Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 25 Oct 1979

Vol. 316 No. 5

Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Bill, 1979 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It has been said by the Opposition that the Bill does nothing to improve the housing situation. The purpose of the Bill is not to improve the housing situation but to update contractual arrangements, to consolidate existing legislation and to improve it in some instances. One of the arguments during the debate in the Seanad on section 4 of the Bill related to an amendment which sought to bring the State under the same control as others. As agreed with Senator Alexis FitzGerald, the Minister will be introducing an amendment on this section. When Senator Cooney was Minister for Justice he incorporated section 4 into the Bill on the same basis as did the present Minister for Justice, that is, to protect the majority of people. Harbours, airports and so on have to be protected and should not be subject to the provisions that apply to private companies.

When I referred to the £5 legal fee as being all that was involved in the buying of ground rents, Deputy Keating disagreed that there were many people buying out their ground rents. My information is that, despite a concerted attempt by ACRA and Fine Gael for the legalisation of the non-payment of ground rents, 3,000 applications have already been processed and 10,000 applications are awaiting processing.

Deputy Keating confused the availability of flats with the laws governing flats. This Bill has nothing to do with the availability of flats. I believe that the control of rents should be handed over to the Department of the Environment as they are more suited to this function. I urge the Minister to have this function handed over to the Department of the Environment.

That matter is not covered in this Bill.

At least I am on record as having urged the Minister——

We have already had a row on that point this morning.

I have made my point. I apologise for being out of order.

It is a first-class original suggestion by Deputy Briscoe.

The Rent Restrictions Act is another code.

Are suggestions that are deemed by the Minister to be first-class and original but which are irrelevant more acceptable than second-class and not so original suggestions?

Statements that are outside the scope of the Bill before the House are not relevant, whether they are first-class or otherwise.

I appeal to the Flatdwellers' Association to be moderate in their approach, when making representations to landlords, because there are genuine landlords and rascals. I would support any changes that can be made without driving people out of the business of providing flats. I would always report any neglect by a landlord to the authorities.

I apologise for having being out of order in some instances, but the comments made by me were sincere and I hope that they will be accepted as being sincere.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Bill, 1979. A commitment was given that the Government would look at the situation in relation to landlord and tenant law. The effect of that commitment has been a trilogy of Bills. The first one was the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) Act, 1978 and the second one was the Landlord and Tenants (Ground Rents) (No. 2) Act. This Bill completes a 50- to 60-year period of the landlord and tenant code. This is a very complex field and it is only proper that a commission should examine the whole situation. I pay tribute to the work of the commission and exhort that they press on with their deliberations, because, as time goes on, new changes will come.

This is a Committee Stage Bill, the central theme of which offers a formula for the renewal of expired ground rent leases and deals with the general law governing ground rent leases. Many representations have been made to me, not alone under this Act but in regard to the law on covenants, even to the extent of asking that a Private Members' Bill be introduced to cover an individualistic point. People on all sides of the House recognise the urgent need for such legislation. The Minister said in his Second Reading speech, that it would probably have been much better to have had a single consolidating measure, but that this would take time and the situation was urgent.

I welcome the change from what I term the old ten-year situation, where a tenant had to be in occupation for the immediate three years prior to the date of termination and also for the seven preceding years. This has been changed to a much more satisfactory time factor of three years of business tenancy, which is a wonderful step forward and a big breakthrough. The Bill also allows for an unplanned break within this three-year period; if the court considers such a break to have reasonable grounds, it would be exempt from the three-year period, which is welcome.

The definition of the term "business" has been widened in scope to encompass local authorities. These have difficulties with existing accommodation and have to try to take out some form of occupation agreements. I am glad that they are encompassed, together with various sporting, cultural and charitable organisations. I hope the Minister, in his reply, will deal with this aspect in more detail.

