Ban on Rent Increases Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 (as amended) to provide for a prohibition on rent increases for all existing and new tenancies for three years.

Rents are simply far too high. There are more than 300,000 registered rental tenancies throughout the State. Three-quarters of a million people live in the private rental sector. Over recent years, rents have continued to spiral out of control. In the dying days of 2016, the then Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Coveney, introduced the rent pressure zone legislation. Fine Gael promised that rents would be constrained in high demand areas by 4% a year. We said clearly at that stage that a 4% rent increase annually, 12% over three years, was unacceptable but we also said that those measures would not work. Four years on, unfortunately, we have been proven correct. During that period, rents have increased in parts of the country by 20%, and by more than 30% in other parts. For example, according to the latest figures from the Residential Tenancies Board, average rents in Dublin city today are €1,700 a month. Average rents in Cork city and county are more than €1,000 a month. Rents in Limerick and Kilkenny, and many other places, are more than €1,000 a month.

Asking rents, which are recorded by quarterly rent reports, are even higher. In fact, in many parts of Dublin city and county, asking rents are between €2,500 and €3,500 a month for very standard two or three-bedroom accommodation. While the Minister is talking about introducing measures at the end of this year to replace the rent pressure zone legislation, the concern many of us have is that it will still allow some level of rental increases which renters cannot afford.

What are the consequences of these uncontrolled rents? The first is that it places significant financial strain on working people, including many who are young and those who are in their fifties and early sixties approaching retirement age who are fearful of what the future will hold. It also means that money these renters should have in their pockets to spend in their local economies is not being spent in this way and as a result in many parts of the country jobs are negatively affected.

For those renters who are trying to save a deposit to buy their own home, such sky high rents make that task almost impossible. In fact, every Member of the House will have been contacted by constituents who have been forced either to share accommodation with other adult couples well into their 30s or to return home to their parents' houses simply to be able to save. That has all sorts of consequences in terms of their independence and forestalling significant decisions in life such as having children.

What must we do? As a matter of urgency, we must ban rent increases for a period of time. The Bill I am introducing does exactly that. It would ban rent increases on existing and new tenancies for three years. That would give renters some breathing space, while other measures that Sinn Féin has long argued for could be introduced. The idea that it is acceptable to have any further rent increases this year, next year or in the following year beggars belief. Any politician who says he or she wants to stand by renters should support our legislation. Of course, we must go much further than that. We have to try to find a way of reducing rents. Sinn Féin has long argued that the most effective way of doing that is through the introduction of a refundable tax credit worth one month's rent for an emergency period of three years. We also must introduce tenancies of indefinite duration and a national car test, NCT, style certification system run by local authorities to ensure minimum standards. Ultimately, the long-term stability of the rental sector will be decided by the level of investment the Government makes in secure, affordable, cost-rental accommodation. This year, the Government is only spending €35 million on that and will deliver a few hundred units. We need, at a minimum, 4,000 cost-rental units delivered by the local authorities and others every year until this crisis is resolved.

This Bill is very simple. It says it is time to stand up for renters and struggling working families. It is time to ban rent increases for three years. We will move Second Stage of this Bill in Private Members' time as a matter of urgency to give Deputies an opportunity to make clear whether they stand with renters or not.

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.