Residential Tenancies (Extension of Eviction Ban) Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to extend the ban on evictions and rent increases and for that purpose to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004.

At the start of this month as it became clear that we were facing a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and a second wave of restrictions, we drafted this Bill to restore the full ban on evictions and rent increases. Solidarity-People Before Profit submitted it three weeks ago. I am pleased to finally get a chance to introduce it in the House today. It is very timely given that the Government has at last accepted the need for action on this. I believe this Bill, which restores a full ban on evictions and rent increases for six months and which can be extended due the coronavirus or due to the housing crisis, provides a much better way to address the issue than the Government's much watered-down version.

The Government has finally caved in to pressure. It has agreed to restore an eviction ban, but it is proposing to allow evictions to restart from 13 December, which would mean families across the country could receive an eviction notice with their Christmas cards over the holidays. It really is Scrooge-like on the part of the Government. The alternative Solidarity-People Before Profit evictions ban would provide at least six months of protection from eviction for people and would cost the State nothing. However, the Government seems to be more concerned about protecting the rights of corporate landlords and vulture funds than it is about protecting working-class people from eviction this Christmas.

People have made enormous sacrifices to fight this virus. Many have lost income or lost jobs. They should not also lose their homes. That is why we are introducing this Bill to provide safety and security to those who need it during the emergency. The Government is effectively saying that it is okay for landlords to evict tenants even when the country is at level 3 or level 4 because the landlord wants a higher sale price for the home by evicting the tenants and then selling it empty. It highlights the Government's priorities. At level 4 people cannot call over to family and friends for tea, but the landlord can come to throw them out. Family gatherings are not allowed but gatherings of bailiffs or hired thugs throwing tenants out is perfectly fine. Where is the logic in that?

This is not just hypothetical. We saw the impact of the eviction ban in reducing the numbers of people entering homelessness in recent months. In August, we saw the brutal eviction of tenants in Phibsborough almost as soon as the previous ban was lifted. Since the ban has been lifted, I have been contacted by many people in my constituency faced with attempted evictions by landlords. The Government cannot pretend it is not aware of that. If it allows evictions again from mid-December, we will have more evictions like that. That is why we instead propose a complete ban on evictions and rent increases as we had earlier in the year.

I also refer to the need for a ban on rent increases. Earlier this year, the Government accepted the need for a blanket ban on increases in rent during the crisis. However, now that we are going back into lockdown, it is refusing to restore that ban. This is very straightforward. At the very least there should be a rent freeze during the crisis. In reality we need to reduce rents to affordable levels. How on earth can the Government justify allowing landlords to hike up rents during the pandemic? Even by its own capitalist logic, what choice to tenants have? Are they to shop around and move into a new place? The reality is that landlords have tenants over a barrel. That is why we would restore the complete blanket ban on rent increases. Instead the Government has established a convoluted process that puts the responsibility on tenants and in reality most do not even know about that. That is just so the Government can claim to be doing something while backing up the big landlords. It is simply not good enough and our Bill would put an end to it.

Even before the Covid crisis, we had a housing and homelessness crisis. For years, we have been calling for a complete ban in evictions. When we introduced the comprehensive anti-evictions Bill in 2018, we argued that it could have a real impact in reducing homelessness. We saw earlier this year that that was accurate. That Bill passed Second Stage and has been blocked by the Government on the spurious grounds of a money message. Beyond this pandemic, we need such a comprehensive ban. Even more, we need a complete change of housing policy in the State. Instead of a government of landlords and developers we need a left government with socialist policies, willing to stand up to corporate power. We need not just a ban on evictions; we need to cut rents, build public housing, and bring into public ownership the properties run by corporate landlords, vulture funds, REITs, etc.

Right now, the bear minimum we can do is to restore the complete ban on evictions and rent increases during the present crisis.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.