The Bill clearly augments the right of occupational tenants, giving them a new tenancy, after 20 years' continuous occupation, of up to 35 years, instead of the present 21 years. This extension of the period is very welcome as offering, not alone security of tenure to the individual involved, but an opportunity for him to raise finance on the collateral, or on the strength of this lease. With the present situation of the 21-year extension, after fixing the money adjustment, no consideration could be given to renewals at intervals of so many years, so people on year one of a 21-year extension might have to pay an exorbitant or rather, up-market price simply because a court would have to permit that to compensate the landlord. The provision of rent review after a five-year period will ease considerably the situation for an occupational tenant.

In the area of tenant improvements, in the event of the tenant leaving the tenancy on termination of a lease, previously there was a precondition attached that an improvement notice had to be served on the landlord. This advance notice is no longer essential and cognisance may be taken of work and improvements done by the tenant. This must have the welcome effect of maintaining and improving existing housing stock. Furthermore, under the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Bill a tenant can carry out improvements, even against the wishes of the landlord, if it is deemed that the landlord's objections have not sufficient substance.

The Bill also recognises the necessity for urban and commercial renewal. We have had situations where a tenant with a definite agreement has been able to hold up what would be genuine progress, or genuine renewal of an urban or commercial nature of a whole area. I welcome that changes are being made only on very stringent conditions, relevant to the landlord and that any form of bogus effort is avoided, only a genuine effort on the part of the landlord to develop the property being accepted. I am glad to see that planning permission is embodied in this and that the rights of such a tenant are protected and further enshrined. Progress cannot be hindered beyond a certain level, but if a tenant has an extremely good lease—I cannot remember the exact details—he might be entitled to some form of percentage of what might amass in the cash property value of that area. This is a considerable advancement and strengthening of his position.

As I said before, I found the Bill to be extremely complex, complicated and legalistic, very difficult for a lay person to examine with a high degree of accuracy. There are few of us with the necessary training for that. I would compliment those who have done such good work in preparing this piece of legislation. I once more pay tribute to the commission and join with many members in their appreciation of the work of the chairman, Mr. Justice Conroy. I look forward to hearing and perhaps participating in the teasing out of the various matters on Committee Stage because that is where the real factors will be dealt with.

With those few words I welcome the completion of this trinity of bills which honours a commitment already made and is a factor which will see the revision of the past 50 or 60 years' landlord and tenant law.

First of all I would like to say a few words about the Landlord and Tenant Commission under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Conroy. Many of the men who worked with him and who are no longer with us left behind this legislative monument by their hard work and unpaid efforts on behalf of the community. We know because of our history that the very mention of the word "landlord" can be quite emotive. I am glad the Minister has brought in this interim legislation. One might ask why there is no consolidating Bill before the House but that will come eventually. In the meantime we have this Bill which is highly technical and, as somebody in the Seanad said, more a Committee Stage Bill. At the same time it is another step in the programme of the State to bring about equity in ground rents, equity which in real terms will mean fair play both for the tenant and the landlord.

With regard to the landlord the fact that he owns a patch of ground and gets a rent for it is not the most important thing. Very often the landlord is in fact the planning authority. Because of his decision or whim he can rule out a project planned for that piece of land by refusing to grant a new lease. In this city of ours there is much obsolescence so far as property is concerned and much of this can be attributed to landlords who want to hold on to the land because they realise the property they own will grow more valuable all the time. Therefore no attempt is made to keep property in good condition. It may be said that in one case there is a very large foreign landlord agency operating here and, while not to our liking generally, in fairness to them their property is always well maintained because they have been very strict landlords. The tenants, whether they were commercial or domestic, were not very impressed but at the same time, by their adherence to a strict code of maintenance of buildings, they ensured that their property was well kept. On the other hand we have people who do not want the property well kept and in some cases will not even bother to collect the ground rent. They realise that month by month the property is getting into worse condition and will have to be pulled down eventually extinguishing the ground rent but leaving a nice site for a prestigious office block or other building. So there is more to it than the mere granting of a lease or paying of ground rent.

The Minister said earlier on that in his trilogy of Bills and Acts and possible further legislation which will be necessary we will eventually forge a process which not alone will give a tenant justice in his dealings with landlords but will also give the landlord justice. It will also play a very important part in our whole planning process. I hope that in the not too distant future we will have a real system of control of ground rents apart from whatever financial return the landlord will get. I am not against the landlords making a profit provided it is a just profit and can be justified whether it be in the law courts or in the court of public opinion. This is what is aimed at in this further Bill here today.

