. I accept that Senator Humphreys made it very clear that he is willing to change parts of the Bill. I am not trying to nitpick; rather I am going through the issues we all have to face now and in the coming weeks as we address this issue. To accept the definition in the Bill would pre-empt the findings of the working group established under the strategy for the rental sector, not to mention any possible issues that may arise during discussions with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

Section 3 states that under the planning code where a dwelling is used for short-term lettings for more than an aggregate of six weeks per year then its use shall be classed as commercial rather than residential. Under the planning code, all development, including a material change of use, requires planning permission unless exempted under the Act or the associated regulations. For example, there is an exemption which facilitates the use of a house for overnight guest accommodation in certain circumstances, which is traditionally relied on in the context of the provision of bed and breakfast type accommodation.

The Bill proposes that for the purposes of the planning code short-term letting for periods exceeding six weeks in a year is a commercial use, not a residential one. It is understood the intention of this provision is to require property owners to obtain planning permission for a material change of use. However, this is already generally the case under current planning requirements, and was addressed in a circular to planning authorities in October 2017, which sets out the existing planning requirements in regard to the short-term letting of houses and apartments.

Section 4 proposes removing the exemption under section 3(1)(1) of the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011, which disapplies the Act to short-term lettings. The 2011 Act provided for, inter alia, the establishment of the Property Services Regulatory Authority, which regulates property service providers, that is, estate agents, letting agents and property management agents. Provision was made such that the Act does not apply to:

"a property service consisting solely of a short-term letting to a person where such letting—

(i) does not exceed or is unlikely to exceed 8 consecutive weeks, and

(ii) is for bona fide tourism or other leisure purposes"

This exemption provision was intended to allow owners of holiday houses, cottages, etc., to let them directly to tourists without requiring the use of estate or letting agents and all the costs and inconvenience that can be associated with that. The 2011 Act was designed to regulate the genuine property services sector, not the tourism sector, and it was quite deliberate that genuine tourism lets were incorporated in the list of exemptions provided for. Amending the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011, as proposed in the Bill, would significantly change the manner in which the Act operates. It would potentially place a very significant additional burden on the Property Services Regulatory Authority, which would require significant resourcing, and might very well lead to unforeseen consequences.

The Government also has genuine concerns for small operators in the short-term tourist letting sector, many of whom will almost certainly fail to satisfy qualification and other licensing requirements if this exemption is removed. This would mean that such small operators, such as the owners of tourist cottages, etc., could not legally directly let their properties on a short-term basis and would instead have to engage a licensed property service provider to conduct such lettings, with the consequent incurring of expenses and administrative complications. While I am going through this, I take the opportunity to acknowledge that most Senators have issues. I have spoken about the difference between cities like Dublin and Galway and counties in which there might not be the same pressure. Carlow got a good mention tonight, as usual. It is important that when we do bring forward changes, we recognise the difference in the different areas.

Under section 5, an obligation will be placed on short-term letting service providers to provide specified information to planning authorities. It is also proposed to require planning authorities to request, collect and collate such data and share it with the Revenue Commissioners on request. The purpose of the planning system is to facilitate and support proper planning and sustainable development in a balanced manner, ensuring that the right development takes place in the right locations at the right time. However, it is not the function of the planning code, nor is the code the appropriate vehicle, to provide a wider regulatory framework for the short-term tourism-related letting sector or related tax requirements. That does not mean we do not have to do it, but issues arise in where we place such a framework.

The strategy for the rental sector recognises the potential issue of significant numbers of properties being withdrawn from the long-term rental market for use as short-term tourism-related lettings. Senator Humphreys has outlined some figures pertaining to this. We will not have exact numbers, but we all accept that they could potentially be quite high and could cause serious difficulties. This would have a negative impact on the supply and availability of residential rental accommodation and the growing use of online platforms such as Airbnb, could, if not adequately regulated, facilitate and encourage this trend.

