Rent Restrictions (Continuance and Amendment) Bill, 1954—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to continue in force the Rent Restrictions Acts, which otherwise would expire on 31st December, for a further period of one year. It has been common policy not to allow these Acts to lapse until the Oireachtas has had an opportunity of dealing comprehensively with the rent control problem.

A commission under Judge Conroy's chairmanship presented a comprehensive report in 1952 on all the many aspects of rent control. Since then the recommendations in the report have been subjected to a thorough examination by the Departments concerned, and my predecessor and I have received representations from the interests affected. The main proposals in the report are now being considered by the Government.

The Government are very conscious of the importance of these proposals, some of which raise fundamental issues, and they will give them the careful consideration they deserve. When the Government have made decisions, the work of drafting the necessary amending legislation can be proceeded with.

I am anxious that the introduction of comprehensive legislation should not be unduly delayed. Every effort will be made to have proposals ready for introduction next year, but it seems to me that, owing to the complexity of this legislation, the period of one year for which the Acts are being extended will not prove to be too long. Of course, if some particularly urgent problem should arise during the coming year, I shall not hesitate to bring in an amending Bill. I think the necessity for this Bill will be generally recognised and I recommend it to the House.

While we welcome the decision of the Minister to extend the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Act for a further period of 12 months, we cannot but express our regret that he has been unable to present us with a comprehensive Bill based on the report of the Conroy Commission. This is a matter of very urgent importance, not alone to those people who might be classified as landlords, those people in possession of flats and housing accommodation for letting, but to those people who would be accepted as tenants. The withholding of certain safeguards from these people must be a very serious matter. I should like the Seanad to direct its attention in particular to the importance of the part played in the past by those people whom we might now classify as landlords. They are not landlords in the present meaning of that word. They are people who have acquired property and who are making that property available for the accommodation of our people whether it be a flat or a house. I suggest that failure to provide some safeguards for those people must in general retard the provision of housing facilities. In my opinion, the many Rent Restrictions Acts that we have passed over the years have contributed to a reduction in the facilities that would otherwise be available for those who would like to avail of housing accommodation. That, I think, is putting it very pointedly.

Take the case of a person who invests his money in an industrial undertaking and, on the other hand, the person who is prepared to invest some money in the provision of houses for our people. I think that the State must assure to the latter that he is entitled to get from his investment in the sphere of social activities the same remuneration as he would get if he had invested the money in an industrial undertaking. To my mind the Rent Restrictions Acts since 1914 have retarded or influenced people against investing their money in the provision of houses for our people. On the other hand, we have passed that burden over to the local authorities which, at the moment, are our biggest landlords. I do not think that is a thing we should encourage. I think we should encourage the building of houses by private enterprise. People who are prepared to invest their money in that way should be assured of the same remuneration as if, instead, their investments had been in an industrial undertaking.

The Minister may not agree with my outlook on that. He stated here to-day, and earlier in the Dáil, that this was a temporary measure. He has asked for the indulgence of both Houses so that he may be in a position to introduce a comprehensive measure within 12 months. The Conroy Report has been before the Government for quite a number of months. In view of the representations which were put before the committee presided over by Judge Conroy, I think it is only reasonable that we have an assurance from the Minister that within 12 months he will be in a position to put before us a comprehensive Bill. While we ask for that assurance, we are prepared to give the Minister the Bill that he has introduced this evening.

I suggest to the Minister that his comprehensive Bill must have regard to the responsibilities of those people who are prepared to provide housing facilities for our people as well as the capabilities of the people themselves to meet the obligations which they will thereafter be under. If the Minister, or the Government, is not prepared to do that, there is only one alternative, an alternative which has been exercised to a very great degree, in the past, namely, that there are very few private individuals who to-day, are prepared to undertake the building of houses for letting purposes.

The Senator has said that twice already.

The obligation is then placed on our local authorities and it is twofold. It is an obligation that I would prefer to see met as far as it could be, by giving encouragement to private enterprise to provide houses for our people with fair safeguards to those people that they will get as much from their investments in the building of houses as they would have got if their investments had been in some other sphere.

I had no intention of intervening in this debate, but, in view of Senator Hawkins' surprising attitude, I think I might say a word on this matter. Apparently Senator Hawkins is of the opinion that the shortage of houses which is pressing on this nation for some years past, is due to a certain extent to the fact that people with money are not encouraged to invest that money in the building and letting of houses. With my limited experience, I should have thought that the shortage of houses, at least in the last 15 years, was due more to the shortage of materials for a certain length of time, and now in some places to a shortage of suitable sites. If there is money that can be used for the provision of houses, I would have thought that Senator Hawkins' Party would be in favour of that money being lent to the State for investment through the local authorities in providing houses at a reasonable rent for the tenants rather than the private enterprise building, where the unfortunate tenants can be exploited purely for profit.

