Anti-Evictions Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

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

I wish to share time with Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

I want to explain once again how necessary and urgent this type of legislation is in order to stop what is now a homelessness epidemic. We are running out of descriptions for what we are facing in terms of housing and homelessness.

Some 6,985 people are now homeless, and there is no doubt that by the end of January, which is a grim month for evictions as landlords evict families whom they have maintained over Christmas, the figure will go way beyond 7,000. Things will get worse, not better.

There is now a very clear gulf between what the majority of ordinary people in society would like to be done in terms of the housing and homelessness crisis and what the Government and, it seems, other parties in the Dáil are willing to do. This was best shown by what can only be described as mercurial levels of support, applause and acclaim for the occupation of Apollo House before Christmas.

If we are serious about ending homelessness, as a first step we need to stop the very easy ways landlords can evict people. This Bill targets two of the easy methods of eviction, namely, the sale of a property and a family member moving into property. I will deal with those matters shortly.

The Bill also proposes indefinite leases, rather than the current situation whereby a lease automatically lapses after six years, a measure which was introduced in recent legislation. It proposes longer notice periods of up to a year for long-term tenants who have been in a property for over five years to ensure they can find a place in a school for their children, etc.

The Bill also reduces the so-called probation period, which is currently six months. A person would have full tenancy rights after two months in a property. It also makes very clear that banks, receivers and other institutions are also landlords with exactly the same obligations.

The Bill targets what are called "dubious terminations" by the likes of Threshold, which are being reported as having increased dramatically in recent times. The number of such evictions is rising in the same way that rents are rising. Families have told me that landlords are increasingly citing a family member needing to move into a property as a reason for eviction.

I know of a woman with serious medical issues who has been living in a property in the Clonee area for 15 years. She could lose her home because a landlord presents a letter stating that a family member needs to move in. That is completely and utterly wrong. We have to change the culture. If people rent out their houses and homes, they are no longer their homes. Rather, they have made a business arrangement and tenants have to have rights.

Somebody on Facebook made a good analogy. If a family member loses his or her job, an employer cannot suddenly make staff unemployed in order to employ him or her. The situation pertaining to landlords is very similar. We would not accept such a provision in employment law, and should not accept it for housing. We do not propose outlawing this provision because there are cases where landlords may need properties for family members.

Rather, we propose that landlords would have to pay compensation of six months' rent to a tenant if the landlord wanted to move the tenant out. This is the case in other countries such as the Netherlands. I could cite many instances where this reason has been given.

A young woman in the Tallaght area was made homeless on 10 January. The stress of eviction was hanging over her throughout Christmas. It is not the first time she has lost a property because a landlord has cited family reasons.

It is clear that this ground is being used in a dubious way.

The key measure in the Bill, on which I wish to focus for the remainder of my contribution, is a ban on eviction for the sale of a property. This is not the first time this particular demand has been made, but it is absolutely vital if we want to outlaw dubious evictions. Without question, the ground is sometimes used by landlords as an excuse to displace one tenant and get in a new one on a higher rent. Despite the measures introduced by the Minister before Christmas to be implemented in Dublin and Cork, this could still take place in the rest of the country. It could still take place in Dublin and Cork, too, because, in reality, who will check if a landlord has complied with his or her obligations?

We need this measure to protect those who are being made homeless by individual landlords who may genuinely be selling the property, but that does not give them an excuse to make a family homeless, as well as by receivers and vulture funds, about which we have all heard a lot in the past week. Strand Tenants Against Vulture Evictions, STAVE, in Limerick has sent a letter to all Deputies. In it it makes the point that it fully supports the Bill proposed because, even under the Minister's amendment introduced before Christmas, the so-called Tyrellstown amendment, all a vulture fund has to do is reissue the eviction notices and evict nine families at a time. The Minister has given them that power. He thinks nine families being evicted represents a fair balance of rights. He stated before Christmas that he had consulted constitutional experts.

That is the legal advice.

Exactly. That is the kind of law we have in this society. The rights to private property are such that nine tenants equal one landlord. There is something seriously wrong with such a society. We should take on board the fact that STAVE supports the Bill.

The Government makes a number of points in the amendment it has tabled. Essentially, it states it has now done enough to stop these things happening. It also makes the disingenuous point that these issues were well discussed before Christmas. It knows that the Opposition agreed to circumvent the debate in order to allow the Government bring in that law quickly. The Minister will remember that we were all here late at night on the last day and that we all co-operated by limiting the debate in order to allow him to introduce safeguards to stop landlords jacking up rents. Therefore, I contend that we did not debate these issues fully.

One of the points made in the amendment is that the Bill is being opposed because the Tyrrelstown amendment is "already delivering positive outcomes for tenants". There are Tyrrelstown tenants in the Visitors Gallery. The Minister named a provision after them, but he did not consult them beforehand, which is a little strange given that he named the provision after them. They do not feel like they are being protected in any way, shape or form. They have successfully fought the eviction notices and are continuing to fight in the Residential Tenancies Board. However, all the vulture fund landlord needs to do is to lower the number of families he or she wants to evict in one go to nine. The fact that nine families, including children, will no longer be in a community will have serious effects on it.

There has been a lot of deception surrounding the Tyrrelstown amendment. The provision still allows vulture funds to evict. That is the reality. They can evict nine families, but, in fact, they can evict any number they want. Perhaps the Minister might clarify the position because reporters and journalists do not seem to have taken it on board. He created a get-out clause in the Tyrrelstown amendment that allows a vulture fund to argue that it is justified in not selling a property with the tenant unaffected, that is, with the tenant in situ, if it will lose 20% of the price on the sale of the property. It can evict any number of tenants in these circumstances. All it has to do is cite it as being hard work to expect them to do otherwise and that it will lose 20% of the sale price. That is very easy to do.

There are many get-out clauses included in the amendment.

Last night it was put to the Minister on RTE television that the impression had been given that he had given some commitment to the Strand tenants in Limerick that they would not be affected if the sales went ahead. It is possibly because the vulture fund has strong connections with NAMA and the Government. Will the Minister do the same for the Tyrrelstown tenants? He stepped in to help the Strand tenants in Limerick, whom I support fully; fair play to the Anti-Austerity Alliance councillor, Mr. Cian Prendiville, who organised the initial meeting and exposé of the issue. However, will the Minister do the same for the tenants from Tyrrelstown in west Dublin who are in the Visitors Gallery? They are trying to keep a roof over their heads. The Minister has agreed to meet them, which is welcome. They are looking for an affordable mortgage scheme that will help to keep them in their homes.

The Apollo House occupation over Christmas which was a fantastic action to propel the indescribable housing and homelessness crisis to the top of the political agenda and which received huge support across the board, as noted by Deputy Ruth Coppinger, was a fantastic intervention in this deplorable crisis. It piled further pressure on the Government to address this chronic problem. Again, as Deputy Ruth Coppinger stated, words and descriptions fail us at this point. We have spoken and protested so much about it. That type of people power action to propel the issue to the top of the political agenda is the only way we will get the change we need to force the Minister to provide for the radical shift in policy that is necessary to deal with the crisis.

The figures have been quoted. Nearly 7,000 people are homeless. The figure has increased exponentially. It is disgraceful that 249 of them are children. The numbers exiting homelessness and moving into social housing have decreased solidly for the past four quarters. At the end of 2015, 241 people were exiting homelessness to move into social housing, but by the end of the third quarter of 2016, that number had reduced to 141.

The Minister is failing and that failure results from the central problem with his housing policy and strategy - the failure to build local authority housing with affordable rents and provide the security of tenure tenants really need. Those on low and middle incomes need secure tenancies. The exponential rise in the level of homelessness also results from the failure on the part of the Minister and successive Governments to give tenants in the private rental sector the security and protection they need. The Bill is an attempt to do what the Minister is failing to do. It seeks to ensure tenants would have real security, not just the protection for four years offered by a Part 4 tenancy which they only receive after six months, by providing that after two months they would have indefinite security of tenure.

It is now six years.

Yes, but they need indefinite security of tenure.

We need real rights for tenants in order that they do not have to worry every year about whether they will have a roof over their heads. The Bill proposes to extend the notice period for rent increases from 90 days to 180 days and the notice period for eviction after five years of tenancy to at least one full year. It categorises banks and receivers as landlords in order that they acquire proper obligations as landlords. Critically, as Deputy Coppinger stated, the Bill would ensure that if people use the excuse that a family member is to move into a property, they will have to pay compensation to the tenant. It proposes to end the practice of justifying or allowing evictions on the basis that a property is being sold. Many landlords are using these excuses for the purpose of exploiting the spiralling rent crisis and evicting people for no other reason than greed and to make money.