The Bill may be amended as the Minister mentioned and some may be thinking of further amendments. I look on the Bill as a planning control as well as being equitable legislation. Some years ago in Dublin a valuable piece of land was held by the local authority and under the old legislation they had to sell out at a nominal sum to the people who wanted to develop the area and I suddenly realised how powerful the landlord had become because, although he had not broken the law, he had used it very cleverly on his own behalf. It is a reflection on us if we cannot draft legislation in such a way that it will be used for the common good and not just for the good of the people who happen to own the land. This is a very technical Bill and not a very easy one for the layman to examine or contribute to but we should ensure that not alone will it be fair to the landlord and to the tenant but that it will be for the common good.

The rights of property are subject to the common good and the community is entitled to the full protection of the law. The interest of the mass of the people should not in any way be injured because we strive in the first place to ensure that the landlord is given an equitable position. The tenant in most cases will not be able to influence the development of an area very much; if he keeps his house in order and keeps up its appearance that is as much as he can afford to do. There are some very big landlords and some big property deals going on all the time. Many of these landlords are non-nationals. We are part of the EEC and must not be insular in outlook but we should see that our legislation cannot be abused by anyone.

Many sites in this city may have become derelict because of economic forces and lack of money for development, but there are those who want to see property become obsolescent so that it will have to be pulled down eventually and a new lease created for a new project. I am not against development but it should be in the interest of the community at large. We should be jealous of our rights as citizens and perfect our legislation so that it will be effective in ensuring justice for both landlord and tenant and prevent anyone using the law to further his own narrow interests.

I have seen many changes in dealings with landlords. Some years ago the renewal of a lease was a source of great worry, especially in the case of a domestic tenant. People want to own the land on which their house stands and the Government have made it possible to buy out ground rent fairly easily. I know there is a school of thought which would abolish ground rent altogether, even without compensation. I do not support that view because if the ground landlord has spent money on improvements he should be given his just reward. Let us make sure, however, that he will not laugh all the way to the bank at the expense of people who have to compensate him in an unjust way. Many an unfortunate tenant would try to pay up rather than have any trouble. We should stand firm on this and tell both landlord and tenant that we will not be unfair and that each has a contribution to make towards the community in general. We must ensure that the law is held to be sacrosanct and must try by every action, both inside and outside this House, to bring home to people that the national Parliament is serious in its efforts to draw up effective legislation. The very word "landlord" can be emotive in this country and it is up to us to fashion this Bill as a weapon of justice for landlord and tenant. The Minister mentioned that there may be further legislation. The Government are aware that the landlord and tenant problem must be dealt with as quickly as possible but we cannot finalise the legislation in this Bill.

In cases of doubt as to ownership of land, the local authority could be given guardianship of that land until such time as ownership is established. It should not be allowed to lie vacant because the landlord is unknown. If one wishes to prosecute under the Derelict Sites Act it is often impossible to find out who owns the land in question. It must be cleared up at the expense of the local authority but only a certain amount can be done. Local authority guardianship of such land would prevent cities and towns from a general air of obsolescence in cases where landlords do not want to do anything with their sites. There was the famous case in London of a building which was never let because the landlord felt that the level of potential rents would get higher every year. The local authority there had to devise some legislation to compel him to let the building. Here we have landlords who will hold on to sites without developing them or else wait until they get whatever kind of planning permission they want. The landlord and tenant aspect is central to this problem.

This Bill may be more for the lawyer than the layman, but the layman also has a part to play. I may suggest some amendments to the Minister because I feel the Bill could cover planning and development as well as the landlord and tenant area. It may help to remove friction which exists between landlords and tenants, though this has reduced in scale during the past 20 or 30 years. This Bill will improve the lot of the tenant, the landlord and the whole community. I shall speak again on this Bill on Committee Stage.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a gabháil leis na Teachtaí a labhair ar an mBille seo. Táim anbhuíoch díobh go léir.

