I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I will share my time with Deputies Kelly and Duncan Smith. I will take ten minutes and they will take five each, with the agreement of the House. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to introduce this important Bill which the Labour Party has drafted with particular input from our Seanad colleague and housing spokesperson, Senator Moynihan. I pay particular tribute to the Senator for her immense work and for her commitment to ensuring a strengthening of rights and protection for renters in this jurisdiction. This Bill is essentially about addressing what we and most reasonable people see as an existing power imbalance between landlords and renters. We want to address years of housing policy under this Government and the preceding Government which has favoured landlords and emphasised the use of rental properties as investments rather than as homes. We want to tackle that head on with this important legislation. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome the news this morning that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is not opposing the Bill. We are glad to hear that and look forward to working constructively with the Government to ensure that the Bill's provisions are accepted and brought into law.
This Bill represents a commitment I made during the by-election for the Dublin Bay South constituency earlier this year. During that campaign, I and all those canvassing with me heard from many people across the constituency who were experiencing difficulties and traumas as renters. I refer to really serious problems regarding security of tenure and fear of evictions, to unaffordable rents and deposits, fear of further increases and to poor quality of life and, in some cases, really poor conditions in rented accommodation. That is unacceptable in 2021. During that by-election campaign, I made a commitment that the first Private Members' Bill I would introduce would be a Bill to ensure greater protections for renters. I am glad to be able to abide by that commitment with my party colleagues and with the great assistance and support of Senator Moynihan. We want to tackle these issues not just for those in Dublin Bay South, but for those across the country. I am conscious that this is a particularly pressing issue in my own constituency of Dublin Bay South. The proportion of households who are in private rental accommodation is double the average. They represent a very significant proportion of those living in the constituency. Despite this, the problems and traumas those renting in Dublin Bay South face are replicated across the country. My colleagues and I will speak about some of the testimony we have heard from our own constituents.
This important Bill addresses three important issues in a range of constructive and positive ways. We look forward to working with the Government and with those of all parties and none to ensure that these provisions are accepted. The issues we are going to address and which I will outline were also identified in a recent report on housing published just last week by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in conjunction with the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI. That study highlighted the disadvantage experienced by many groups within the housing system and particular difficulties regarding the rented sector and the lack of rights and protections for renters. The stark findings of that report really emphasised the need to pass this important legislation.
As I have said, we are looking at three particular areas. The first thing we wish to do with this Bill is to strengthen protections against eviction for those who are renting. The legislation would remove so-called no-fault evictions. Importantly, it would provide for tenancies of indefinite duration. It would remove the ground allowing landlords to terminate tenancies on the basis that they intend to sell the property within three months and puts curbs on evictions for the purposes of refurbishment or passing the property on to family members. These are very important measures which would protect against eviction and which would provide significant additional protections for those renting.
We have heard from Focus Ireland - and I will speak further on this - about its concern, based on figures from the Residential Tenancies Board, that the main reason given in eviction notices currently being served is landlords declaring an intent to sell. Focus Ireland tells us that this is the primary cause of families entering homelessness. That clearly has a significant knock-on effect not only for those families, who face severe distress and trauma, but for us as a society. These are important measures which would have a knock-on effect in reducing homelessness.
The second challenge we seek to address in the Bill is that of unaffordable rents and deposits. Despite the introduction of rent pressure zones in 2016, rents have increased by almost 40% in Dublin and by 20% elsewhere. In other words, rental costs have risen at a faster pace than mean earnings. Just yesterday, I heard from a constituent of mine who said that they have become a renter for life because they will never afford to get a mortgage. This person estimates that, after 26 years of renting in Dublin, they have paid more than €341,000 in rent. This person cannot save for a deposit and is therefore caught in this position. We are therefore really concerned about unaffordable rents and deposits. We have previously called for a three-year rent freeze. That is essential, particularly given the recent increase in inflation. There was a good deal of news about that yesterday. It is simply not enough to link rents to the consumer price index, although we supported the Government in doing that. It is not sufficient. We now need a much more effective curb on rent increases. I have spoken to constituents who tell me that their landlords are increasing rents by 4% because they can. That is a real concern. Our Bill would also declare the entire State a rent pressure zone and would cap deposits at just one month's rent, among other measures. As I have said, we also see a three-year rent freeze as an essential policy measure, although this is not provided for specifically in the Bill.
The third issue addressed by this Bill, which again mirrors a finding in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission report, is that of the quality of accommodation and conditions for renters. Currently, renters in Ireland face a whole range of different restrictive measures in their leases that prevent them from seeing their rented homes as permanent and that contribute to the enormous demand for buying houses and apartments. Many people want to get on the property ladder because they face poor quality accommodation as well as the fear of eviction and rent hikes. In other European countries, it is common for renters to be able to keep pets in their home and to request an unfurnished property so that they can move their own furniture and belongings in. Renting is therefore seen culturally as a more reliable, long-term and sustainable option for individuals and families. We have never had that approach in Ireland. It is time to change things. Our Bill provides for protections for renters and the right to rent properties unfurnished, and would also rule against an absolute prohibition on keeping pets in apartments and houses, among other things. It also provides for model tenancy agreements and for greater rights with regard to information and transparency for renters. For example, it provides for a public register to be put in place which would set out the number and length of previous tenancies and the rent paid and previously paid. It would also list the refurbishment and renovation works that purportedly led to eviction. All of these measures are essential if we seek to redress the current imbalance between renters and landlords.
Again, to speak about my constituent's experience and the survey carried out for the Labour Party, we have heard from renters who describe experiences renting in Dublin and elsewhere as soul-destroying and terrible. Just yesterday, another constituent told me of a direct experience of leases containing a condition that tenants must pay a professional cleaner to have their rental properties cleaned before they can get their deposits back. In essence, this is an additional cost and will result, in many cases, in tenants paying hundreds of euros to get apartments professionally cleaned. I hear this is now a standard clause in many rental contracts. It is very frustrating for renters and a clear example of the serious power imbalance that prevails between landlords and tenants and that we are seeking to address in this Bill.
The Government's measures to date have not been sufficient to address the specific concerns and fears of renters. As I said, we know from reports yesterday that with the rise in inflation, a three-year rent freeze is now essential as a specific Government policy measure. We also know, however, that the provisions in this Bill will provide essential protections for renters because, currently, they face a stark context. That is apparent not just to those renting but to everyone, from the parents whose adult children are living in bedrooms and boxrooms in the family home well into their 20s, and often their 30s, to those who are, as we say, couch-surfing and who are not officially registered as homeless but simply cannot afford a place of their own, even though their incomes are too high for them to be on a housing list.
We need to ensure that renting becomes a long-term, viable and sustainable option for people in Ireland. We also need to ensure we have a cultural shift to move away from this vision of renting as always being in terms of a landlord's investment and income. We should instead skew our policy, rightly, somewhat back towards renters and the need to see rental properties as homes.