When we argue that these types of measures should be taken, the Minister resists by arguing that they would somehow disincentivise landlords and investors from entering the rental sector and suggesting that investors would flee the sector. The truth, however, is that the opposite has occurred and the private rental sector has grown dramatically. Since 2011, the number of people living in private rented accommodation has increased by 61% to 328,000. Far from fleeing the sector, landlords and investors - people with money - are flooding into the market because they are making a killing from spiralling rents and the misery being suffered by those who are being made homeless or charged extortionate rents. The brutality of some of these people, particularly the vulture funds, is shocking. As I may have to provide more details of this later in the week, I will not go much detail now.

On the Minister's rent certainty proposals introduced before Christmas to allow annual rent increases of 4%, some landlords moved quickly to get in before the curtain came down. I am dealing with an entire apartment block that is in the hands of receivers. I am fairly sure it is owned by a vulture fund. On the day before the legislation was enacted, every single tenant received a letter indicating that their rent was being jacked up by between 50% and 60%. The company clearly understood the law perfectly because it cited the new legislation. It is sickening cynicism and greed to jack up rents two days before Christmas and one day before the legislation was commenced in the knowledge that an attempt was being made to limit rent increases. I suspect we will see much more of this throughout the country. The Minister was warned about this in the lengthy debate on the legislation in the House when we highlighted the inadequacies of his rent certainty measures. This example shows the level of cynicism, greed and cruelty of many of the vulture funds and landlords who are exploiting the housing and homelessness crisis. It is against that background that serious rights for tenants and serious controls on landlords are required.

As Deputy Coppinger correctly stated, the idea that the family home issue, constitutional rights, apparent legal rights and private property should be somehow used as an excuse in these circumstances is utter nonsense because the individuals and companies in question are in a business. According the same rights to private property in circumstances where people are in a business is ridiculous. I note that the legal problems with the constitutional right to private property disappear when it suits the political establishment, for example, when compulsory purchase orders are needed for roads and so on. In addition, all the constitutional problems suddenly disappeared when the Minister introduced his rent certainty proposal. I suspect that these constitutional restraints are highly dubious and could be challenged on the basis of the constitutional imperatives which allow us to reconcile those rights with the exercise of the common good.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann, while recognising the acute pressures that tenants are under and the importance of strengthening security for tenants, and to move towards longer term tenancies, declines to give the Anti-Evictions Bill 2016 a second reading for the following reasons:

(a) the proposals in this Bill were discussed and debated in detail in Dáil Éireann in the context of the recent passage of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 which, together with the Government’s Strategy for the Rental Sector published in December 2016, gives effect to the Government’s policy on the rented sector;

(b) the issues involved are being addressed comprehensively through the Rental Strategy, including the actions to be taken forward in implementing the strategy consistent with the Confidence and Supply Arrangement for a Fine Gael-led Government and the associated legislative changes introduced under the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, such as the Tyrrelstown amendment, which is already delivering positive outcomes for tenants;

(c) it pre-empts any assessment of the positive impacts on tenants’ security that will arise from the implementation of the Strategy’s Rent Predictability measure in those areas already designated as Rent Pressures Zones and, potentially, in additional priority areas which are to be examined for designation, the overall effectiveness of which is to be reviewed in June 2017;

(d) it does not take account of the Working Group, to be established under Action 5 of the Rental Strategy and report by Q1 2017, to examine the scope for amending legislation to provide for greater protection of tenants’ rights during the receivership process;

(e) the measures in the Bill risk undermining stability and confidence in the rental sector and negatively impacting on existing and future supply of rented accommodation; and

(f) the Bill has potential legal and constitutional implications which require careful consideration.

I thank Deputies Coppinger, Barry, Paul Murphy, Boyd Barrett, Bríd Smith and Gino Kenny for bringing forward this Bill and emphasising once again the importance we attach to the development of the rental sector. This is a major priority for me and the Government. While I acknowledge the Bill's merits in the context of the development of the residential rental sector, the Deputies will appreciate that the proposal once again raises issues that have been addressed by the Oireachtas in the passage of recent legislation and the Government's strategy for the rental sector. In that respect, I accept that there was some co-operation towards the end of the debate on the recent Bill to complete it before Christmas. We also had lengthy debates on Second Stage and Report Stage during which Members had their say on many issues.

The rental strategy is supported by 29 actions under the headings of "Security", "Standards", "Services" and "Supply". It is premature to revisit these issues at such an early stage in the implementation of the strategy and the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, which was signed by the President on 23 December 2016. The measures in the Bill before the House risk undermining stability and confidence in the rental sector and negatively impacting on existing and future supply of rented accommodation.

The rental strategy launched on 13 December 2016 recognises the importance of the sector and was designed to provide for a balanced package of reforms meeting the needs of tenants and landlords to ensure that we have a functioning rental sector. Every political party, member of the public and stakeholder in the rental sector had an opportunity to contribute in writing to the rental strategy. Many people also contributed verbally at seminars and so on. The strategy sets out a realistic targeted plan for dealing with the many serious issues we are discussing.

I have prioritised the introduction of a time-bound system of rent predictability based on the concept of rent pressure zones for immediate implementation. Under this system, areas where rents are high and rising quickly will be identified and designated as rent pressure zones. In these areas, annual rent increases will be limited to a maximum of 4% for a period of three years. This measure has already been applied to Dublin and Cork city and came into operation on 24 December 2016 following enactment of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016. These areas were chosen as they meet the criteria for a rent pressure zone and because so many households - 150,000 - in these areas depend on rented accommodation.

We are not stopping there, however. The Housing Agency is working with local authorities to identify and propose new areas for designation. The Residential Tenancies Board is further developing its methodology for analysing data on rents to allow local electoral areas to be assessed to determine whether they meet the criteria for designation as rent pressure zones. This will enable us to target the measure more precisely and include specific problem areas within local authority areas which need rent predictability, even if the relevant local authority at aggregate level does not meet the designation criteria. It will also mean that specific areas that do not require the measure can be excluded. This work is continuing apace and I expect that we will see new rent pressure zones being designated in the near future. On the right to terminate on the ground of sale, I also introduced other significant legislative changes in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016.

The Act includes two significant provisions in regard to security of tenure. Section 40 of the Act, more commonly known as the Tyrrelstown amendment, provides that a landlord may not terminate a tenancy on the ground that he or she wishes to sell a dwelling in circumstances where more than ten dwellings in the same development are being sold at the same time. This provision arises from a commitment in the Rebuilding Ireland action plan for housing and homelessness to deal with situations whereby large numbers of tenants in a single development are served with termination notices at the same time. In addition, section 41 of the Act provides for the repeal of section 42 of the Act of 2004, thereby extinguishing the landlord’s right to terminate a further Part 4 tenancy in the first six months of that tenancy for no stated ground. Yesterday, I signed the commencement order for both of these provisions and they have come into effect as of today.

In drafting the Tyrrelstown amendment, my Department was aware that restricting the use of the ground of sale to terminate a tenancy could be regarded as an interference with constitutionally protected property rights. Therefore, the amendment was drafted to ensure that this interference was both proportionate and justified. I know that there are people in this Chamber who do not agree with the approach we took, but we took it on the basis of legal advice to ensure that we would not lose a legal challenge. I believe that the justification behind the Tyrrelstown amendment, which removes the right to end tenancies on the ground of sale where ten or more properties are involved, is sufficiently strong to protect it from a successful constitutional challenge. The smaller this limiting number of properties, the weaker the justification and the more likely a successful challenge would become. Removing this right entirely, as this Bill proposes, would be a risky move in my view and for this reason alone I am not prepared to support it.

Aside from the legal vulnerability of the proposal, I am also convinced that it would result in a withdrawal of existing supply in the market in the short term. This is not in the interests of any stakeholder, but it would be disastrous for tenants in particular if supply was to dramatically reduce. I also believe there is a need to make a distinction between professional landlords and funds that own large developments and landlords that own one or two properties, which is the vast majority of landlords in Ireland. The Tyrrelstown amendment is a more balanced and proportionate measure but it is a fundamental change to the obligations of institutional landlords and it is already having an impact. We have seen a situation of multiple tenancy terminations potentially arising in Limerick over the last week. Happily, when I made contact with the parties involved and explained the Government’s intent, they withdrew the termination notices and agreed to hold off until the new measures came into effect. In other words, they were willing to take on the spirit of the legislation before it commenced. I thank them for doing so.

Therefore, they will do nine instead of 15.

No, they will not. I asked them to act in a manner that is consistent with the spirit of the legislation before it was actually enacted and they did that. It is important to recognise that.

What about Tyrrelstown?

It is not possible for me to legislate retrospectively. I cannot apply a law to two years ago. Even if I would like to do so, I could not. I will happily meet people in Tyrrelstown who are still in difficulty. I have told Deputy Coppinger that I would set up that meeting in order that we can talk through the issues and I will do so. I will see what I can do but I do not want to promise that I can pass laws retrospectively when I know that I cannot.

So much for the Tyrrelstown amendment.