I should like to thank the Deputies who spoke on this complex Bill. Deputies Keating, Quinn, Aherne, Fitzpatrick, Vincent Brady, Briscoe, Murphy and Moore spoke and I am grateful to them for their contributions.

As I stated in my introductory remarks, the purpose of the Bill is to up-date the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931, and the Landlord and Tenant (Reversionary Leases) Act, 1958, on the basis of the changes recommended by the Landlord and Tenant Commission. Purely as a matter of consolidation, certain provisions of the Rent Restrictions Act and of the 1963 Planning Act have been included. We are consolidating the Acts I have named and we are improving in some respects a number of the sections contained in them. In addition, we have deleted certain sections of the legislation we are now consolidating where it was found that the legislation was too complicated to operate or where it was not used since its introduction. It could have been described as redundant legislation and, consequently, it was not consolidated into the proposed legal instrument we are discussing now.

This is a consolidation measure. What was good in 1931 need not necessarily be bad in 1979, as has been suggested. What was relevant in 1931 can be just as relevant today. Deputy Fitzpatrick is a solicitor and undoubtedly he brought his experience to bear in his contribution. He said that the 1931 Act was a very good Act. As he admitted himself, when his Government were in power they produced the legislation we are discussing now, they included in it the ground rent legislation and they proposed to include it in one package. Fianna Fáil came to power and we decided to separate the two measures. We decided to have ground rent legislation on its own account and we now have this legislation which consolidates the Acts of 1931 and 1958. We considered it would be more efficient to do this. It was just a matter of opinion.

The legislation we are discussing here was in draft form during the twilight days of the term of office of the National Coalition and much of what we are discussing was contained in that draft legislation. We found what the Coalition did to be acceptable with regard to this matter and we believed it was the proper way to proceed. This is not to underrate the originality of the thinking of the present Minister with regard to the legislation before us. He charged his officials to examine the legislation to see if it could be improved and the officials, with the concurrence of the Minister, decided that the Bill needed betterment. That is what we have done.

This matter was debated in the Seanad. With the greatest respect to the Dáil, I must say that the Seanad has some of the best legal brains in the Oireachtas. I am thinking specifically of Senator Alexis FitzGerald. His knowledge of this kind of legislation is absolutely invaluable in the case of any Bill going before the Seanad. The value of his and other contributions and the contributions today in this House have been extremely worth while. This Bill has been improved very considerably as a result of all the stages I have outlined and eventually, when it is passed, it will prove a very worth-while measure.

I do not want to undervalue the contributions by Members of the Dáil. They have been most valuable. Deputy Moore mentioned the layman's approach to this subject. I do not think that makes any difference whatever. I do not think that a professional mind necessarily produces good legislation. The man who goes among the people daily can bring valuable experience to bear when we are discussing legislation of this kind. That experience and the knowledge of the professionals complement one another.

We have been discussing this Bill all day. As Deputy Fitzpatrick pointed out, the way to deal with each section is on Committee Stage. It would be a physical endurance test, to say the least, to have to deal with all sections now, because this very complicated legislation contains 83 sections. I am not being discourteous or disrespectful to those Members who contributed so ably to this debate today and I wish to tell them that I shall deal in depth with whatever points of view they may wish to put forward on Committee Stage. If I do not give all the answers they require now it is not because of discourtesy but rather a desire to deal with the matter in more depth on Committee Stage.

Deputies opposite, including Deputy Keating and Deputy Quinn, mentioned the National Private Rental Law Reform Group, which is an association of rent controlled landlords, and the National Flatdwellers Association. Certainly the name of the National Flatdwellers Association was thrown around with some abandon by both sides of the House. I have no personal experience of dealing with the National Flatdwellers Association and I do not intend to enter into a controversy about them. But I made inquiries in the Department of Justice and neither of these organisations made any attempt to see either the Minister for Justice or myself in relation to this Bill. Deputy Keating may say that he articulated the views of the National Flatdwellers Association here and that is a fair point to make. As Deputies know the door of the Department of Justice is always open to organisations like these to discuss their views on what should be contained in any legislation which might affect them.