Perhaps I am wronging Senator Hawkins in my summary of his statement, and perhaps he was intimating that it would be desirable that a certain amount of private building should be encouraged. But are we not already doing that in a far more desirable way by encouraging people to build and to own their own houses? Surely, their money is being invested in their own property and that is far more desirable in the long run, I suggest, than that these people should put up a row of houses and simply do so for the purpose of making as much money as they could from the tenants because of the present shortage of houses.

This Bill must obviously go through and there is not very much that can be said about it. In the other House reference was made to a certain group of interested people and I think it our duty to refer to it, too. Those people are the owners of houses who are suffering from the Rent Restrictions Acts of the past. I imagine all my colleagues here in the Seanad have received pathetic notices from some of these small-holders—as they are, in a sense—and I must say my heart was moved by one signed "One of the Sufferers" and by other stories I have heard from people who are depending on the rent of one or two houses for almost their total income. These people are becoming almost desperate. They cannot raise the rent, they cannot do the necessary repairs in many cases and they are hoping against hope that legislation will go through soon which will relieve them. They see their tenants enjoy 1954 salaries and wages and cheap rents: their only hope of income is the rent they get from a few houses and that is at a 1914 level in many cases. I do not want to labour this point, but I would urge the Minister to do all he can to put through comprehensive legislation which will take into account the needs of these small-holders.

Deputy O'Higgins in the Lower House referred to these owners of property and said they are not getting a fair crack of the whip in relation to the amount of increases which they are entitled to put on the rent when repairs and improvements are carried out. I hope the Minister will do all he can to give them a fair crack of the whip and I hope that any prejudice against landlordism—it is a dying prejudice—will not influence him or his colleagues in the matter. They are not an influential group in the country, but some of them are starving, literally, because they cannot raise their rents to a 1954 level.

In the Lower House, the Taoiseach referred to the fact that in a contractual tenancy where the tenant died intestate, a notice to quit could be served on the person in occupation, which would terminate the tenancy. He suggested that one way out of that would be for the tenant, prior to his death, to make a will. The section does not apply to a statutory tenant but it was stated that approximately 90 per cent. of the tenants were contractual tenants. As most people in the country would be unfamiliar with the position and would not take an opportunity of making a will bequeathing their tenancy interest in the house, it would appear that the landlord can now avail of the position under a recent Supreme Court decision and serve that notice. To my mind, that is a very serious matter and I would ask the Minister to take steps at the earliest possible moment to rectify the position. Formerly it was regarded that under Section 9 of Decies Act the person in occupation—for instance, a widow—could be regarded as the personal representative until a grant of administration was taken out; but apparently that is not the position now as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court. For that reason, I would ask the Minister to take steps as early as he can to rectify the position which arises now.

I would like to support Senator Stanford. There are cases of that sort up and down the country. Often they are widows— defenceless people like that—who had some old property given to them and the rent to-day is only a tithe of what it was. If the Minister brings in his new Bill, I believe he will give those people substantial justice as far as he can. They have no voting power, no one to speak for them. If the Minister follows some of the recommendations in the report, he will give justice to them. An effort was made a few years ago to enable them to put on substantial increases for the first £100 of repairs. That gave them some relief, but I know—and I am intimate with this problem—that in many case when the local authority asked these people to do the repairs they had not the money to do them. Therefore, they are between the devil and the deep blue sea—they have to do the repairs that the local authority wants and they have no way of raising the money. No bank or anyone else will advance money on property like that. If the Minister brought the law up to date, these people would be able, with the higher rent, to borrow money from the banks, as it would be a better investment and then they could do the necessary repairs.

Some of the property is becoming derelict and more of it will tend to become so in our towns and cities. Some of those houses are very good and it is going to cost the State a great deal of money to replace that property if it is left in a state in which it has to be demolished.

I want to impress on the Minister the necessity to bring in a Bill to cover all the cases that we have in mind. I would like to mention a particular section of the community that is victimised by higher rents. I have in mind the speculative builder who was very active in the past six or eight or ten years and who built a good many houses. The men who went into them as tenants are charged £2, £2 10s., £3 and £3 5s. If there is anyone creating an agitation for the Bill we are looking for, this is the class of people.

