Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages

NEW SECTION

It is my pleasure to welcome the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, back among us. He is one our distinguished alumni, a Senator emeritus as well as a Minister.

Amendments Nos. 1, 6 to 10, inclusive, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21 and 23 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 4, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
“Definition
1. In this Act, “Act of 2004” means the Residential Tenancies Act 2004.”.

Amendment No. 1 technically amends section 1 on the definitions of the Bill, to remove the definition of: "Minister". My full title, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, is now used in section 5 of the Bill, which is the only provision in the Bill that refers to me as Minister. It is just a technical change.

The next Government amendment is No. 6. This amendment inserts a new section 4 into the Bill to provide for a technical amendment to section 12 of the 2004 Act, which relates to the obligations of landlords. The amendment will require that a landlord is obliged to furnish a tenant with a statement in writing on how the rent set under the tenancy of the dwelling has been calculated, having regard to section 19, rather than having regard to just section 19(4). The effect of this amendment is that a landlord's statement will also cover the calculation of rent in accordance with the new section 19(4A), which provides that any rent increase in a rent pressure zone, RPZ, cannot exceed any inflation recorded in the harmonised index of consumer prices, HICP.

Amendment No. 7 is the substantive change which I flagged to Senators on Second Stage. I said I would be coming back with a specific change we were working on around the RPZs and the calculation of the rent increases. Amendment No. 7 is significant. It inserts a new section 5 into the Bill, which amends section 19 of the 2004 Act. Section 19 of the 2004 Act provides for rent setting and from the passing of this Bill, the formula provided in section 19(4) shall no longer apply in capping the maximum allowable rent in RPZs, that is, the 4% per annum issue. The formula will be replaced by a requirement that any rent increase in an RPZ will not and shall not exceed any rent increase determined by the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, rent pressure zone calculator, with specific reference to the HICP values, in accordance with the new section 19(4A). In real terms, if one looked back over the last three years, the average increase in the HICP was about 0.7%. Year-on-year, it is short of 1.9%. It is a significant change from the 4% per annum that was previously the benchmark. We are effectively freezing the rent value and just allowing that to increase by inflation, should there be an increase in same.

The RPZ calculator will calculate any permissible rent increase that may apply. That will be managed by the RTB itself. The user of the calculator shall input the following variables into the RPZ calculator: the date the rent was last set; and the amount of the rent last set. The calculator shall produce the amount of the maximum permissible rent increase, if any. The calculator may also indicate that no rent increase can apply. In this situation, a landlord may reduce the rent or keep it at the same level. Ultimately, the rent is agreed between the tenant and the landlord. The calculator will operate as follows. It will compare the HICP value in the HICP table published by the RTB on or most recently before the date that this rent was last set, with the HICP value contained in the table published by the RTB on or most recently before the date that any new rent increase is being determined. Any difference between the two aforementioned values shall be calculated as a percentage by the RPZ calculator. If that percentage is a positive value, that is, where there has been an increase in the HICP values over the period in question, it is applied by the calculator to the amount of the rent last set to produce an amount of permissible rent increase.

Senators fully understand what we are doing here. Amendment No. 7 effectively brings this change in. I wanted to do that on this Stage because if these changes pass the Seanad today then they will be brought to the Dáil and we will ensure there is an earlier signature motion to affect these changes, which are the most significant rental changes for tenants in at least five years. These changes deal with an issue of the cumulative potential rent increases. I will not talk about amendment No. 7 any further.

There are Opposition amendments in the grouping as well but they have not been moved yet so I will address them momentarily. Amendment No. 14 is another of my amendments. This amendment inserts a new section 7 into the Bill, to amend section 22 of the 2004 Act, which provides for notices of rent. Section 7 of the Bill inserts a new paragraph (g) into subsection 2A of section 22 to require that where section 19(4A) applies to a dwelling in a RPZ, that is, the new rent increase restriction linked to inflation, a notice of new rent served on a tenant shall, "state how any increase in the rent last set under the tenancy of the dwelling was calculated or, where section 19(4A) does not apply, state why it does not apply".