They made a submission to the Law Reform Commission.

I am well aware of that, but one must distinguish between the functions of the Law Reform Commission and the functions of the Department of Justice.

Deputy Keating's contribution is similar to contributions that I made on a number of occasions from the backbenches of Fianna Fáil in and out of Government. No one can deny that his submission is based on an urgent wish for social justice for people living in poor housing conditions. Nobody can deny that in Dublin some people are living in housing conditions which would be more appropriate to the Dublin of the 1920's before the Fianna Fáil Government did something in the early 1930's to wipe out the appalling tragedy that was in the centre of the city. Today some people are still living in similar conditions, and that is one of the tragedies of life. I do not know whether they bring the condition on themselves or whether the landlords out of ignorance or because they are speculators produce the condition. When people go into these flats they go into them with their eyes open. If the flat is in very poor condition the people should not go into them. On the other hand if a flat which has been lived in by the same person for a number of years has deteriorated it is either the flatdweller's or the landlord's fault that the flat has not been improved.

Deputy Keating's contribution shows his undoubted awareness of the problems. If we were to deny that these conditions exist we would be deluding ourselves, but things have improved and the social conditions of today are far better than the conditions that prevailed 20 or 30 years ago. There is an air of prosperity abroad, but whether that prosperity is shared evenly is a subject for another day's debate. Deputy Keating's contribution might also be the subject of another day's debate. We cannot dismiss the Deputy's contribution because it was not quite relevant to the Bill before us as that would not be fair.

The Bill updates the 1931 and 1958 Landlord and Tenants Acts and it does not purport to deal with shortages of accommodation whether it be private rented accommodation or otherwise. I agree with the proposal put forward by Deputy Keating in relation to the provision of local authority flatdwellings for young people who cannot get flats in the ordinary way because they have just got married and are perhaps expecting a baby and the landlords will not have them. In those circumstances the local authorities might consider the production of temporary dwelling units for these people at a reasonable rent. The rent generally asked for in an ordinary private rented flat is exorbitant and these people find it harder to buy their own homes. I applaud Deputy Keating for putting forward that idea, even if it is not original. I welcome any progress in that regard, even though it is not directly relevant to this legislation.

Deputy Keating referred in some detail to a letter by Senator Eoin Ryan who is our party Director of Elections about flatdwellers and about the suggestion of setting up rent tribunals. As the Chair pointed out, and as I point out, this is really a matter for legislation in the area of rent control, which is a separate code from the landlord and tenant code. The Deputy also mentioned the question of discrimination and urged that there should not be any discrimination by landlords against tenants because of their race, colour, sex or creed. There is no suggestion that these rights are in any way being infringed under this Bill, as might be implied by Deputy Keating's contributions. Senator Ryan's letter might have been written arising from the previous four-and-a-half years of inactivity in this area. I imagine that the letter by Senator Ryan was written out of a sense of the need to get the job moving. We are getting on with the job. Deputy Dr. FitzGerald might not believe that we are getting on with the job, but let us be clear about it: this is the third of three pieces of legislation on the subject we are discussing.

The final instalment.

It is not the final instalment.

That is what the Minister said in his speech.

The Deputy is misinterpreting me there. What I did say was that the Landlord and Tenant Commission—you will find it at the end of the speech—would, I expected, deal with the general examination of both statutory and non-statutory provisions of landlord and tenant law, that I looked forward to a successful conclusion to the commission's work with the prospect in due course of a major Bill which would compose a comprehensive modern code of landlord and tenant law. That is not an unreasonable aspiration.

It is only a pity that we were not encouraged to read that between the lines of Senator Eoin Ryan's letter.

Senator Eoin Ryan would not produce the letter he did produce if all that was contained in the letter had been produced by the Coalition Government in the previous four-and-a-half years.

That is not an excuse for breaking election promises.

I do not agree: it is not an excuse. It is a matter of reality. We are doing it and will continue to do it.

You have not started to do it.

Not only have we started but we are in the middle of doing it.


I was getting on very well until Deputy FitzGerald came in, with great respect to him.

I do not think the Minister of State should be helped at this stage; he is well able to look after himself.