In terms of notice periods, significant improvements were made prior to the rental strategy, at which time Deputy Alan Kelly was Minister. Important amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act introduced in December 2015 provide that the minimum period between rent reviews for tenancies was increased from 12 to 24 months. The minimum period of notice of new rent was increased from 28 to 90 days and longer notice periods for the termination of long term tenancies have been introduced. The provision to increase the notice of new rent from 28 to 90 days was introduced on foot of a recommendation in the DKM report, Rent Stability in the Private Rented Sector. Although I appreciate the intention behind the measure in this Bill to increase this notice period to 180 days, I believe the current 90-day notice period is balanced and proportionate. In addition, the increased notice periods for the termination of tenancies introduced in December 2015 were calibrated to maintain the proportional relationship between the notice periods. The provisions in the Act were carefully constructed to be fair to landlords and tenants alike and we propose to stick with them.

In regard to receivership, it is clear to me that there can be no consideration of the issues relating to security of tenure without an acknowledgment of the problems that can be caused by the appointment of receivers to rented dwellings. However, the interplay between receivership law and the Residential Tenancies Act is complex. It is imperative that we do not make any amendments that either make matters worse or lead to legal uncertainty. Nevertheless, there is no question that action needs to be taken in this area but any such action must be well informed, considered and legally sound. In the context of the rental strategy, I sought legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General on applying the obligations of landlords to receivers. A working group, comprised of the Department of Justice and Equality, has been set up to examine how this can be done legally. The group will report before the end of the first quarter of this year.

I do not disagree with the spirit of what is being sought but we must ensure we do it properly.

The next speaker is Deputy Barry Cowen who is sharing time with Deputy Brassil.

While there are elements of this Bill that we agree with in principle, in the round, we believe it to be flawed. It takes an over-simplistic approach to solving a complex problem, namely, the crisis in the rental sector, the rental market and the lack of tenant security. In particular, the proposal to force landlords to provide for compensation of six months' rent where a tenancy is terminated on the ground that the dwelling is required for occupancy by the landlord or his or her relative, is hugely excessive and would likely lead to an increase in rents and a severe reduction in supply. I have no doubt that this measure would deepen the crisis in the rental sector.

However, I do have sympathy with the primary and most consequential provision in this Bill, namely, the proposed removal of sale as a reason for ending a tenancy and evicting a tenant. We support, in principle, the removal of sale as a reason for ending a tenancy and we are working on measures to provide greater security of occupancy for tenants in this regard. We are also particularly conscious of the failure of the mortgage-to-rent scheme in recent years. I note the stakeholders, including the Peter McVerry Trust and others, have said that the greatest barrier and threat to many tenants is the forced repossessions by banks and resale due to negative equity in the mortgage-to-let market. A realistic alternative, option or means by which this could be resolved is the mortgage-to-rent scheme but because that process is not statutorily based it has been unable to achieve what was intended. As I said, Fianna Fáil is exploring ways of strengthening that process in order to allow it to play the part it can play in helping to resolve this issue.

Unfortunately the Bill is a blunt instrument and would not necessarily lead to greater security for tenants. If anything, it might do the opposite. I have no doubt that the blanket approach taken in the Bill in terms of the complete removal of the right of landlords to use sale of property as a ground for terminating a tenancy would be unconstitutional. If passed, this Bill would be immediately challenged by landlords in the Supreme Court and would be ruled unconstitutional.

We could have a referendum.

While many might not like to hear that, it is the reality. While it might be a sad truth, it is nonetheless the truth. A blunt approach such as this, which is bound to fail from the start, is a recipe for further chaos in the rental sector. While doing nothing to improve security for renters, this Bill would nevertheless create massive uncertainty for investors and for existing landlords. I know that the proposers of this Bill may not believe in markets and are unlikely to appreciate the negative consequences of creating such needless uncertainty but such policies can and do have real consequences.

Wilfully creating upheaval in the sector simply for the sake of satisfying an ideological point would not be good for existing or new renters. Undoubtedly, the passage of the Bill would lead to a spike in rents and would very likely reduce supply for hard-pressed renters. All of this would happen without any positive pay-off in terms of increasing security for existing tenants.

If we want to tackle the rental crisis and, in particular, the lack of tenant security in the sector, it has to be done in a meaningful way that is not simply about undertaking an ideological crusade. There is no question that action needs to be taken in this area but measures have to be well considered and legally and constitutionally sound. Otherwise, one is creating chaos in the rental sector that will harm renters the most.

Before Christmas, Fianna Fáil submitted an amendment to the Government's so-called "Tyrellstown amendment", which has been mentioned by previous speakers. It sought to reduce the number of units in a single development from 20 to five where landlords could evict tenants for reasons of sale. This, we and others argued, would offer more secure occupancy to a larger number of tenants without having a detrimental impact on the market by preventing involuntary landlords from selling their properties. The Government rejected our amendment and restored the number of units to ten in a single development, thus preventing an estimated 5,000 potential properties from being covered by the provision. It did this on the basis of Attorney General's legal advice, arguing that its provision could be more robustly defended against constitutional challenge. While accepting its amendment for this reason, we will be holding the Government to its commitment to enhance security for a greater number of renters and increase the coverage of the Tyrellstown amendment.

There is a strong policy argument for why we need to be careful in how we design new tenant security provisions. We should not introduce provisions that will unintentionally act as a barrier to persons with distressed buy-to-let mortgages in disposing of their properties. This is because over 90% of Irish landlords - covering an estimated 85% of rental properties - own only one or two properties. Many of these people are involuntary or accidental landlords.

To completely get rid of sale as a reason for ending a tenancy in a blanket way, as this Bill attempts to do, could stall the turnover of rental properties from smaller landlords, many of whom are involuntary landlords who are not making a profit and are often in arrears or negative equity, to more professional landlords, who are in the game for the longer term. Like it or not, completely removing sale of property as a ground for terminating a tenancy would not be constitutional. A better approach, consistent with the Constitution's protection of property rights, would be to remove sale as a reason for ending a tenancy in most circumstances, but not in all circumstances. Such an approach can be robustly defended against constitutional challenge. This can be done in a number of ways. One would be to insert a proviso that would enable landlords to remove tenants in order to sell their property if they can prove it significantly affects the market sale price of the property by comparison with vacant possession. Such a provision would be much more effective in offering greater security to a larger number of tenants without leading to an infringement of constitutional rights and widespread uncertainty in the rental sector, to which the Bill's proposals would lead.

We wholeheartedly agree with a primary provision in the Bill on receiverships. As in respect of the Tyrellstown amendment, Fianna Fáil sought to insert a similar provision as an amendment to the Government's housing Bill before Christmas. This would have closed the legal loophole which has meant that receivers and lenders are not considered landlords under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. As we argued at the time, this loophole means that receivers may seek to evict tenants summarily without giving them the notice required under law. Our amendment attempted to make it the position that where a bank or vulture fund appoints a receiver over a rented property, it should be required to take on all of the responsibilities of a landlord. This means receivers would have exactly the same obligations to existing tenants as landlords regarding Part 4 of the Residential Tenancies Act, including in respect of security of tenure, the maintenance and upkeep of rented property, and notice to quit provisions.

The amendment also attempted to avoid a legal lacuna that exists at present for tenants whose landlords are in receivership, where landlords are still solely and fully responsible for returning tenants' deposits even though the properties are in receivership. We agreed to remove the amendment at the Government's request, again on the basis of the Attorney General's legal advice. It stated it was legally complex and requiring new legislation. The advice pointed out that the existing law on receivers and their general rights and obligations is contained in common law rules, the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 and the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009 and warned of the care needed to ensure that any amendments would not make matters worse or lead to legal uncertainty.

The Attorney General's advice supposedly stated "that the effect on these and other Acts and instruments of amendments to the RTA would need to be considered carefully as they raise the possibility of conflicting legal rules on the same issues, thus creating uncertainty and the possibility of legal disputes. On this basis, the Government committed in the House to deal with this through new legislation this coming term. We hope it will be held to account in that regard. If it fails to deal with this issue, Fianna Fáil will have no option but to work with other parties to bring forward legislation to close this loophole for receivers.

In passing any Bill in this House, it is important that it be of benefit to those we serve and not have what we call "unintended consequences". For that reason, I have grave concerns over the proposal on paying six months' compensation on the sale of a property. Many landlords I know are unintentional landlords who have one property that was bought when values were unrealistically high. Nonetheless, the properties were bought and they are and will be in negative equity. Many of the landlords are selling because they have to. They are doing so at a loss. To impose on them a six months' rent compensation measure would be wholly unrealistic and unfair. It would do nothing other than create a big problem for many while trying to solve a problem for others. I certainly could not support the passing of any Bill that would have such an unintended consequence.

As Deputy Cowen pointed out, we agree, in principle, with the elements of the Bill but there is an onus on us to tease through the measures that are either unconstitutional or unworkable, remove them and come up with a Bill that results in consensus in this House.