Amendment No. 16 is also a Government amendment. It inserts a new section 11 into the Bill, to amend section 115 of the 2004 Act, which provides for the redress that may be granted by an RTB determination order.

Section 11 of the Bill amends section 115 to ensure that a RTB dispute adjudicator or tribunal may make: "A declaration [under section 2B] as to whether or not an amount of rent set under a tenancy of a dwelling complies with section 19(1) (and if the declaration is that that amount does not so comply, the declaration shall be accompanied by an indication by the adjudicator or the Tribunal as to what amount, in his or her ... opinion, would comply with section 19(1))." The technical change in section 11 of the Bill is to provide a general reference to section 19 in section 115(2)(b) of the 2004 Act, and by doing so to cover the new section 19(4A) being inserted into the Bill. These are, therefore, further technical amendments that ensure the change we made with regard to the harmonised index of consumer prices is reflected right the way through the legislation.

Amendment No. 17 is also mine and inserts a new section 12 into the Bill to amend Schedule 2 to the 2004 Act by extending the list of improper conduct by a landlord that is subject to Part 7A - Complaints, Investigations and Sanctions. The RTB will be given power to investigate, with or without a complaint, and sanction any landlord in contravention of the new 19(4A) HICP linked rent increase restriction. The Bill already contains an amendment to Schedule 2 to provide that improper conduct shall include the seeking of unlawful payments in respect of any deposit or advance rent. An RTB sanction can cost a landlord up to €30,000 so there is a serious deterrent in place to combat improper conduct.

Amendment No. 20 empowers the Minister to commence the new section 5 of the Bill, which requires that any rent increase in a rent pressure zone shall not exceed any rent increase determined by the RTB's rent pressure zone calculator, with reference to HICP values, in accordance with section 19(4A). I intend to commence section 5 as soon as possible following the passing of the Bill. All other provisions will commence automatically upon the passing of the Bill.

There are two final amendments in this grouping from the Government. Amendment No. 21 provides for a technical amendment to identify the provisions of the Bill that will take account of the recycles. Amendment No. 22 proposes to consequently amend the Long Title of the Bill to reflect that a new section 5 is to be introduced into the Bill to require that any rent increase in a RPZ shall not exceed inflation, as calculated under the HICP. My colleague, Senator Fitzpatrick, has tabled an amendment that effectively does the same thing. As other amendments are moved, I am quite happy to address those specifically. I have confined my remarks to my own amendments.

Has the Minister briefly addressed every amendment in the grouping now?

No. Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, are not in my name. I have addressed all the others. Amendments Nos. 1 and 6-----

When we come to them, we will be ruling them as discussed so perhaps the Minister should make reference to them.

Yes, I will happily do that.

If the Minister does not mind; it is just for the sake of colleagues-----

-----otherwise there might be complaints later.

We certainly do not want that.

We do not want that.

The Senators may wish to move their amendments. It is up the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

A number of amendments I have tabled are effectively ruled out. I do not want to press them because of what the Minister is doing in his own amendments. We should probably go through them. I am going to withdraw some of mine.

Okay, we will proceed.

We should proceed in that way rather than move each of them.

I thank Senator Moynihan. That is okay. I just wanted to make sure everyone heard the Minister speak to each of them, that is all. If I understand it correctly, we have no further contributions. Does Senator Fitzpatrick wish to speak?

There is no hurry.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire for returning again to the House and bringing forward these amendments. I thank him for taking on board the feedback he has received from my party and obviously from others as well. This is the fourth or fifth time he has legislated to protect renters in the year he has been in office. I think it has been a year so I congratulate him on his one-year anniversary.

It is really important that provisions are being made to extend protections for renters and limit the amount that can be demanded from renters in terms of an upfront payment, and that the notice period for student accommodation is being limited to 28 days. All these provisions build on the further funding the Minister has given to the RTB to help it regulate and control conditions for renters but also on his commitment to the roll-out of an affordable cost-rental model. That is a long-term, sustainable model that we need to get to. I accept that these amendments are a very strong movement in that direction.

I will conclude by saying that I will withdraw my amendment on the basis that the Minister is legislating to cap rent increases to inflation. That is very welcome for renters and I am happy to withdraw my amendment accordingly.

