Other Questions. - Private Rented Accommodation.

Liz McManus


8 Ms McManus asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when he expects to receive the report of the Commission on the Private Rented Residential Sector; and the plans, if any, he has to provide additional protections for people in private rented accommodation pending the receipt of the report. [10059/00]

The Commission on the Private Rented Residential Sector has been asked to report by 1 June of this year. The Government has in the past two years provided significant additional support and protections for people in private rented residential accommodation. Substantial increases in tax relief for tenants renting private rented accommodation were announced in the budget last December and take effect today.

Targeted incentives for the provision of student accommodation were introduced in the Finance Act, 1999. I am pleased to say that some 1,100 places will be available by October of this year and over 7,500 places are at various stages of planning.

The protection afforded to tenants under the registration of rented houses regulations has also been improved. In January last, the regulations were amended to provide that the onus is now on the landlord to prove that a dwelling is exempt from the requirements of the regulations and to remove the exemption from the regulations on the grounds that the letting is of a temporary convenience nature. Registration now applies to every house let as a dwelling for rent or other valuable consideration, subject to limited exceptions.

The report of the Commission on the Private Rented Residential Sector will be examined carefully and I expect that the commission's recommendations will provide a firm basis for the future development of this key housing sector.

It will come as a great surprise to the many tenants that the Government has been doing something to improve their lot. Does the Minister accept that the initiatives that have been taken have benefited the landlord rather than the tenant and that the experience of the tenant over the past three years of his tenure in office has been of increasing rents and greater vulnerability in rented accommodation? Is the Commission on the Private Rented Residential Sector on target to report on 1 June? When will the Minister introduce in the House legislative changes recommended by the commission which, as is widely accepted by anybody who knows anything about the private rented sector, are long overdue?

I agree with the Deputy that rents have increased substantially in recent years. I do not accept his contention that people are suffering from greater vulnerability as a result of actions of the Government.

They certainly are.

I mentioned that a number of the initiatives we have taken have strengthened the tenant's position. I also mentioned the regulations which did not favour the landlord and tied up a loophole left by the previous Government in relation to those regulations.

On the Commission on the Private Rented Residential Sector, I am told that it is on target and that the people involved have been diligent in their approach. They are representative of a broad cross-section of people – landlords, legal people and so on. As to the action which will be taken as a result, the Government will consider the commission's recommendations carefully and will put them into effect as quickly as is humanly possible. That commitment has existed since the commission was established.

Will the Minister consider legislating for a mandatory system of fixed-term renewable leases with a set of recognised guidelines for rent review? Does he accept that that type of system has successfully dealt with the needs of a much larger private rented sector in many other countries?

The Deputy makes a good point. Probably for historical reasons landlord-tenant legislation in this country and attitudes on both sides seem to emanate more from the previous century or the century before than this one. The Deputy is correct in what he says about that type of approach. All these issues are being considered by the commission. There has been a great deal of good, lively debate on it. What must be done, and we have discovered this to our cost, is that the two sets of rights in this case must be balanced – those of the tenant and those of the landlord. The approach suggested by the Deputy, where that balance would be kept but greater security of tenure would be provided for the tenant and perhaps also for the landlord, would be immensely helpful in the current climate.

Assuming the commission reports on target at the beginning of June, when does the Minister expect that he will be in a position to bring legislation before the House?

That is an impossible question to answer as the Deputy knows well.

It is not an impossible question.

I cannot give the Deputy a detailed timescale on legislation which may come forward because I do not know what the recommendations will be. Some of them could involve a referendum. I will not hang myself by saying the recommendations will be implemented within three or six months. I assure the Deputy that there will be no undue delay in bringing them forward and acting on them because they are badly needed and the area is regarded as a priority by the Government. That is why we set up the commission to begin with.

Mr. Hayes

Does the Minister accept that there needs to be a proper regulatory framework to enforce standards for the private rented sector and that local authority housing departments are unable to cope with that area of responsibility? What we need is a separate body to regulate the private rented sector and enforce standards. In my local authority one person is charged with this responsibility for 25,000 to 30,000 houses. That is not good enough.

I am sure that if that is a recommendation of the commission it will be considered fully by the Government at the appropriate time. However, I do not want to pre-empt any of the recommendations it might make. It might be a good idea if the Deputy conveyed his suggestion to the commission before it concludes its hearings.