On the receivership amendment, I agree wholeheartedly that receivers must have the same responsibilities as landlords. As Deputy Cowen pointed out, we have to work towards that and achieve agreement on it. We must legislate for this so receivers will behave as they should and have the same responsibilities as landlords.

I am sharing time with Deputy Ellis.

It gives me no pleasure to say the Minister's private rental strategy, launched in December, is without doubt the weakest part of the housing action plan of the current Government. The fact that it was launched so late in the year has meant we have not had an opportunity in this House to fully scrutinise the entire plan, short as it is. We obviously had very detailed debates on the rent predictability measures but even they were at a very late stage and obviously held under different circumstances. The Minister states there are 29 actions. That makes it sound like the strategy is quite comprehensive. In fact, over half of them were announced previously and the majority are not defined either in terms of their content or when exactly they will be implemented. Most are kicked farther down the road than is necessary.

Apart from those of us on the Opposition benches, significant disappointment was expressed in December right across the housing policy sector when the plan was outlined. It is not premature for us to return to these issues. Many of us will return to them regularly because of the plan's inadequacy.

The Bill is not an ideological crusade. Most of its measures are sensible and normative policies that exist in properly functioning rental markets in many parts of the world. While I do not agree with the detail of all of them, it is a solid basis for making significant improvements on what the Minister announced last year.

In the short time that I have, I will go through the eight sections. Sections 2 and 3 are eminently sensible. A landlord gets a sense of a tenant within two months. He or she does not need a full six months for a probationary tenancy. This provision would have no negative impact on supply or stability in the market. It would give tenants more security. As to indefinite duration provision, there is no evidence that giving tenants this basic security, which they need and which exists in other European jurisdictions, would have negative consequences. If the Minister has evidence other than the complaints of some of the landlords' organisations, he should put it in the public domain but none of us has yet seen it.

Regarding the sale of property, I listened to the arguments before and after Christmas carefully. While there may be advice from the Attorney General, of which the Minister gave us some description on Committee Stage of the previous legislation, none of us has seen it. The Attorney General is not always right. The question then is whether we believe it is the right thing to do. If it is, do it and let a landlord take a case. We can then test whether it is unconstitutional. If it is proven to be unconstitutional, we can consider changing the Constitution.

It is the right thing to do because the majority of families that will spend yet another night in emergency accommodation tonight were made homeless by landlords who owned one or two properties. It is welcome that some tenants who live in the properties of landlords who own ten or more will get some additional protection, albeit with the opt-out clauses that Deputies Coppinger and Boyd Barrett pointed out, but the majority of families at risk of homelessness tonight will get no more protection from the measures introduced by the Government before Christmas. For that reason, this is one of the most important measures that could be introduced in the Bill or via possible Government amendments. Let us not forget that many of the landlords in question bought their properties with buy-to-let mortgages from banks or availed of section 23 tax reliefs. On that basis alone, they should not be allowed to serve notice to quit on the grounds of sale.

Compensation for tenants is the one bit of the Bill about which I am not yet convinced. I am not saying I would rule it out completely, but we need more discussion on it. That is not a reason to oppose the Bill. Let us support it. It can go to Committee Stage and we can thrash out these issues. It would be unreasonable to hit an accidental landlord under financial stress with a requirement for six months' rent compensation, but the simplest solution for him or her is not to serve a notice to quit. The landlord should sell the property with the tenant in situ, which is part of the purpose of the proposal, that being to ensure the property remains in the rental stock.

Sections 6 and 7 are eminently sensible. Section 8 is not raising a new issue. While I appreciate the Minister is new to his post, many of us have been raising this matter for more than two years. If a bank, fund or receiver is able to take rent, it should have the obligations of a landlord. We will watch closely to ensure the legislation the working group proposes applies the same obligations on lenders, funds and receivers as it does on landlords. If they are good enough to take the rent, they are good enough to take responsibility for meeting their obligations as landlords.

We are happy to support the Bill, notwithstanding the issue with section 5. I urge Members to consider the Bill because it has significant merit.

In all of the Government parties' talk in recent months about the housing emergency, a few central issues have been identified but nowhere has the Government shown the will, conviction or purpose to address one of the main contributors to the emergency, namely, the private rented sector. We must address the issues in that regard for renters and landlords alike. There is public support to solve the housing emergency, but the Government has not put any coherent or long-term strategy in place to address it. This is particularly evident where the private rented sector is considered. Sinn Féin introduced the Rent Certainty Bill in the previous term because rent certainty and security of tenure were major issues for families across the State. Our Bill was voted down by the Government and the Minister's Fianna Fáil colleagues.

The Bill aims to provide greater protections to private rental tenants in terms of tenancies, notices to quit and rent reviews. These measures would help many families to avoid homelessness. Last month, the quarterly rental report from Daft.ie showed that average rents across the State were well over €1,000 per month. In Dublin, the figure was more than €1,500. The situation is out of control and rents are at unsustainable levels. It is madness. In addition, one quarter of all people in Dublin are living in the private rented sector. In order to build sustainable communities, there must be some move towards providing for five, ten or 20-year leases.

A further serious situation sees people being evicted despite being good tenants and up-to-date with rent. A good proportion of these are being evicted because their landlords are selling the properties, usually to banks or vulture funds. The Government's Tyrrelstown agreement, which was not agreed by the people in the Gallery, legislates for people with a large number of properties and rightly forces them to pass on those properties with tenants in place. Where is the Tyrrelstown agreement for portfolios with a smaller number of properties? It is not there and the owners of smaller property portfolios can evict many tenants because they believe they can get more money for vacant properties.

The Private Members' Bill before us will address that issue and remove the sale of property as grounds for serving a notice to quit. This is an important point. It is our job as legislators to legislate. For many renters, this is a serious concern that the Government cannot ignore any longer.

While we support the majority of the Bill's proposals, there are elements we have difficulty with but, on balance, it is a good Bill and we will support it.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo. Is Bille é atá dírithe ar chearta na dtionóntaí, go háirithe tionóntaí atá eagla orthu go gcuirfear amach as a dtithe iad nó atá á íobairt. Tuigimid go bhfuil sé sin ag tarlú go mór le blianta beaga anuas. Labhair an Teachta Ó Broin fá dtaobh de sin agus faoin méid duine atá gan dídean anois mar gheall ar sin. The issue of evictions is broad, in that owner-occupiers also face eviction, but the Bill is silent on that point. I have tried to push that issue in the House. Unfortunately, the law went only one way during the previous term, and that was in favour of the banks.

In reality, this is a tenant protection Bill. That is an extremely important issue and, like Deputy Ó Broin, I support the majority of the Bill's sections and proposals. Earlier, I raised with the Taoiseach the lack of any sort of action taken by the Government to tackle the vulture funds. As we saw in Limerick last week, it is not only mortgage holders who fear the letter in the door saying that the vultures have arrived in their estates. This is not just a Dublin issue either, as it affects every part of the country, urban and rural. The banks have been empowered to repossess as a first resort. When they take control of buy-to-lets, their first action is often to send a letter asking tenants to get out. Sometimes, very little happens afterwards. Two of the State-owned banks had 1,000 vacant homes between them before Christmas. All of the attention was on Apollo House as a vacant NAMA building, and rightly so, but it is disgusting to think that two State-owned banks had 1,000 properties lying empty when people were homeless on our streets.

We have a dysfunctional system in which mortgage holders and tenants come bottom of the list. There needs to be a rebalancing of the law and the codes of conduct, as promised in the programme for Government, to protect the family home and tenants. Tonight, however, the Government is again covering its ears and pretending that its approach is working. It is not working for the homeless families. It is not working for the tenants caught up in the supply crisis and with international capital buying up the country.

I thank the Deputy, but he needs to conclude.

It is not working for the homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages.

The Labour Party will support the Bill on Second Stage, primarily because we fully support the central measure in it, namely, protecting tenants in danger of being served with an eviction notice because the owner intends to sell the property. As the House is aware, we presented a Bill that contained a similar clause, as did Sinn Féin and we have had a number of opportunities to debate the issue more recently in the context of the Government's Bill which offers limited protection. It is welcome that the legislation was commenced today, in particular Part 3 which deals with the so-called Tyrrelstown amendment, but as has been said, it only protects tenants in cases where ten or more notices to quit are given in the same group of properties. It does not, therefore, protect the vast majority of tenants from being served with an eviction notice where there is an intention to sell the property. It does not protect the vast majority of tenants who are in a situation where there is not ownership of multiple properties.

We fully support the Bill’s central measure. We also support the obligations on receivers, financial institutions and vulture funds to behave as landlords and have all of their duties and responsibilities. That is something that has been on the table for a long time and it is disappointing that there has been no action by the Government in this regard because tenants in such situations are in a very uncertain position.