I thank Senator Fitzpatrick.

Senator Fitzpatrick might have addressed some of those issues. The Minister mentioned amendment No. 10 in the name of Senator Fitzpatrick. I understand, however, that it is a repetition anyway but that it is covered and both parties are happy. I am happy with that. I thank the Minister and Senator Fitzpatrick.

I thank Senator Boyhan for being so constructive, as always. Does anyone else wish to speak? I do not want to exclude anyone. Does Senator Moynihan wish to speak?

I am getting a little bit confused as to how this is working. Are we going through our individual amendments to move them, as per Committee Stage, or are we-----

We will be going back to move them.

Okay. So, we are not speaking to everything.

They are for discussion. Bear in mind that we are discussing them as a grouping by earlier agreement. Does the Senator understand? We are now discussing those amendments.

Does the Senator wish to speak to them now? We will ask her to move them later.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

We have a number of amendments seeking to extend the protections to 2023, which effectively brings in a short-term rent freeze for people who have registered. The Minister has moved significantly, however, in terms of bringing rent increases in line with inflation and the consumer price index. He is making a very welcome move on behalf of renters.

I am going to withdraw my amendments. I ask the Minister to bear in mind trying to get a mechanism for a rent freeze for people who are in financial difficulty. I am aware that we will be coming back to the House with this Bill. In the interests of co-operation on where we are at this moment, I welcome the amendments the Minister is bringing forward.

I had a number of amendments with regard to trying to recalculate the 8% to bring it back to 4%. What the Government is doing is much more progressive than that. I really welcome it. I ask that we look at a rent freeze overall - a temporary short-term rent freeze of three years - and see if we can possibly constitutionally do that when we come back and examine wider rental legislation. The Government has shown a willingness to move on this. It is a really good move. I will, therefore, withdraw the amendments I have tabled and welcome this. We will be supporting the amendments that link the legislation to the consumer price index.

I thank Senator Moynihan.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I want to withdraw Sinn Féin's amendment No. 9 in this grouping, which is irrelevant now given the Minister's amendments. I also welcome amendment No. 7, which as the Minister said, links rent reviews to inflation.

In 2016, Sinn Féin introduced the Rent Certainty Bill, which sought to link rent increases to inflation. On five separate occasions in the previous term, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted against rent certainty. This linking of rent reviews to inflation was a long battle between the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and former Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan. The key change here, however, is the Minister's amendment on the replacement of the 4% cap with the HICP. I understand this will cover 74% of tenancies and then the remaining 26% of tenancies will continue to be subject to rent reviews every two years, in line with prevailing market rents.

I thank Senator Warfield very much indeed. Does the Minister want to give a quick response to Senator Moynihan?

I will respond to all Senators, including Senators Moynihan and Warfield. I thank Members for the constructive approach they have taken towards this Bill. It is good to see there is broad agreement. I appreciate it. As I said, there are other elements, which I will speak about towards the end of the debate. We will also be bringing forward a further tenancy reform Bill later in the year.