I think Senator Eoin Ryan's letter was based on a desire to put right what was left undone in the previous four-and-a-half years. The letter is not necessarily relevant to what we are dealing with now. It was an unnecessary exercise for Deputy Keating to bring it up in relation to the subject matter of this debate.

He was dealing with the omissions in the Bill. We are going to have the tribunals any day now.

I shall deal with that in my contribution. Deputy Keating mentioned section 60 of the Bill and asked about repossession from a tenant protected by the rent Acts. As I pointed out, section 60 cannot be used to repossess from a rent Act protected tenant. The tenant must hold under a release for between three and 25 years. No rent controlled tenant would hold under such a lease. I refer him specifically to section 60 (2) in that regard. Deputy Keating brought up another point which was not unreasonable but whether it was relevant on this occasion is another matter. He spoke of offsetting rent against income tax. That is a very fine point——

It is not relevant now and it was not relevant then.

That is the point; it is more a matter for the Minister for Finance.

There have been so many irrelevancies all day on this Bill that one or two more will not matter much.

Is the Chair establishing a precedent to which we could refer at a future date?

No, no precedent, but as most speakers said, it is such a complex, legalistic Bill that it is very difficult even for anybody in the Chair to decide when things are relevant or not.

They are not relevant when they hurt.

It is not easy to hurt the Chair. I would not make that statement if I were the Deputy.

The Fine Gael spokesman on law reform said that the research that went into the background of the Bill was inadequate and of dubious calibre. I suppose he said it unwittingly but I think it is an unfair remark and it is an indirect attack on the people who went to the trouble of producing the Bill, the Landlord and Tenant Commission and the departmental officials.

That is not what I meant at all.

I am glad to hear that. If that is not what the Deputy meant I shall leave that point.

There was only one sentence in regard to the definition of a housing unit. That is what I said and it is on the record.

The Deputy said that the State should intervene in relation to flat dwellings and try to prevent the reduction in the stock of such dwellings. I do not know if the State should intervene. The rent Acts are produced by the State and flat dwellings operate under the State. In the cirucmstances that was direct intervention and whether that is a good or a bad thing I do not know. I think the State should continue to do its best in regard to the production of more single house units and get away from the production of flat units, particularly high rise flat units. My view is that with our increasing population we should be producing good houses with small gardens for the mass of the people.

Section 60 was referred to extensively by a number of Deputies who in some way tried to impute that it was unfair to the tenant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The section was introduced to deal with compensation on the termination of a tenancy in obsolete buildings. If we want decent housing accommodation why should we complain about getting tenants out of obsolete buildings which are perhaps in danger of falling down? That is what we are talking about. When the landlord wishes to develop the area the tenant is very well protected. There is no question of his rights being undermined in any regard. The landlord must apply for planning permission and while that application is being processed the tenant will have an opportunity either to protest against or concur with permission being granted. That is one line of defence. The application will go to the local authority. If it is appealed it will go to An Bord Pleanála and the tenant can have a second bite at the cherry. Thus there are two lines of defence open to the tenant.

I am sorry but I do not think I understand the Minister's argument.

I am talking about the original planning permission.

I do not see how that has any great relevance.

I am saying that before the tenant has to leave the premises the landlord has to go through this procedure and seek planning permission for the area where the tenant is situated. If the landlord succeeds with the local authority the tenant has the right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála. When the landlord gets planning permission he deals with the tenant. If they cannot agree between themselves the court takes over and decides how the tenant should be treated. I would be very concerned if I felt that either a tenant or a landlord were unjustly treated under this section. There is a fair balance in the section.

Perhaps on Committee Stage the Minister might illustrate how the position of the tenant can affect planning permission. To my knowledge permission is granted or not on planning grounds alone.

I agree but I am saying that in relation to the planning permission itself—I am not talking about his rights under this Bill. I am saying that he can protest as a citizen against a planning application by a landlord.

It is a technical point, but it could be ruled out as being a frivolous objection on the grounds that he had no objection for planning reasons.