We also support the measures on notice periods. However, we are concerned about section 5 and should the Bill proceed to Committee Stage we would not support it. The section relates to cases where a family member has the right to move into a property and specifies that the landlord would have to pay compensation equivalent to six months rent. I accept that there is abuse of the system, whereby a landlord can ask a tenant to move out because, for example, his or her niece, nephew, cousin or brother is to move into the property. In many cases that does not happen and the system is abused. However, that does not mean that landlords should be penalised in genuine cases because such an obligation would be included in legislation. I accept that we must deal with such abuse. We must also deal with abuse in cases where a landlord says he or she is selling a property and that does not happen, even though a tenant has been evicted. It is clear that there are abuses in the system and we must find ways to deal with them.

I have direct involvement in the situation in Limerick. It is welcome that Sova Properties did respond to the Minister's explanation of the fact that the legislation was about to be brought forward and, while it did not have a legal obligation, did respect the provisions included in the Bill and, therefore, withdrew the notices to quit, but there is still an issue in that regard. I do not expect the Minister to respond on the matter tonight. The young couple who were highlighted in the media, Angel and Krisztina, who have a young son, Christopher, received their notice before Christmas, but they did not know other neighbours were also receiving notices. People who are protected by the so-called Tyrrelstown amendment might not know that they are part of a bigger group, as was demonstrated in this case. Many of the tenants in the Strand Apartments moved out when they received their notice and had already left before the issue came to public attention.

I wish to address the issue about which the Minister spoke concerning the rent regulation that has been introduced in Dublin and Cork and the proposal that other areas be included if they fulfil the criteria. I am concerned that there is an expectation that other cities and the pressure areas around Dublin will be included in what could be considered to be fairly dubious protection in some ways because it still involves rent increases over a period and, as other speakers said, there are still certain get-out clauses. The criteria are that one must have been subject to a 7% year-on-year price increase for four of the previous six quarters and also that the property must be located in an area where the rent is above the national average. From the data I have received from the Residential Tenancies Board it is doubtful that many other areas would fulfil these criteria, in particular the criterion I have outlined relating to year-on-year price increases. I will use other means to seek clarity on the issue, but it should not give rise to false expectations that many areas will qualify just because an undertaking has been given that certain areas will be considered. I am concerned that people believe their rent will be controlled when, in fact, it might not be.

Many of us have made the point previously in the Chamber that what we really need to do is to link rent increases with something like the consumer price index in order that tenants all over the country will be protected from totally unreasonable and unaffordable rent increases. We have heard that 6,985 people are homeless, but many others are in a very precarious position in the private rental sector and really worried that if their rent increases significantly, they will simply not be able to afford to pay. In many cases such persons have steady, full-time jobs, but they live in fear that they will lose their home. I have spoken to some of the tenants in the Strand Apartments in Limerick and heard their individual stories. Many of them were working and happy to pay their rent. They were happy with where they were living and devastated when they received an eviction notice because the properties were being sold. In other cases devastation is caused when a significant increase in rent is imposed by the landlord simply because he or she knows someone else will pay increased rent. These are very stressful and difficult situations for real people and families in the community. We must afford whatever protection we can, including the measures contained in the Bill under discussion and perhaps, more importantly, linking rents in some way with increases in the cost of living.

I disagree entirely with the Minister that this is premature and the Fianna Fáil speaker who said the Bill was based on ideology. I am not sure if they are in touch with what is happening on the ground. While I have difficulties with some sections of the Bill, I agree with the intention underlying it. The Bill arises because the Government's housing policy, as well as that of the previous Government, have utterly failed to deal with the issue of security of tenure. The housing policy pursued by them has ensured insecurity of tenure is, unfortunately, an integral part of the life of tenants. The Bill arises from the desperation felt by tenants not only in Dublin but throughout the country, including Galway. On a regular basis we receive reports from bodies such as daft.ie, the Housing Agency and various charities on rent increases. Rents are rising exponentially and bear absolutely no relation to peoples' earnings or social welfare income. A member of my family is about to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Dublin for which the rent is €1,000 or more than half their earnings.

The Government's policy response comes in the guise of social housing. I wish the Minister would stop using the word "social" because when he talks about social housing, he is primarily talking about the housing assistance payment, HAP. In Galway city that is the only game in town. A number of people came to my office in Galway crying because they had to fill in the form by 13 January and if they did not fill in the HAP form and get the landlord to sign it, they would be in serious trouble. Their name would be removed from the housing waiting list. Equally, if they signed up to it, their name would still be removed from the housing waiting list and put on a transfer list. It is important that such facts get out. That is what the Government is calling social housing. In fact, what it is doing is actively helping the market to triumph, while protesting before Christmas that it could not take any action to stop rents rising.

The little action he did take related to an increase of 4% for three years and was revolutionary according to Fine Gael and the others supporting the Government. However, the housing assistance payment is predicated on supporting landlords and putting money directly into their pockets. What is even worse is that the policy is asking tenants to collude with payments under the counter because the housing assistance payment is capped depending on whether it is a household with one person or more. It is capped and that is all he is going to give at that level. Tenants must come up with the difference to get a house or apartment in Galway. Otherwise, they cannot get it. We have gone way up above 50% of income. The Minister is telling us in this House that this is social housing.

This Bill is attempting to deal with a problem that has been created by the Government and the previous one in not tackling the market. Yes, there is a place for the market. I have no hesitation in saying that in this Chamber. There is a place for private landlords but the main role must be for the Government through direct provision of public housing - not just for people under a certain income but as a choice in order that it balances the market. Let us look again at Galway city. I do not know what figures the Department is working from but I got the latest figure from it and it is about 3,500 households. The figure for Galway in the quarterly report at the end of September last year, which has risen since, is 4,720 households. At a conservative estimate, if one doubles that, we are up to 9,000. Families are generally bigger so my estimate, and it is amazing that I have to estimate this, is that 15,000 people are waiting for a home in Galway city. Those waiting the longest have been waiting since 2002. The last person I made representations for has been waiting for a two-bedroom house since 2002. It is now 2017 and in that 15-year period, that person has never once been offered a home. I am trying to grasp that because when I stand here, the Minister has told me that money has been made available. The former Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, told me that money was made available, yet since 2009 not one social house has been built in Galway city. That is why we have a crisis. It is because the city council has utterly failed to build houses. The written reasons given were that there was no funding from Government. Yes, money has been given for voluntary bodies and some money has been given to acquire some houses but we have had no direct build. In the middle of this crisis-----

There is no problem with funding for direct building in Galway, as the Deputy knows.

I am delighted to hear it. I will not waste my few minutes but the Minister might clarify it. I am not in the habit of misleading people. One of my faults is that I am too blunt and direct. At the risk of using my time, I repeat that not one social house has been built in Galway since 2009. This year, there is a proposal to go ahead with 14 houses. I checked the news today and the local independent councillor who was formerly a Progressive Democrats councillor expressed concern that those houses will not even be finished in 2018. This is in the middle of a housing crisis. I do not mean to be personal but something is seriously wrong somewhere with the Minister's, the Department's or the city council management's grasp. Having raised it repeatedly, I ask the Minister to take a hands-on approach and clarify to this House what money has been made available to directly build public housing in Galway. If they have not been built, he should tell us why. I ask him to stop using the term "social house" when he gives money to private landlords through the housing assistance payment.

This Bill is addressing the in-built insecurity of tenure, which is an obscenity 100 years after 1916. Michael Davitt died in 1906 and we are back again looking for security of tenure while the Minister shakes his head. Shaking one's head is not a response to a crisis. Could the Minister take on board what is being said and give an undertaking to come back in respect of Galway city separately? I see some problems with the Bill and have some fundamental problems with one or two sections. I fully agree with the long notice period and the provisions relating to receivers. I will support it proceeding to Second Stage. I do have fundamental problems with it but I see where it is coming from.

I must confirm that only three council houses have been built in the past seven years in County Kerry so it is much the same story as that laid out by Deputy Connolly. Eviction is very hurtful and painful for the family affected by it. It is also very traumatic for the close neighbours, the community and children who are friends of the children who must leave the house in which they may have been born. When a family must leave their house because they cannot pay the mortgage, could the council or voluntary bodies intervene and purchase the house if it was reasonably priced? I am sure it would not work well in Dublin where houses cost so much but down our way in much of rural Ireland, many houses can be purchased for €100,00, €150,000 or €200,000.

It is very sad to see families having to leave their homes because of small sums of money. Could the council or voluntary bodies purchase the house and rent it back to the family for a number of years - at least until the family gets on its feet? It may be the case that when the family finds its feet and family members get jobs and get going again, the family would be in a position to buy back the house from the local authority or voluntary housing association. I ask the Minister to probe that idea. It is not in the Bill, but it is still part of the trouble we are in and people being evicted and finding themselves homeless. Given that the Government has a big stake in at least two major banks, I am asking the Minister to take a good look at that and see if he could make use of that proposal.