I have introduced these measures sooner than anticipated as we were able to do this to deal with the specific 8% rent increase. It is why we expedited the process. I thank Seanadóirí for their remarks so far and the constructive nature of the debate, leading to Senators Moynihan and Warfield indicating they will not press their amendments.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 1 deleted.
SECTION 2
Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, not moved.
Section 2 agreed to.
Section 3 agreed to.
NEW SECTION
Government amendment No. 6:
In page 4, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
"Amendment of section 12 of Act of 2004
4. Section 12(1) of the Act of 2004 is amended in paragraph (i)(iii) by the deletion of "(4)".".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
NEW SECTION
Government amendment No. 7:
In page 5, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
"Amendment of section 19 of Act of 2004
5. Section 19 of the Act of 2004 is amended—
(a) in subsection (4), by the substitution of “Subject to subsections (4A) and (5)” for “Subject to subsection (5)”,
(b) by the insertion of the following subsections after subsection (4):
“(4A) Notwithstanding subsection (4), and subject to subsection (5), in setting the rent under a tenancy of a dwelling in a rent pressure zone in respect of which the landlord serves a notice under section 22 on or after the coming into operation of section 5* of the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Act 2021—
(a) an amount of rent shall not be provided for that increases the rent last set by more than any rent increase calculated in accordance with subsection (4B), or
(b) an amount of rent shall not be provided for that increases the rent last set where a calculation is made, in accordance with subsection (4B), that no increase in the rent last set has occurred.
(4B) Any increase in the rent last set shall be calculated by—
(a) calculating as a percentage any difference between the HICP value that applied on the date the rent was last set and the HICP value that applies on the new date, and
(b) applying the amount of the percentage calculated under paragraph (a) to the rent last set.
(4C) The Board shall—
(a) establish and maintain a rent pressure zone calculator to calculate any increase in rent in a rent pressure zone in accordance with the method set out in subsection (4B), and
(b) publish and keep up to date a table of HICP values published by the Central Statistics Office.
(4D) The Minister, for the purposes of subsections (4A) to (4C), may prescribe—
(a) the means by which the rent pressure zone calculator referred to in subsection (4C)(a) shall operate to accurately calculate any increase in rent in a rent pressure zone by applying the HICP values to the rent,
(b) the information to be furnished in the table referred to in subsection (4C)(b),
(c) the form and manner of publication by the Board of that calculator and table, and
(d) an index or indices, containing data corresponding to HICP values, as may be published by the Central Statistics Office to be used for the purposes of the calculation under subsection (4B).”,
(c) in subsection (5), by the substitution of "Subsections (4) and (4A) do not apply—" for "Subsection (4) does not apply—",
(d) in subsection (6), by the substitution of "subsections (3), (4) and (4A)" for "subsections (3) and (4)",
(e) in subsection (6A), by the substitution of "subsection (4) or, as the case may be, (4A)" for "subsection (4)",
(f) in subsection (7), by the insertion of the following definitions:
“ 'HICP values' means the values contained in the most recent data available monthly in the All-Items Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices in relation to Ireland and published monthly by the Central Statistics Office in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2016/7921 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 on harmonised indices of consumer prices and the house price index, and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No. 2494/95;
'new date' shall be the date of publication by the Board under subsection (4C) of the table of HICP values that occurs most recently prior to the service of a notice under section 22 by the landlord on the tenant;".".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, not moved.
SECTION 5

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 5, to delete lines 10 and 11 and substitute the following:

"(b) a deposit (howsoever described and being an amount of money to be held by the landlord only as security for the performance of any obligations, and the discharge of any liabilities, of the tenant under or in connection with the tenancy) of an amount no greater than that payable under the tenancy agreement as rent in respect of a period of one month.".

I will speak to this but I will not push it to a vote. This limits rent deposits to one month of rent and this should be part of a wider reform of tenancy and renters' legislation. I welcome the Minister's announcement that he is looking at this for the autumn. I have a number of reports of landlords effectively using rental deposits with a view to keeping them or almost never giving them back. As I said with my first amendment, I ask that the Minister consider this aspect in terms of the wider reforms he will introduce.

I will be brief but I thank Senator Moynihan and her colleagues for tabling this amendment. In this Bill we are restricting the value of deposits to a maximum of two months' rent. This relates to a deposit equal to a month's rent and then a month of advance rent. Effectively, it has been capped absolutely at two months' rent. The deposit should be returnable and it remains the property of the tenant.

Work is ongoing on deposit protection, which is an area that is being looked at. There are complexities in the matter but it is not impossible. This is a significant change. I know where Senator Moynihan wants to get to and I appreciate what she has said. We are pretty much on the same page on this. There is a month of rent in advance and an amount equal to a month's rent as a deposit. It should be no more than this and this is the maximum amount. This was commonly spoken about during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This will also apply to student accommodation. There will be an opt-out if the student wishes to do that, such as for budgeting reasons. Some international students would pay for semesters in advance and this will allow that option. I have said in the Dáil that I will keep an eye on that in particular. The request came through from the university sector and it is reasonable for us to see how that works. I cannot accept the Senator's amendment but I understand that she will not be pressing it.