That is a fine point which I will deal with in greater detail on Committee Stage. In my view section 60 is fairly couched in the interests of the landlord and tenant because in the final analysis when a court awards compensation for the termination of a tenancy the measure of the compensation will primarily be related to the financial loss, damage or expense which the tenant sustains or incurs. It was suggested that in the circumstances the tenant should be rehoused immediately by the landlord. That is a reasonable point but I imagine a court in the circumstances will take into consideration in compensating the tenant the cost of a new house and of replacing the tenant as near as possible to the position he was in in the tenement which is the subject of the litigation. In my view section 60 has a fair balance. I have no doubt that that point of view will be argued against on Committee Stage when we will have the usual friction between the Opposition and the Government side. I am grateful to Deputy Keating for his contribution.

Deputy Quinn suggested that the Bill be sent to a select committee. There is a lot of merit in that suggestion. This is a big Bill which will take up a lot of the time of the House on Committee Stage. A lot of time was devoted to it in the Seanad by the worthy legal luminaries there. Some fine, obtuse and obscure points were brought up in the Seanad and they were gone into in detail. I do not know whether the time of this House should be taken up with the Committee Stage of a complex Bill like this. I will bring this matter to the attention of the Fianna Fáil Chief Whip and I have no doubt that Deputies Quinn and Keating will refer it to the Chief Whips of their parties. I would be willing to deal with this Bill in a select committee because I believe it would be dealt with more efficiently and speedily. If it was sent to a select committee the House could proceed to deal with other legislation.

Deputy Quinn welcomed certain provisions of the Bill, particularly those in relation to business leases in the commercial world generally in Dublin. He referred specifically to the section which deals with the 21-year lease. The difficulty there was that up to recently under a 21-year lease a rent had to be fixed for 21 years. The rent was at a grossly inflated rate to make it worth the landlord's while to lease the property. The Landlord and Tenant Commission recommended that there should be a rent review every seven years but the Government took the view that in the event of a court adjudicating on this the period of the rent review should be five years. We are all aware that the value of money depreciates annually and for that reason I believe a five-year review was a proper one. I should like to state that the Bill is for the use of landlords and tenants in relation to their rights. The courts will have to be given some guidelines in relation to this matter. I believe the decision to permit a rent review every five years represents a considerable improvement. However, the points raised in relation to that can be considered in greater detail on Committee Stage.

Deputy Quinn raised the question of young couples trying to procure housing accommodation, a matter which is not strictly relevant to the Bill. It is my view that, generally speaking, people are fairly treated by landlords but some very mean people will not take in a young couple who have a baby. That is unfortunate. In addition, I am aware that some landlords when they hear that one of their tenants is expecting a baby seek to evict them. That is all in the general area of social justice.

It was suggested that I should include in this Bill a flatdwellers' charter and a provision for the setting up of a rents tribunal. Much as I would like such a charter to be incorporated, with all its attendant good, I must point out that such a suggestion is not relevant to this Bill. It may be relevant to the housing Acts or some other Acts for which the Minister for Justice is not responsible. I shall deal with the question of a rents tribunal in more detail before concluding.

I agree with Deputy Quinn that overall responsibility for the private rental sector might be contained in one area, might be taken out of the Department of Justice and placed with the Department of the Environment, or with some section of that latter Department. I understand that that situation has been examined. I am grateful to Deputy Quinn and I have no doubt that when we reach Committee Stage he will bring undoubted knowledge gleaned from his professional life as an architect to bear on it.

Deputy B. Ahern was correct in saying that this Bill is not the end of landlord and tenant legislation generally. There will be a gap between this and the next Bill. Nobody denies that, but we hope it will not be a long one. We would hope in time to consolidate the totality of landlord and tenant legislation in one Bill. Indeed nor is it the end of the prospect of the flatdwellers' charter which has been bandied about here by Deputies opposite. But I should think that the legislation required by Deputies opposite in this respect might be incorporated in a Bill to be introduced by some other Minister than the Minister for Justice. The Deputy wanted a number of definitions—an occupational tenancy is one where the landlord owns the bricks and mortar interest and a ground rent tenancy is one where the tenant owns the bricks and mortar interest. I am not quite certain what point he was making there, but if the Deputy would like to discuss the matter further with me I shall be glad to help him in that regard. I think Deputy Ahern referred also to section 48 of the Bill and said that the landlord could be prejudiced by the non-service of notice, for example, if (a) he could have done the improvement himself more effectively or at less cost by securing an improvements undertaking, or (b) if he would have been entitled to sustain an improvements objection had a notice been served on him. That answer might help the Deputy.

