Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Questions (21)

Darragh O'Brien


21. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of specific staff allocated to each local authority affected by short-term letting regulations to implement the new rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45192/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Will the Minister provide on the number of new staff allocated to each local authority affected by the short-term letting regulations he brought in, which became effective this summer, in order to implement the new rules for those authorities that have rent pressure zones? I am trying to get a handle on the additional resources now in place and what resources it is planned to put in place over the coming months.

I thank the Deputy for the question. On 4 June, my Department wrote to planning authorities with rent pressure zone, RPZ, designations seeking estimated resource funding requirements for the implementation and enforcement of the new short-term letting provisions, to cover the period to the end of 2021. My Department wrote again to planning authorities on 2 July and 26 September seeking new or revised estimates following my designation of additional RPZs in certain parts of the country, which extended the application of the short-term letting provisions to these areas. The additional resources sought primarily comprise additional enforcement staff but also include, inter alia, associated legal and IT costs.

Since then, further communication has taken place between my Department and all relevant planning authorities seeking clarification and refinement of the resourcing requests, as well as the practical implementation of the short-term letting provisions.

Under budget 2020, €2.5 million is being made available to support planning authorities in the implementation and enforcement of the short-term letting legislation. My Department has now secured sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for this new funding provision. My Department will be contacting local authorities shortly regarding the recoupment of eligible expenditure in respect in the latter part of 2019 and their budgets for 2020.

Pending this, planning authorities are enforcing the new provisions, including the recruitment of new staff, if required, from within their existing resources.

I thought my question was quite clear in that I asked how many additional staff per local authority have been recruited. The Minister's reply referred to clarifications, the refinement of additional resources and additional funding. I am interested in how much, if any, additional funding has been secured. Surely the Minister has an idea how many additional staff are in place to cope with demand, given that the regulations came into force in July. Is he happy with the progress to date?

How many people have registered their properties under the new regulations? Is the Department keeping an eye on that? I and others raised this issue at a meeting of the housing committee in terms of how it would be managed and whether resources would be in place to manage it. Without being difficult, I would like some information on how many additional staff are in place in Dublin City Council and Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County councils. Have all of the local authorities responded to the Minister's correspondence?

The Minister mentioned two dates, 2 July and 26 September. Does his Department have the information it needs? Does it know what each local authority requires? I am trying to get a handle on the numbers involved, the effect of these regulations and whether they have been implemented yet.

I thank the Deputy for the follow-up questions. There were a few parts and I will try to cover all of them.

Each planning authority already has a planning section, an enforcement section and everything else. Dublin City Council has more than 170 staff. It was quite clear in the first few months of implementation of these new laws that local authorities would be required to reallocate staff from within existing resources. For example, a number of staff in Dublin City Council were already dealing with short-term letting because it was an issue for the city. What we did with the planning laws was clarify the legal situation from a planning point of view.

We said we would allow local authorities to hire new staff out of the funding we would provide for 2020 and onwards and we would try to recoup the cost of additional staff hired in the course of 2019. We know Dublin City Council want to hire about 13 new staff and has already started recruitment. It has taken on new staff. Out of all of the local authorities impacted by the changes, we have had requests for between 50 and 60 new staff in total between now and 2021. Funding of €2.5 million is available which will go some way to meet the costs of the additional staff required for planning authorities. I will deal with complaints, exemptions and everything else in my next reply.

That is useful to some degree. The Minister indicated that 50 or 60 additional staff have been recruited by the affected local authorities. I take it that no additional staff have yet been appointed. That is important. The regulations have been in place since 1 July. A major issue was made of short-term lettings. These are an issue not just in terms of restricting supply for long-term renters but also in the context of enforcement. The Minister correctly referred to the quality of life for people who are living next door to properties being used for short-term letting, particularly apartments and so on.

We are aware of the issues. Deputy Ó Broin, I and other members of the housing committee spent a lot of time discussing this issue. I want to know what effect the regulations brought forward by the Minister have had. They have been in place for over four months. Is the Minister satisfied with the progress that has been made? What more would he like to be done? Has each local authority told the Minister what additional funding they need?

I thank the Deputy. Each local authority came back with information on the number of additional staff they will require and the funding they will need out to 2021. We are now engaging with them in terms of the actual funding we have, and what that means in terms of how many new staff can be hired and how they may have to reallocate staff within their own planning authorities which are the sections within local authorities that deal with this matter.

Dublin City Council has already recruited additional staff. A lot of recruitment needs to take place in order to provide the additional 50 or 60 staff required. We are in a bedding down period and are now moving towards more rigorous enforcement. We have had 300 or more notifications to avail of exemptions, that is, people who want to continue to home share but who will not be involved in short-term lettings unless it is under the 90-day cap. We have had 16 requests for a change of use. We have had 370 complaints from members of the public. A total of 152 people received warnings from the council and 45 concerned property owners were subsequently issued with section 154 warning notices further to subsequent inspections. Some 160 of these cases were subsequently resolved to the satisfaction of the council without the need to initiate court proceedings, which means that properties were put back into use for long-term letting or were sold. There are 165 ongoing investigations. That gives the Deputy an example of the significant work which is already under way, and that is before all of the new additional staff have been hired.