Amendment No. 12 is also in the group. I cannot accept this, which proposes to delete lines 18 to 22 on page 5. Section 5 of the Bill proposes to insert a new section 19B into the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, which provides in subsection (3) that notwithstanding the fact that tenants cannot now be required to pay more than a month's rent in advance, a tenant in student-specific accommodation may do this. I have explained why we are doing this and it is only on the basis that the tenant - the student in this case - has decided to do so. This provision aims to help any student who may wish to manage her or his finances by making a larger advance rent payment and providing certainty that his or her accommodation needs are secured for the desired period. It is purely up to the student. An operator of student-specific accommodation cannot seek a deposit of more than two months' rent. We have also changed the notice period to 28 days. That addresses both amendments.

I appreciate Senator Moynihan's point and acknowledge the response of the Minister, who has indicated he is considering wider protection in this space. It is a significant move to restrict deposits to the equivalent of two months' rent and the introduction of a deposit protection scheme is something I would like to see, if possible in the autumn.

On Second Stage I suggested tying the element of the opt-out specifically to the third level sector and I appreciate that this is being done in the legislation before us. It is important to keep a close eye on that so there is no creep effect or anything untoward. I totally respect the bona fides of the Minister and I know if he says he will keep this under review, he will do so.

I apologise as I would have spoken to the amendment if I had realised it was in this group. I watched the debate in the Dáil. Deputy Ó Broin spoke about the need for a public awareness campaign around these matters with the Union of Students in Ireland and Threshold once the Bill is passed. The amendment sought to address the opt-in for tenants, including students.

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science had concerns regarding students coming from abroad specifically for full terms and who buy a package of educational materials and accommodation. We fully accept, obviously, that those students must be catered for and there are no problems in that regard. The Minister also indicated that his Department would look at this issue to ensure that the optional opt-out is not exploited because, ultimately, we are all on the same page. Students and their parents must be fully aware of this situation and they should not be pressured to pay more than what is legally required.

Is Senator Moynihan pressing the amendment?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.
Section 5 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 13, 15, 18 and 22 are related and may be discussed together by agreement of the House. Agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 13:
In page 5, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 20 of Act of 2004
6. Section 20 of the Act of 2004 is amended—
(a) in subsection (3)(i), by the insertion of “(within the meaning of subsection (5A) of section 19)” after “substantial change”,
(b) in subsection (5) by the substitution of “1 January 2025” for “1 January 2022”, and
(c) in subsection (6) by the substitution of “31 December 2024” for “31 December 2021”.”.

I will comment on the four Government amendments. Amendment No. 13 inserts a new section 6 into the Bill to amend section 20 of the 2004 Act which provides for frequency of rent reviews. Currently, section 20 of the 2004 Act provides that, generally, rent reviews are allowed to occur no more frequently than annually in an RPZ or biannually outside an RPZ. However, a rent review is allowed during the 12-month review period in an RPZ, or during the 24-month review period outside an RPZ, if a substantial change in the nature of the rented accommodation occurs which warrants an immediate change to the existing rent.

Section 6 of the Bill provides a technical reference to ensure that any rent review which occurs on foot of a substantial change in the nature of the accommodation provided can only occur where "substantial change" falls within the meaning of the existing section 19(5A) of the 2004 Act referring to a substantial change in the nature of accommodation. This was in the original Act so it is not a new change that I am introducing. The aim is to ensure that a rent review is only allowed when a real and truly substantial change occurs that warrants such a review.

Section 6 of the Bill also provides for biannual rent reviews to continue to operate outside the RPZ during the period to 31 September 2024. That has been extended from 31 December 2021 and provides for a three-year extension. The aim here is to provide rent certainty for tenants outside RPZs for a minimum two-year period at a time of rising rents and constrained supply in the private rental accommodation sector.

Amendment No. 15 inserts a new section 8 into the Bill to amend section 24B of the 2004 Act, which provides for areas deemed to be RPZs. Section 8 of the Bill provides for the extension of the deemed RPZs in Cork city and the Dublin local authorities to continue to operate until 31 December 2024. Again, that has been extended from 31 December 2021. These local authorities were deemed to be RPZs and that immediately came into effect on the passing of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, which introduced rent controls from 24 December 2016.