Deputy Fitzpatrick, who brought his experience of legal practice in rural Ireland to bear on the Bill, made the point that it is good as far as it goes but that it does not go far enough. He mentioned also the Landlord and Tenant Commission appointed in January, 1966, which had produced a number of reports within a fairly short space of time thereafter. The Bill with which we are dealing and previous legislation was produced on the basis of recommendations of the Landlord and Tenant Commission. We are, in the main, now enacting that legislation, some people might say belatedly, but nonetheless it is being done.

I should like to deal specifically with section 4, which I know will cause a lot of controversy when it comes to be dealt with on Committee Stage. This relates to the question of the State's exemption from this legislation: in other words, that the State in its capacity as a lessor or immediate lessor of any premises, will not be bound by the landlord and tenant code. Perhaps I may refer to a few notes here. Up to mid-1976 it was generally held that the Landlord and Tenant Acts did not bind the State as lessor and all previous legislation in this area was drafted on that assumption. Proceedings that were taken in 1976 by a tenant of the State led to that assumption being called in question for the first time. The provision in section 4 simply resolves the doubt that arose in that case although this doubt has never been given the authority of any court decision. Certainly we take the view that there is no reason to fear for the position of tenants of the State. Assuming that section 4 stands in the Bill when enacted into law, the situation of such tenants will remain what it always has been: on the basis that the State is and always was exempt. If there are difficulties for tenants of the State those difficulties would surely have been brought to notice long before now. Indeed, a State authority must be more awake to any criticism of its operations than a private landlord since it can so readily come under public scrutiny. The reasons for the exemption of the State, as landlord, from the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Acts lies in the recognition that the role of the State as a landlord is not the same as that of a private individual or corporation. Whereas in the latter case the ownership and leasing of lands and property represents an entrepreneurial activity motivated by profit, the State is normally involved in the ownership and leasing of lands and property incidental only to its administration of such lands and property, possession of which by the State is necessary in the public interest.

Perhaps I might be permitted to give couple of examples of what I am speaking about and to which Deputy Briscoe in his worthy contribution adverted. The first is that of the Minister for Tourism and Transport, who owns tracks of land in the vicinity of the three State airports, ownership of which is necessary in order to ensure against development of the land in a manner that would inhibit airport operations. The second example is that of the Minister for Defence, who holds lands adjacent to certain military installations for purposes similar to those I have outlined in connection with airport operations. Additionally, most leases of land made by or on behalf of the Minister for Defence include a proviso that possession of the lands may be recovered at any time if military exigencies so demand.

That is not to suggest for one moment that it is not my intention to put right a feature again adverted to in the Seanad, that is the situation where a tenant is a tenant of a private landlord and the private landlord is bought out by the State, and the tenant finds himself in a rather invidious position. It is my intention to examine the possibility of introducing an amendment ensuring that tenants' rights in those circumstances are protected. But, let us be clear about it: when a tenant becomes a tenant of the State he goes into a property or properties knowing the State to be the owner and in those circumstances goes in with his eyes open. Again, in those circumstances he must accept on his legal advice the restrictions placed on him. On the other hand, if a tenant goes into a premises belonging to a private individual and thereafter the State takes him over in those circumstances he is entitled to protection. It is my intention to take a very serious look at section 4 to ensure that such individuals' rights are protected.

I am most grateful to the Deputies who contributed. I should not like it to be thought that by virtue of my not dealing with some of the points I am in any way dismissing them. Quite the contrary. It is my intention to revert to many of the points I may not have touched on on this occasion, and that is not out of any discourtesy to the Deputies who so ably contributed.

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 5 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 31 October 1979.