Senators referred to other platforms. I am conscious that there are several out there. The trend is not something that we all want to buy into. We all share a general goal of progressing this issue. That is why the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, established a working group made up of representatives from my Department, the Departments of Finance and Business, Enterprise and Innovation, An Bord Pleanála, Fáilte Ireland, the Residential Tenancies Board and Dublin City Council to develop proposals for the appropriate regulation and management of short-term tourism-related lettings, taking into account the Government's overall housing and rental policy objectives. The working group has submitted its report and the Minister is considering it. He is very anxious that we should progress this matter quite soon.

I will now address proposed regulation. The primary goals of the regulatory proposals are to: reduce the market impacts of short-term rentals on the long-term residential rental market; facilitate the use by resident householders of unused capacity in their homes for short-term letting and the associated economic benefits for them and the local economy; ensure the quality of accommodation services provided, consumer protection and safety; and limit and mitigate the costs associated with high volumes of short-term lettings borne by residential communities. What is currently envisaged is a licensing system for both intermediaries, such as websites and management companies, and for persons renting out both single rooms and entire properties as short-term lets. The precise details regarding inspection, monitoring, enforcement, limit setting and fees as well as consideration of local factors have still to be finalised. However, it is clear that different approaches will be needed for those wishing to let properties on an ongoing commercial basis and those wishing to let a room in their home or to let their home while away for a short period, perhaps on holiday. That is something that is very clearly expressed by all here. We all agree that is the kind of space we are in. The regulatory approach also intends to recognise the huge difference between various areas of the country. Again, examples have been given tonight. In some places increases in short-term letting pose a risk to the rental stock, while in others it could provide an important opportunity for landlords to make profitable use of properties that they have difficulty letting.

I thank Senators Nash, Bacik and Humphreys for introducing this Bill and for the sentiment it contains, which is and will continue to be extremely helpful as we move forward with the design and establishment of an appropriate regulatory framework, both to protect our housing and rental supply and to take advantage of the benefits that this new and growing economy provides. Again, I acknowledge the work that Senator Humphreys does in this area, and the co-operation he shows in being willing to work with the officials in our Department and the Minister as we try to tie this down and bring in some changes in the months ahead.

Some other issues were mentioned in the context of the overall supply of housing. We always acknowledge that there are still too many people living in emergency accommodation, as was discussed by the joint committee earlier. The Minister is the first to acknowledge that. What we are doing is still not enough to solve the problem. We also have to recognise that the supply of housing is increasing and that we are making some progress. Rebuilding Ireland is reaching all its targets and we are on track to deliver what we are trying to deliver. We will try to put more effort into that in order to go beyond those targets and facilitate a greater supply of housing that will help solve all the difficulties we have and that will certainly deal with the homelessness situation and the problem of people living in emergency accommodation. I have to very clearly say, and always say, that is not a place to be. It is not a place to have a family. None of us want that. I think we all support the Rebuilding Ireland plan and the spend of more than €6 billion of taxpayers' money to address this and to go beyond it. Many would call for even more than that.

Again, we must look at the facts. The supply of housing is increasing. I often hear commentary that gives the impression that nothing is happening and that we are making no changes. That is not true. The CSO, at the request of the Minister, has worked with our Department and all the other stakeholders over the last year to clarify the data and to produce data that we can all accept, as it is independent of Government. The CSO will say that last year, the direct increase in brand new houses brought into the system was in the region of 14,600. Approximately 1,100 houses came in from ghost estates. This constitutes a new supply because they are not houses that were there before. However, we are distinguishing between the two different categories. In addition, approximately 2,600 properties which have been disconnected for more than two years have now been reconnected by the ESB and are back in use as homes. As a result, there are more than 18,000 additional homes in the system throughout the country. That will be of great benefit to us in trying to address the homelessness situation and find housing for people who are on the waiting list, people who want to rent, people who want to work and so on.