Amendment No. 15 is specifically required to extend the operation of those deemed RPZs up to the end of December 2024 to protect tenants during a sustained period of constrained supply in the private rental accommodation sector, as the sector has been negatively impacted by Covid-19. Amendment No. 18 introduces a new section 12 to amend section 8(2) of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 to provide for RPZs designated under section 24A, concerning rent pressure zones, of the 2004 Act to continue in operation until 31 December 2024. The aim is to continue rent controls in these RPZs for a further three years until 31 December 2024 to protect tenants during a sustained period of constrained supply in the private rental sector.

Amendment No. 23 proposes to consequentially amend the Long Title of the Bill to reflect that, in respect of amendment No. 18, section 8(2) of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 will now provide for designated RPZs to continue in operation until 31 December 2024. Again, this is an extension from 31 December 2021.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 6 agreed to.
NEW SECTION
Government amendment No. 14:
In page 5, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 22 of Act of 2004
7. Section 22 (2A) of the Act of 2004 is amended—
(a) in paragraph (e) by the deletion of “and”,
(b) in paragraph (f) by the substitution of “not apply, and” for “not apply.”, (c) by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (f):
“(g) where the dwelling is in a rent pressure zone (within the meaning given by section 19(7)) to which section 19(4A) applies, state how any increase in the rent last set under the tenancy of the dwelling was calculated or, where section 19(4A) does not apply, state why it does not apply.”.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 7 agreed to.
NEW SECTION
Government amendment No. 15:
In page 5, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 24B of Act of 2004
8. Section 24B of the Act of 2004 is amended by the substitution of “31 December 2024” for “31 December 2021”.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Sections 8 to 10, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION
Government amendment No. 16
In page 6, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 115 of Act of 2004
11. Section 115(2)(b) of the Act of 2004 is amended—
(a) by the deletion of “subsection (1) or (4) of”, and
(b) by the substitution of “with section 19” for “with either of those subsections”.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 11 deleted.
NEW SECTIONS
Government amendment No. 17:
In page 6, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
“12. Schedule 2 to the Act of 2004 is amended—
(a) in paragraph (a) by the substitution of “(4), (4A) or” for “(4) or”, and
(b) by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (b):
“(ba) the seeking by the landlord of a payment to him or her of an amount or amounts in contravention of section 19B.”.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 18:
In page 6, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
“Amendment of Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019
12. Section 8(2) of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 is amended by the substitution of “31 December 2024” for “31 December 2021”.”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 6, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 4 of Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020

12. Section 4 of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 is amended, in subsection (6), by the insertion of the following paragraph:

“(d) any other person who, in the view of the Residential Tenancies Board, is at risk of losing their tenancy despite endeavouring to fully comply with the terms of their tenancy agreement and where the termination of that tenancy would put that person at risk of homelessness or at greater risk of contracting Covid-19.”.”.

We submitted this amendment to address the issue of the majority of tenants not covered by the Covid-19 emergency protections. I urge the Minister to acknowledge the significant numbers of tenants not on pandemic support payments who have lost some of their income and are now struggling to meet high rental costs and to not fall into arrears. We can do that by inserting into the Bill the following text: "in the view of the Residential Tenancies Board, is at risk of losing their tenancy despite endeavouring to fully comply with the terms of their tenancy agreement and where the termination of that tenancy would put that person at risk of homelessness or at greater risk of contracting Covid-19". We all know of tenants residing outside rent pressure zones who have been hit with rent increases. They are on modest incomes and under financial pressure. Therefore, I urge the Minister to accept this amendment to protect those not covered by the Covid-19 emergency protections.

I thank Senator Warfield and his colleagues for tabling this amendment. We discussed this issue at some length on Second Stage, when I outlined the position in this regard. Included in this important legislation is, as the Senator rightly said, the extension of protections for those worst affected by the impact of Covid-19. Those protections include a ban on evictions and a ban on rent increases up to January 2022, by way of seeking protection via self-declaration through the RTB to stipulate that one's income has been affected. For example, people may have been in receipt of social welfare during this time and at risk of eviction due to rent arrears.