I support certain aspects of the Bill. I do not agree with some aspects of it. The Bill proposes to provide for greater security of tenure by making all tenancies over two months Part 4 tenancies. I am not going to talk that much about the Bill. Before Christmas, the Minister spoke about rent certainty. Deputies Catherine Connolly and Danny Healy-Rae spoke about it. One could count on two hands the number of houses built in Tipperary in the past three years. It is the same all around the country yet the Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Kelly, are announcing schemes and regurgitating money that has already been announced. Why are they not being built? I asked the Minister the second last day before the Christmas recess to call in the County and City Management Association and ask it why but he failed to do that. That will be his failure, as it was the failure of the previous Government. It did not build any houses.

As Deputy Connolly said, the housing assistance payment is being bulldozed on people. Banks continue to evict. I see how Cerberus bought mortgages worth €2.5 billion from Ulster Bank. This is a US vulture fund. It affects family farms and houses. This will happen right under the Minister's nose starting this year. All the celebrations for 2016 have just finished and this is going on. Michael Davitt would turn in his grave. When is the Government going to stop this nonsense? I have asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance when they are going to rein in the courts and the county registrars in particular. The Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, replied to a Topical Issue debate earlier. The county registrar in County Tipperary is gung-ho. She was sent to Wicklow but was brought back to Tipperary because not enough repossession orders were being granted.

The Deputy is straying-----

The Deputy is.

That is the problem. The Bill is trying to keep people in their homes and stop evictions. This county registrar is granting repossession orders like snuff at a wake or confetti at a wedding. They were doing so badly in Tipperary when she went to Wicklow that they had to bring her back because they were not getting enough repossessions.

That is the policy of the Government and the previous one and it is being allowed.

The Deputy should not name a person.

I did not name any individual. I mentioned an office.

The Deputy should not make reference to someone in a manner in which they can be identified.

It is going on. It is a fact. They will not touch it. They are announcing this money, that money and the other money - regurgitating funds. Nothing is happening. The councils have failed to build the houses, claiming they do not have the money. The Minister is saying they have. It is simple; the Minister should call them in. I ask him to call in our own county manager in Tipperary, who is head of the County and City Management Association at the moment, and ask him to explain what is going on. The Minister is saying they are getting the money and yet the houses are not getting built.

On the other side, the banks are lining up houses and now farms to be sold off to vulture funds. We have just finished off 2016. The Minister will have some legacy in 2017 and 2018. He is talking about action plans, meetings and housing policy. I know he means well, but it is not happening. We are just pushing paper and peddling around the system. People are facing huge trauma with sickness, illness, suicide, you name it. They are facing terror in the Circuit Court from people who are not qualified to sit on a bench. They are responsible under European law to pass it on to a judge and they are taking the action themselves because it suits them. It is very lucrative. They get paid for every one they repossess. It is disgusting, immoral and corrupt.

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for sharing time and allowing me to speak.

The word "eviction" sends a shiver down the spine of every Irish person given what went on in history. Sadly, today the Government is allowing it to happen every day. I sat in on the discussions over the programme for Government and for six days in a row we talked about ways to solve this problem through the courts. I looked at the legislative proposals for the period from now to the summer. There is not one thing relating to putting stuff into the courts. It is like the substitute on the football team. The Government has it down at the bottom of the ladder, as it were. It does not give a damn if people are thrown out of their houses.

Until we face up to the reality that the banks have to give either a split mortgage or mortgage to rent, we will never solve it. Some 50,000 people will lose their houses this year if it continues as it is going and it will compound what Deputy Coppinger has said. While the Government will not admit it, it does not want to pay the rent allowance to those people who will be thrown out of their houses. It is about time we woke up and put the legislation into the courts to ensure people will not be evicted from their property.

As Deputy Mattie McGrath said, we have read today that the vultures have landed on farmers now. Throughout the country farmers who might have missed a payment are in trepidation because somebody new will have taken over their loans. Farmers struggled enough in recent years while the Minister, Deputy Coveney, was Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is about time we did something for them to ensure that innocent women and their husbands and children are not, so to speak, being pegged out of their houses left, right and centre. Michael Davitt, who set up the Land League, died in 1906. In 2017, I am sad to say, after six years of Fine Gael in Government, people might have to get together again to fight for the battle of the land and fight for the rights of Irish people instead of American vultures taking over the country.

Deputy Catherine Martin is sharing time with Deputy Shortall.

Tá an Comhaontas Glas fíor-shásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo. Caithfear gníomhú láithreach chun a chinntiú nach rachaidh fadhb na ndaoine gan dídean in olcas agus chun a chinntiú nach mbeidh ar aon chlann eile a teach a fhágail.

The Green Party welcomes the Bill and will be supporting it. We have all seen the pain and misery caused by such family upheaval as a result of people having to leave their homes due to rent increases, the property owner wishing to turn over the property or, in some cases, the sale of the property as a distressed asset and the vulture fund owners, to use their own parlance, sweating that asset.

The Bill largely follows recommendations made by Threshold when it addressed the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness in May 2016. Threshold recommended increasing security of tenure for tenants, providing for rent certainty, establishing legal safeguards to allow tenants to remain after the sale of a property, amending the legal definition of a landlord to include receivers and lenders in possession, and introducing a code of conduct on buy-to-let mortgage arrears. The Bill provides for this.

According to Focus Ireland, repossessions are resulting in between 60 and 80 families a month becoming homeless. The latest Central Bank statistics indicate that approximately 80,000 private home mortgages are in arrears. Of these, almost 35,000 are in arrears more than 720 days. These statistics indicate that the unprecedented crisis of homelessness in the country could get much worse. The Bill plans ahead by putting in place measures to protect families at risk of being made homeless. The Bill seeks security of tenure.

We are often told that there are rules governing the operation of an economy that cannot be tampered with and that consequences will ensue. This is not true. The rules are changed all the time. In our economy and society the rule seems to be that humans are expendable. We now need to start to rewrite the rules and the first and overarching rule is that people matter.

The Social Democrats are very happy to support the Bill on Second Stage. We commend the proposers of this timely Bill.

The Minister often talks about the rental market as if it is a normal functional market. Of course, we know the rental market in recent years has been highly dysfunctional because the provision of housing is highly dysfunctional. All aspects of housing are connected. Yesterday's CSO figures for the average house price in all counties and postal districts in the Dublin area made for very stark reading. It was a damning indictment of the performance of this and the previous Governments in tackling the housing crisis.

The Minister and his colleagues in government seem to think that somehow the market will deal with the housing crisis and we know that is simply not right. For example, based on yesterday's figures the market has resulted in the average house price last year in the Dublin 9 area in my constituency reaching €358,000. Dublin 9 is a very pleasant area but is not by any means close to the top of the housing market. Anybody trying or aspiring to buy their own home in that area would be required to have a deposit of €36,000. Even more crushingly it requires a mortgage applicant to have an income of €92,000 a year, which is 2.5 times the average income for a fairly modest house in the Dublin area.

This means that those buying in Dublin need to have a very substantial household income. It also means it is virtually impossible for a single income family to buy a house, which has all kinds of implications for affordability and also for people deciding to set up home and start a family. For the foreseeable future it will require two people to get a mortgage like that for a fairly modest home and it will mean those two people working full-time for an indefinite period, which has very serious implications for society.

NAMA has clearly played a very negative role in recent years. It was an agency set up to tackle the debt crisis. It is now contributing substantially to the housing crisis. The Social Democrats today called for a halt on all NAMA transactions and for us to review the remit NAMA has been given. Its primary remit is to make a return to the taxpayer and in so doing, particularly because of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, instructing it to bring forward the wind-up date, it means it has engaged in fire sales.

Rather than being in a position to assist in tackling the housing crisis, it is contributing to it. The Minister needs to take that on and deal with it.

The other point is that just as NAMA needs to change its remit, so too do the banks. Very clear instructions need to be given to them. The banks in this country were bailed out by the taxpayer. Their bacon was saved and in return for that the two main pillar banks are turfing people out of their homes at a huge rate. They are seeking to clean up their balance sheets by selling properties and appointing receivers. This is an absolutely intolerable situation. Again, the Minister has the power to instruct banks not to appoint receivers to homes that have tenants in situ. The Minister should instruct the banks to appoint rent receivers so that the properties that are in the ownership of the banks will remain available to the people who are currently in them and to others who may want to rent them.

I am very proud that this Bill has been proposed. There has been much commentary and debate in the past six months and previously on the housing crisis the country faces. A perfect storm of a lack of social housing, spiralling rents and Government mismanagement has done untold social damage. The worst insecurity is the knowledge that one could be evicted at the whim of one's landlord.

This is a relatively simple Bill. While it does not do everything needed to stem the tide of people becoming homeless, it does contain practical provisions that will stop families ending up in emergency accommodation. It discourages landlords from using the spurious excuse of needing a property for a family member by forcing them to compensate tenants. It will remove the need for a house to be vacant in order to be sold. It gives more rights to tenants in terms of security of tenure. The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill introduced by the Minister and debated extensively in this Chamber did not deal with these issues. The endless calls during that debate for a moratorium on evictions were washed over by arguments about the rights of private property as per the Constitution.