The level of supply has increased. We know that this year, based on the commencement notices from last year and this year, more than 20,000 houses are coming through the system. The ESRI recognises that 20,000 or 21,000 houses should be produced this year. The Department makes a conservative estimate of about 20,000 houses coming into the system. They are new houses. Some of them are properties that had to be finished, but they are houses in the system which were not there last year. They are properties we need. They are properties we will be using for social housing and privately, in order to deliver social, affordable and private housing across the sector. It is happening, and we now have the independent data the Minister requested. I hope that people will accept that the data are independent of Government and represent the facts. This is a reality on the basis of which we can work.

Social housing is also included in that. Last year, we saw an additional social housing supply. I want to be very clear; this combines new builds, Part V housing, leasing, acquiring purchases and so on. An additional 7,000 houses have been put back into the system. Again, we will use these to provide social housing solutions for people. This year will see over 8,000 brought into the system. A direct build layer, combining all the different combinations, comprises some 4,500. While we accept that it is still not enough, it shows that the trends are going the right way. We all want to get back to a situation where the State is delivering at least an additional 10,000 social houses per year. That is the minimum we all want, across all the different parties. That commitment is there, and we will get to it within the next year or two as the supply increases throughout all the sectors. Local authorities have played a major role in leading that charge, as are approved housing bodies, as are our non-governmental organisations, NGOs. They are all playing their part with our Department and with taxpayers' money. They are bringing forward a slot of solutions. I reiterate that there were 7,000 additional houses last year and that there will be 8,000 this year. Also, if the short-term solutions are added in, through HAP and other rental subsidy schemes, an additional 17,000 or 18,000 families were helped last year. In total, 25,000 or 26,000 families were assisted in obtaining accommodation and supported in that accommodation. That is work we are all doing. That is paid for by taxpayers' money, and it is a major help and a major benefit, but it is not enough. We have to deal with that and make sure we get everybody out of hotels and bed and breakfasts, into permanent accommodation. That is what the supply of housing is about. I am glad it is moving in the right direction.

Others mentioned accommodation for people who are not in emergency situations, but who want to work in the city, take up a new job or buy their own private or affordable house. Amazon was mentioned in the context of its announcement of 1,000 new jobs yesterday. Again, the issue of where its workers are going to live was raised. It has also been raised by other companies that create new jobs. I want to be very clear. Many of the companies that are engaging with our Department and various others ask us about housing supply for the years ahead.

These companies understand there is a plan of action and a commitment regarding resources, people, staff and taxpayers' money in the system, and that we have changed the system to deliver houses. In a non-political way, they can stand aside, read the plan, see what is happening and see the targets being met and the trends. While too many people are still presenting as homeless every week and month, and we did not envisage it would continue in that way and it is affecting the numbers in hotels, they are able to see in a logical way that we are intervening and that the State is delivering private and social housing capacity, with new plans on affordable housing to be announced in the weeks and months ahead. They understand this and have confidence in us. They know we will address the housing situation and that if we stick to the plan and deliver what we are saying, we will deal with the housing shortage.

These same companies have worked with the Government and the previous Fine Gael and Labour Party Government on the Action Plan for Jobs, and they saw how we progressed it over the five years of the plan and how it delivered. It was ahead of all of its targets in delivering jobs. They understand that when the Government puts together an action plan, in the way we have with Rebuilding Ireland, which is an action plan for housing, and puts the money and Departments behind it, it delivers solutions. They accept this and this is why these companies are announcing plans to increase jobs in our various cities, rural areas and towns this year and in the years ahead. They are confident in our plans. They can see the plan, and in a calm and logical way they can read it and see it is delivering, and that if we stick to it with our spend of taxpayers' money, the housing shortage will not be an impediment to job creation and investment.

It is important we recognise this, because very often the debate is only focused on social housing and homelessness figures, and rightly so, because this is where the greatest emergency is, but we must make sure that as politicians we find solutions for housing in general throughout the system, so people of all social backgrounds can be confident they will be able to find a home this year, next year and in the years ahead and they can take up a job and we can create jobs. This is what we are trying to do. I am conscious the Bill is an important part of the work we are trying to do on focusing on managing housing stock in a fruitful way to deliver solutions to people who need them.