The measures introduced must be proportionate as well. We must ensure that all aspects of legislation I introduce in this regard respect the tenant and the property owner and are legally robust.

Having looked at the tabled amendment and understood the reason it was put forward, I cannot accept it. What I will say, and what I have said in the Dáil and in this House previously, is that if things take a turn for the worst, which we earnestly hope will not happen, and further measures are needed, I will come back with further protections should we need them. The measures in this Bill, coupled with everything else, will mean that tenants who have already sought protection will continue to be protected from eviction up to next January. It is open to others to seek those additional protections should they wish to do so.

The fact that the current measures are in place has sent a signal to the market. We discussed this at length before. The measures are working, thankfully. So far, we have seen - not to be complacent about it in any way, shape or form - a continued reduction in the number of people homeless, including last month. That is to be welcomed. I know everyone welcomes that, but we need to watch those rates very carefully. People who are, or are at risk of being, in rent arrears, have the emergency rent supplement payment available to them. It is a simplified process so people should not go into rent arrears if they have lost income. If they are on social welfare, the State is there to help with that. We are doing this through the emergency rent supplement payment.

I encourage tenants who are in difficulty to engage with the Residential Tenancies Board, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, and Threshold. The changes we agreed to and introduced last summer around rent arrears mean that when a tenant goes into arrears for the first time, the landlord's rent arrears letter must also be sent to the RTB, and following this the tenant will receive all the information required about the agencies that can help him or her. For the first time, we now know how many people are falling into rent arrears. We would not have known that if it were not for the passing of the Act.

I neglected to say to Senator Warfield when he mentioned the public information and rights campaign for tenants that we have done some of them. I have been engaging with Threshold and the RTB. On the passing of this legislation, there will be a further information campaign for the public. I would like to see it more widespread than it currently is. There are people who are still not aware of their rights and we must make sure that they are aware of them. Hopefully that explains the rationale as to why I am not in a position to accept this amendment.

The Minister referred to the RTB figures which indicated that there were 3,800 rent warning notices and 1,122 notices to quit issued from August 2020 to May 2021 working their way through the system. There are concerns, not just from Sinn Féin but from other political parties and Threshold, that we could possibly see a steady increase in presentations of homelessness. This amendment is designed to ensure these people are protected.

Amendment put and declared lost.
SECTION 12
Government amendment No. 20:
In page 6, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
“(2) Section 5* shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage may by order or orders appoint either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision and different days may be so appointed for different purposes or provisions.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 12, as amended, agreed to.
PREAMBLE
Government amendment No. 21:
In page 4, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“AND WHEREAS the Oireachtas has, with regard to sections 2, 3, 5*, 7*, 11* to 15* and 17(b)* of this Act, taken account of the matters referred to in the forgoing recitals;”.
Amendment agreed to.
Preamble, as amended, agreed to.
TITLE
Government amendment No. 22:
In page 3, line 8, after “tenants;” to insert the following:
“to provide for changes to the manner of determining rent increase restrictions in rent pressure zones;”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 23:
In page 3, line 8, after “2004;” to insert the following:
“to extend the period during which areas shall stand prescribed as rent pressure zones; for that purpose to amend the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019;”.
Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.

When is it proposed to take Report Stage.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Bill received for final consideration.

When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I will let the Minister and anyone else who wishes to speak. As we enter the valedictory period, I will make a brief remark also. I thank Members for their co-operation and the constructive approach taken by everybody to the debate. On behalf of Senator Moynihan, in her absence, I send good wishes to Senator Hoey for her upcoming marriage. I was reminded of it when I saw her imprint on a number of the amendments. I know her area of interest and I saw that in the construction of a number of the amendments. We wish her well and send her good will.

I believe that is agreed by the House and there is unanimity on that. I call on the Minister.