I do not blame the Minister personally for the housing crisis but I do blame his party. I also blame the system that his party upholds for the crisis of housing. I am an optimist by nature, but I am pessimistic when I see the same failed policies of previous Governments and Ministers that do nothing to address the fundamental issues of housing need and social justice in Ireland. In any system that gives priority to private property over citizenship, housing and the basic right to shelter will always be secondary. The system needs to be dismantled.

I commend the Bill to the House.

The housing crisis is not a result of the system breaking down but of the system working as intended. That is, unfortunately, precisely what is happening in this country. It is as described by Mr. Peter Marcuse, the author of In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis. It is a global phenomenon whereby housing has become commodified and faceless vultures are able to comb the globe in search of so-called yield and profit maximisation. Their right to profit takes precedence over the right of workers to homes. That is the essence of all of the various facets of the housing crisis that we face. It is encapsulated in the Government's argument that under the Constitution - without asking whether the Constitution should be changed - one landlord's or vulture's right to maximise profit takes precedence over the right of nine families. That is the Government's position in black and white. Beyond that, if landlords or vulture funds are able to show that they would make more than 20% extra by selling with vacant provision, even that provision goes out the window and their right to a profit takes precedence over the right of ten, 15, 20 or 100 families to a home.

This is a worldwide phenomenon. New York, for example, is experiencing its greatest housing crisis since the Great Depression. In no US state today can a full-time worker on the minimum wage afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment. It is exactly the same as the situation in this city right now. Globally, over 1 billion people cannot afford homes. There is no greater indictment of capitalism as a system, where eight people have more wealth than the bottom half of humanity and the system cannot afford to give over 1 billion people a home. The answer to the housing crisis is to turn all of that on its head and say that peoples' rights come before those of companies, banks, landlords and others to profit, that they should not be evicted as a result of the pursuit of profit maximisation by vulture funds, landlords or banks, that they should have a right to homes and that good quality, public housing should be provided.

That is the key significance of the occupation of Apollo House. It was a public intervention in housing by housing campaigners, people faced with homelessness, trade unionists, artists and others. Those involved were pointing out, in real terms, that the State has the resources - in the form of NAMA, for example, as well as land and finances - to deal with the housing crisis. It was an unapologetic act of civil disobedience that said it was better to break the law than to break the homeless. It was a broadly popular act, with 4,000 people volunteering to help and €160,000 donated by the public. The occupation spoke to the feelings of people across the country that there must be something better that can be done about housing, that the resources exist in our society to resolve and eliminate the housing crisis now. It was an act that not only spoke against the Government's approach but against the whole neoliberal orthodoxy, the trickle-down theory of housing supply that the Government promotes. It was, therefore, a highly subversive act.

When faced with a subversive act, the establishment responds and, generally, there are two types of response. The first is to try to neuter it, to pretend to take it on board and to treat it as an act of charity. This was summed up by the approach of the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, who said that people were right to take action like that in Apollo House but that the Government was already aware of the homelessness crisis and was making efforts to tackle it. In that case, the question must be put to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government as to when he is going to follow through on the seven commitments made to the Home Sweet Home campaign which it says have not been met yet.

The second response is to demonise, to attempt to discredit the campaign, to show that there is only hypocrisy all round and that nothing positive can be done about the housing issue. In that vein, we had the Irish Independent attack a leading activist on the spurious basis of the job that her mother happens to do. The Mail on Sunday joined in this weekend with a front-page story attacking Apollo House and Home Sweet Home. Far worse, however, far lower and far more disingenuous was the attack unleashed by our supposed public service broadcaster, RTE, yesterday. That attack was aimed at the Unite trade union, first and foremost, but also at all of those who would say that there is an alternative way to provide housing so that people can be guaranteed the right to a home. The story was that Unite sought a social housing exemption for its former headquarters on Merrion Square. The underlying message was very clear and unmistakable - the Unite leaders were hypocrites for protesting on one hand, for participating in the occupation of Apollo House while, on the other hand, seeking a social housing exemption. If one wants to talk about fake news, here we go. This was fake news peddled by RTE. The truth is that the key point of the occupation of Apollo House is that we own the building. It is owned, effectively, by NAMA and is a public building. The point of the campaign is to argue that public resources like NAMA should be used to provide housing. The truth is that Unite, it seems, had no legal option but to seek a social housing exemption. What is most embarrassing for RTE, totally discrediting its approach, is the fact that it has now emerged that Unite had approached Focus Ireland and other housing NGOs and offered the building for the provision of homeless services, but it was not suitable.

It was a non-story. There was nothing to it whatsoever. If RTE had waited one day, it would, for example, have had that last piece of information on offering the property for homeless services, but the purpose was to try to damage the campaign, undo the positive image of Home Sweet Home and Apollo House and the message being sent that something could be done and that collective action could be taken to tackle the housing crisis. Collective action, including mass civil disobedience, mass protests and the organisation of a massive campaign throughout the country, as we saw happen in Spain on the question of evictions, is what can make a difference. That is what can stop evictions from happening in this country. It is what can force the use of public resources such as NAMA and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to provide public housing and win for people the right to a home.

Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness was launched in July 2016. Its vision is that, to the greatest extent possible, every household in Ireland will be able to access secure, good quality and affordable housing suited to its needs and located in sustainable communities. The residential rental sector has a vital role to play in achieving this vision.

As the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has outlined, pillar 4 of the Government's action plan committed to the publication of a comprehensive strategy for the rental sector by the end of 2016 and the Government has now met this commitment. In particular, the strategy includes measures to increase security of tenure and new mechanisms for setting and reviewing rents. It has a focus on maintaining existing levels of rental stock and encouraging investment in additional supply.

To reply to Deputy Catherine Connolly's point on the 14 social housing units discussed today on Galway Bay FM, a face to face meeting will take place in Ballina on Friday between officials of Galway City Council and the Department. There will also be a conference call to the offices in the Custom House. This is something in which I have been engaged in recent weeks. The purpose will be to find a solution to get over the problems experienced with the 14 houses. I understand the project will also involve constructing road infrastructure to allow for provision of 55 houses on the site. There are some issues regarding costs that must be ironed out between the Department and the city council.

The residential rental sector is an essential component of the housing sector and its vital role needs to be recognised and planned for. The sector has gone through considerable change in the past ten to 15 years, doubling in size and providing long-term homes for more people. Growth in the sector has been driven by a range of factors, including a reducing reliance on home ownership as a tenure of choice, as well as demographic factors, including immigrant migration from elsewhere in the European Union, decreasing household size and increasing rates of new household formation. The rental sector still needs to develop and mature to provide a viable, sustainable and attractive alternative to home ownership, rather than serving as a temporary refuge or starting post on the route to home ownership.

Severe supply pressures, rising rents, security of tenure issues, limited but nonetheless unacceptable examples of poor accommodation standards, a shortage of professional institutional landlords and a relatively underdeveloped voluntary sector are impediments to delivering a strong, stable and modern rental sector that offers real choice for individuals and households, while contributing to economic growth. That is why Rebuilding Ireland committed to developing a real and meaningful strategy for the rental sector. The strategy published on 13 December sets out a range of measures under the headings of security, supply, standards and services that will address immediate issues affecting the supply, cost and accessibility of rental accommodation, with more long-term measures to support the development of a viable and sustainable rental sector that can provide choice, quality, value and security for households and secure attractive investment opportunities for rental providers.

The strategy and the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, the provisions of which we debated prior to Christmas, follow earlier measures. In November 2015 the Government introduced a package of rent stability and additional housing supply measures. The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 included a number of measures to address rising rents and provide greater security for tenants. It provided that the minimum period between rent reviews for tenancies be increased from 12 to 24 months, with this provision to apply for a period of four years. In addition, the minimum period of notice of new rent was increased from 28 to 90 days, while longer notice periods for the termination of long-term tenancies were introduced. However, there is no question but that pressures in the rental market remain, driven by rising demand as a result of economic recovery, a lack of supply and the high costs highly indebted landlords face when servicing their loans. These pressures are borne out by the data published by the Residential Tenancies Board.

The Residential Tenancies Board's rent index data show private rents rose throughout the country by 10% in the second quarter and by 8.6% in the third quarter of 2016, compared with the same periods in 2015. In Dublin rents are now 5% higher than their previous peak in 2007, while outside Dublin they are increasing but remain at 7.3% off their peak levels. All of these trends are broadly in line with the trend reported in the recent daft.ie and Savills report late last year.