I thank Senators for all of their work because this is a whole-of-government approach as well as a whole-of-Oireachtas approach to devise solutions. We are making steady progress. I accept it is not enough when people are still living in emergency accommodation, and please do not try to mix my words on this. I am very conscious of this, as is the Minister. We must also recognise we are making progress and the trends are going in the right direction.

I thank the Minister of State and, as always, he is very welcome to the House.

I acknowledge Senators Coffey, O'Connor, Warfield and Bacik for their contributions to the debate. The legislation is targeted at the pressed middle, the people who go out in the morning and earn salaries of €35,000 to €40,000 and who cannot compete with the short-term let market. They are being driven demented by not being able to get accommodation for all the reasons the Minister of State has just outlined. I acknowledge there has been progress, but it is a sieve and it is leaking. We have been telling the Government it has been leaking for two years. There was an acknowledgement by the former Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, when he set up the working group to examine it but it has gone on too long. We have been talking about it for almost two years. The report has been on the Minister's desk since earlier this year and nothing has happened. We have had three leaks to the media on what will happen but nothing has happened.

This is a nationwide problem. Mike Allen highlighted the impact short-term lets are having on families and individuals in Leitrim. I have been contacted by people in Ennis regarding the shortage of one-bedroom apartments and the fact that they cannot compete with short-term lets. I have also heard similar stories from Carlow. The issue, therefore, not only affects Dublin and Galway. It has been highlighted by me and many other parties that there is a problem. We are constantly building and putting additional units on the market but they are leaking out the other side. We have to put a stop to this quickly, which is why I am asking for regulation.

The Bill has been published for a long time and I have constantly spoken about it to the Minister of State, Deputy English. I recognise his engagement with the House on this matter. He has told me on several occasions the report was about to be published and that the Minister has a particular special interest in the sector, as he should because the area in which he lives is crippled by short-term lets and is quickly turning from a residential area into a tourist location. This is having an impact on long-standing families in the community who cannot compete. It is an area where people in the city normally rented.

The Minister of State mentioned the October 2015 circular. I do not know whether he is aware that since it issued, there has been a fall-off in enforcement notices. According to the statistics, there are more short-term lets but local authorities are issuing fewer enforcement notices. I am not being over-critical of local authorities because they do not have the power to enforce them on apartments. They have no power whatsoever in respect of homes because of the bed and breakfast legislation, which the Minister of State pointed out. I recall being told about unintentional consequences by my officials when I was in a similar circumstance to the Minister of State, and I used to ask them to explain in detail the unintentional circumstances to which they were referring. They often had trouble coming up with precise examples. I can give the Minister of State precise examples from throughout this city, Galway, Limerick and Cork of how this is affecting working families, the people who get up early in the morning and go to work whom the Taoiseach said he wanted to represent. Those who get up early and go to work are not able to compete with short-term lets.

Airbnb has been mentioned several times. I do not agree with the number of days it proposes. It wants to allow for up to 180 days, which is too many. However, the company wants legislation and clear guidance on operating in the market. It states a voluntary code will not work because its competitors will not abide by it.

We need speed on this. I am speaking honestly, and in accordance with new politics, I am happy to sit down with the Minister of State, his officials and the Minister. All parties recognise this is now a crisis. We are putting out the hand of friendship and help. We will work with the Minister of State to ensure good robust legislation will pass from the Seanad to the Dáil because speed is of the essence. We will hit crisis mode again in September, as we will have students competing for accommodation and, I hope, a continued increase in employment. The announcement of 1,000 additional jobs by Amazon was mentioned. That can be multiplied in every city. Cork has also experienced good increases in employment but it has problems dealing with short-term lets. It is similar to the pharmaceutical industry in the Galway area. The workers in that sector are finding it difficult to find accommodation because they are competing with short-term lets. Let us work together to resolve this problem. It will not solve the housing crisis, but it could have a significant effect on helping working people to compete in the market so they can have a home and afford a place to rent without having to compete with the wild west regulation of short-term lets.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 26 June 2018.