It is magnificent to be in the House on a day when unanimity has broken out across the board. This is great. Gabhaim fíor-bhuíochas le gach Seanadóir a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht thábhachtach úsáideach agus phráinneach seo. Táim fíor-bhuíoch as a gcabhair agus an obair atá déanta acu an tseachtain agus an mhí seo caite. I thank all Senators for their input and for their efforts in the debate we have had. It has been useful and positive, and it was an urgent debate that needed to take place. These are real measures that are going to help tenants. I have no doubt about that. It brings a significant change by linking rent and future increases to inflation. I am pleased that this has been done.

I thank the team in my Department, who have done a superb job, the staff here in the Seanad and those in the Bills Office. This is one of four pieces of legislation that are moving through both Houses. The Seanad has been, as always, incredibly co-operative and constructive. That is why I was correct in initiating the Bills in this House because we get to have a good debate and go through the amendments. I thank all the Members for their input. I am pleased the Bill has come this far and it will now move into the Lower House to get the legislation passed and enacted as quickly as we can, hopefully by the end of the weekend.

I will move clockwise around the House. Bearing in mind that the greatest speech ever made was the Gettysburg address which was, I think, 125 words long - it was very short - I ask that the Senators contribute only a couple of sentences each.

I will be very brief. I thank the Minister and Senators. This is an urgent Bill which we needed to pass and that has now passed. The linking of rent increases to the consumer price index is long overdue.

I thank the Minister. He is correct in saying that this is a very constructive House. He is welcome to bring a Bill, that will address our housing crisis, before this House any day of the week. This Bill addresses the issue for renters and landlords, but we need to do more. The Minister knows this and we look forward to welcoming him back.

The Senator has set a great template and example.

I will try to do the exact same thing. I compliment the Minister for initiating the Bill in this House.

We absolutely look forward to more legislation being commenced in this House. It is always great to get unanimous approval for any legislation. It is the first time I have experienced that in my first year as a Senator. I hope there will be many more examples of it to come in the time ahead. I wish the Minister well with the Housing for All plan in the next couple of weeks. We look forward to welcoming him or the Minister of State to the House on Friday for the Land Development Agency Bill.

I was not expecting this. It feels more like a wedding than the passing of a Bill. I am just getting used to it. The move by the Government to link rents to the consumer price index is progressive, long overdue and welcome. I also see that institutional property investors kicked up about the issue. Taking this action in the face of lobbying from people on the outside, particularly landlords, is important.

We have a major issue with security of tenure for renters. I was glad last week to be able to text somebody who was worried about losing their house over the 8% rent increase to say the law was going to change, they would not be facing 8% and the increase would possibly be less than 1%, depending on what the calculator came up with. It is a relief to a considerable number of people. However, we need to address security of tenure for people in rental accommodation. That is a key issue. We are an outlier in Europe in terms of doing that and I look forward to seeing comprehensive renters' legislation in the autumn.

Stephen and I are currently planning our wedding and were suggesting that there might not be any speeches at the wedding.

The Senator should impose time limits.

I welcome the Bill and echo what Senator Moynihan said. We have called consistently for a three-year ban on rent increases. I mentioned on Second Stage the need to remove terminations and I hope the Government legislation in the autumn will deal with tenancies of indefinite duration to remove terminations on the grounds of the sale of a property, renovation of a property, use for family, use by landlord and renovation on the grounds of climate-proofing a property.

I thank everyone, particularly the Minister. I wish to be associated with his comments thanking his staff and office. I know those people work exceptionally hard. I also thank the Bills Office, which does an amazing job. Special thanks are due to Martin Groves and his team in the Seanad Office for the enormous amount of work they do and the manner in which they keep us on track. That is important.

My biggest thanks are due to the people who have proposed and worked on the amendments. There were 23 amendments to this legislation and we found consensus and agreement, respected each other and had good dialogue. That is the hallmark of a good parliament. I thank all involved, particularly those who prepared, researched and worked on the amendments. We sometimes forget them.

We do not always leave this House feeling pleased. It is difficult for the Opposition, particularly when there is such a sizeable majority on the opposite side of the House. However, this debate was respectful and I thank the Minister for his support.

Déanaim comhghairdeas le gach uile dhuine a bhí páirteach sa jab iontach seo.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.44 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 July 2021.