There is no question the increases place huge pressures on tenants, particularly those seeking new accommodation. The core issue behind almost all of the pressures throughout the housing market, including upward pressure on rent prices, is the lack of supply. For the rental sector, the best way to reduce and stabilise rents to protect tenancies in the long term and benefit the entire sector is to increase supply and accelerate the delivery of housing for the private and social rented sectors. However, the supply responses take time and rapidly rising rents have become in some areas of the country the greatest threat to tenant security. Because of this, the rental sector strategy, alongside measures to boost supply, includes the introduction of rent predictability measures to moderate rent increases in those parts of the country where the imbalance between demand and supply of rental accommodation is driving rent levels upwards. The rent pressure zones that have been given a statutory basis in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 will provide rent predictability in areas where there is unsustainable rental inflation. In the rent pressure zones rent increases will be capped at 4% per annum for the next three years, by which time a new supply will have come onstream and pressures will have eased somewhat in these areas.

The Housing Agency is consulting local authorities to determine whether the Minister should request the Residential Tenancies Board to assess other areas, including other cities and commuter belt areas, to establish whether they meet the criteria for designation as rent pressure zones. As a result, we expect in the near future to see the designation of a number of local electoral areas. I know that for some Deputies these measures do not go far enough and that for others they go too far, but the Government believes the proposals included in the rental strategy will give significant certainty to landlords and tenants by allowing for reasonable growth in rents, while preventing the instability and uncertainty caused by the volatility seen in recent years. In addition, the Tyrrelstown amendment took effect today, with other tenure security-related measures provided for in the Act. The Tyrrelstown measure is a fundamental change to the obligations of institutional landlords and in response to recent high profile examples of multiple tenancy terminations in a single development in Tyrrelstown, County Dublin.

Increasing security for tenants and landlords is essential to the development of the rental sector as an attractive tenure choice for tenants and a safe and viable investment choice for a range of investors. The rental strategy includes a range of measures aimed at enabling a move towards secure long-term tenancies. One of the measures, action eight of the rental strategy, commits to amending Part 4 of the 2004 Act to provide that a Part 4 tenancy will last for six years rather than four. This is intended to be the first step in a transition to tenancies of infinite duration and was provided for in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016. Therefore, once a tenant has rented a dwelling for more than six months, he or she will be entitled to stay in the dwelling for six years.

The range of actions focused on security contained in the local sector strategy, as laid out by the Minister, together with the measures included in the 2015 and 2016 Acts, constitute a comprehensive and balanced approach to addressing the symptoms and causes of the problems affecting the rental sector, including those undermining the security of tenants. Development of the strategy was supported by a stakeholder consultation workshop and online consultation processes, which received close to 500 submissions. Many of the Deputies present contributed to both processes, with the aim being the strategy would set a vision for a rental sector that would be better for tenants and landlords. It is my belief we achieved this goal and the key challenge now is to ensure the successful implementation of the strategy.

While work has begun immediately, implementation of the full range of 29 actions will take time. It would be premature at this early stage of implementation of the strategy and the measures included in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 to revisit them. Prolonging the debate and introducing further changes on issues and actions already under way would risk undermining stability and confidence in the rental sector and impacting negatively on the existing and future supply of rental accommodation. What we need to do is concentrate on delivering what we have committed to deliver and achieve real and long lasting improvements in the rental sector for tenants and landlords.

I missed most of this debate and was late for it because I was dealing with two families in Ballyfermot, both of whom received notice to quit their tenancy and are extraordinarily stressed out. As it happens, both families have a special needs child and the stress and uncertainty for their children are the main cause of their stress, with the pressure it puts on the needs of those children. In both cases the landlords had issued notices without proper regulation and were forced to withdraw them. This is just one small story in one small area of this country.

I do not know if every Deputy who defends the Government's housing strategy really believe their own words when they say the only way to solve the housing crisis is through the market. Maybe they cannot admit that the threat of eviction and insecurity that families face daily is a real one. As we speak, people are going to bed in fear of the future for their children. It is easy for those of us who have a permanent home and are fortunate enough not to have to face that uncertainty but we need to acknowledge that this is a demon hanging over many families every day.

I am very proud to be associated with this Bill which puts down another marker after Apollo House and the Minister being forced to bring in some sort of rent control just before Christmas. It shows that this country is changing and that we are not willing to put up with the continuation of the crisis, the legacy of recession and austerity and the consequences of the bank bailout on ordinary people. Regardless of whether this Bill passes, the Government will have to recognise that there is a new force in this country, a new movement, a new awareness and a new determination that the priorities of this and previous Governments of Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and Fine Gael and the establishment of this country will now be challenged and will continue to be challenged. We cannot take it for granted that the idea that the market will resolve the crisis is correct. It certainly will not and it is worsening the crisis. To look at the supply of housing needed in this country and what is happening in local authorities is totally dismal. The Minister boasts that the opening up of voids is happening and that they are turning around much more quickly, with houses not lying empty as long as they used to, but a day is too long, as is a week. Many issues in the housing crisis have to be challenged but the ability of landlords to issue notices to quit and to evict is fundamental and urgent.

The Bill is to be welcomed. We should get it out of our heads once and for all that the rights of private property are sacrosanct over the rights of families to a decent, comfortable and secure home. There is such a thing as the common good and the Constitution states that the common good can override the rights to private property. All the details in the Bill points in that direction. I welcome the Bill despite what the Government may say about the need not to interfere with private property. There is a need and there is a need to move away from the ideological commitment to the market as the solution. The market is the problem, it is not the solution.

When the debate is boiled down, the question is are we to have housing for profit or are we to have housing for people. The reality of what housing for profit looks like becomes clearer every day. The RTE programme last week about vulture funds was a huge eye opener and discussion point throughout the nation.

Let us talk about vulture funds. In December 2015 Cairn Homes, backed by Lone Star, bought 20% of all residential development land in Dublin from Ulster Bank. This included 6,000 sites in north Dublin which it purchased at a price of €19,000 per site. The price for equivalent batches of land now is €100,000 which adds more than €80,000 to the price of the houses built on that land straight from the get-go. There is a potential profit of €500 million for the capitalist owners simply by means of sale. Who will be the big beneficiaries? Two of them will be the executives, Mr. John Grayken and Mr. Ellis Short, who according to the Sunday Independent rich list are among the 14 billionaires in the State already with a combined wealth of €6.4 billion, having increased by €2 billion in 2015 alone through practices, no doubt, of this sort.

We should listen to the voice of campaigner, Fr. Peter McVerry, who fears that 25,000 people could face evictions with what is coming down the track with distressed mortgages, vulture funds and so on. This week alone, 452 owner-occupiers are in the courts with applications from banks and, increasingly, from unregulated vulture funds such as Mars Capital, for vacant possession. I echo the point made by Deputy Paul Murphy. If we cannot pass a Bill like this to give guarantees to tenants, tenants have every right to take matters into their own hands and emulate the example of what happened in Spain with social movements to resist eviction. They will have the full backing of the Anit-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit should they feel the need to go down that road.

We could have housing for need. The Minister spoke about the need for supply. What about the massive supply of social housing that is needed to house the people on the waiting lists and to put pressure to bring down rents? The Minister is nodding his head.

We are spending €500 million on it.

On the Minister's website it shows the reality of social house building in the third quarter of 2016. A total of 44 council houses were built in the entire State by local authorities in the third quarter. In the first, second and third quarters combined, there were 161.

Well done, Minister.

In the third quarter there were 65 new housing association homes, and for the year as a whole the figure was 185. The totals combined for the entire year come to 346 local authority homes. In percentage terms, 10,509 homes were built in the State last year, of which 346 were local authority homes, amounting to a historical low of 3%. There were 42 homes in Dublin City Council in the first three quarters, 20 in South Dublin County Council, 36 in Fingal, 16 in Limerick and a mere one in Cork City Council.

The main objection has been the six-month compensation measure for moving in the family. Members in this House have to listen to organisations like Threshold which are saying there has been a real increase in dubious terminations in the recent past, with the main excuse for getting people out no longer sale but for a family member to move in. Most of those claims are dubious and this Bill would act as a deterrent to them. There are genuine cases, of course, such as marriage breakdown, and that is why we do not propose a ban. There needs to be a balance between the rights of the landlord and those of the tenants because it is a real disruption to anyone's life to have to leave, and in that context six months is not unreasonable.

A number of speakers, including Deputies Cowen and Coveney, cited the Constitution as grounds for not going forward. Why do they not bring forward proposals to change the Constitution? We would support them if they did but they will not because they are using it as an excuse to defend private property interests.

I wanted to make some points about the interventions of Fianna Fáil Deputies. As I do not have time, I will quote some of the language that was used, namely, "the Bill is a blunt instrument" and "Wilfully creating upheaval". The Deputies in question also referred to having grave concerns about a flawed Bill that is over-simplistic and hugely excessive in nature. What is hugely excessive is the language that those Deputies are using. If one were to ask tenants throughout the country if they support this Bill, I would say that, almost without exception, they would say "Yes". If one were to ask landlords, with a few honourable exceptions, the vast majority would be opposed to it.

The Deputy's time is up.

The battle lines are clearly drawn. We know where the Government stands. The question for Fianna Fáil is which side is it on?

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 19 January 2017.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 12 noon on Wednesday, 18 January 2017.