I hope that this Bill will not be an excuse for delaying the Bill that is necessary to meet the hardships of the people I have mentioned. I am not objecting to a fair rent, but do not forget that all the increases of rates are going on the rent, the landlord is not paying any increases in rates. That is happening to the tenants and they have to pay the extra rates. I would impress on the Minister to have some definite Bill before us soon to deal with cases I have in mind.

Both sorts of hardship.

There is justification for a reasonable rent, but there is the question of hundreds of decent tenants exploited, because of the shortage of houses, by the speculative builder.

No one wants that.

Those are the people I have in mind for a new Bill.

I have sympathy with the points made by Senator Stanford and Senator Burke. I think it is true that there is hardship upon a certain category of small property owners but there is a principle enshrined in most of these Rent Restrictions Acts. That is the principle of greater hardship. I am in greater sympathy on that account with what has been said by Senator Hickey. I think it would be a great mistake to interfere with legislation because it inflicts a certain hardship on a certain section and by so interfering inflicts a far greater hardship upon a larger section of the people.

That is what would happen.

I have some experience of the working of the earlier Rent Restriction Acts in Dublin. I can think of a case which was taken to the courts in connection with a house in Mountjoy Square. This particular case concerned one of the tenants. Those of us who were interested in investigating the case, taking it up and defending it—it was a rent case—found—I suppose this would be seven or eight years ago—that this house contained 11 tenants. It was a big house and it contained 11 families representing 54 people.

There were two water taps in the house and two lavatories for 54 people, including a large number of children. The rooms were big and the rents ranged from 11/- or 12/- upwards. As far as my memory serves, I do not think the highest rent was over 18/9. I remember the total amount of rent collected from that single house in that condition. It was £386 per year. The outgoings on that house in rates and ground rent amounted almost exactly to £90. My recollection is that it was £44 for one and £46 for the other. The outgoings were about £90 per year and the income from rents was £386

Yet the landlord who was doing quite nicely out of this property was not even complying with the Dublin Corporation by-laws in that he only had two lavatories where there were 54 people. The by-laws, if I am correctly informed, laid down that there must be one lavatory for every 12 persons in the house. That is the kind of landlord I think of when I think of the poor landlords unable to spend money on repairs. It emerged in the course of the case that this particular landlord had, in fact, acquired the property only three years before. It emerged further that the sum of money he had paid for it was £900. He had spent £900 to buy the property three years before and he was making what must have been practically a net profit of nearly £300 a year out of it and he spent, so far as our investigation could show, not one penny.

When that particular rent case was tried in the court, the judge went so far as to express from the Bench that he was quite sure the rent was exorbitant but that he was powerless to act because the house was decontrolled on the technicality that it fell within the landlord's sole possession.

Although there are regrettable hardships inflicted by the Rent Restrictions Act, I have very genuine sympathy with the very small householder but I am afraid that if we start tampering with this Act in a piecemeal way because we feel sorry for a small landlord we may find that we are letting a very big fish get away. It is to catch that that this particular net is devised in my opinion.

If any Government was justified during the past three months in delaying bringing in a comprehensive measure this Government is. I think the case made by the different Senators who spoke justified the delay, justified the caution to ensure that there would be no injustice done to any section of the community. My desire is that the Bill will give justice to all sections. Senator Hickey desires certain protection for one class and Senator Hawkins suggested that we should bring in a Bill for the protection of the landlords. I can assure the House that the Bill which is at Government level will give justice to all parties. I do not expect that I will be able to satisfy the wishes of every section. Senator Hawkins complained in regard to the delay about bringing in Judge Conroy's report into a comprehensive measure. I am only three months on duty in office and it would have been impossible for me in that time to recommend a comprehensive measure to the Government having regard to the fact that my predecessor was two years considering the matter carefully. Surely the Senator would not expect me to do in three months what my predecessor—I am not criticising him; he knew the complications —did not do in two years.

Senators will agree that it is necessary to give due weight to all sections of the community. The points raised by the Senators will assist me when I am considering the recommendations which will be submitted to the Government for a comprehensive Bill. I do not expect that the House would expect me to tie myself to a certain date because I might find that for some unforeseen reasons I would be unable to fulfil my promise. I will do everything possible to have a Bill which I believe will do justice to all sections of the community.

I do not agree with Senator Hawkins when he points out that the Rent Restrictions Act prevents the erection of houses. Judge Conroy's report did not agree with him. He agreed that with the high cost of building material and the cost of houses at the present time the builder must dispose of his houses to get finance. He finds great difficulty in some cases because the tenants are unable to pay the high rents expected at the present time having regard to the cost of houses. I do not want to go into that point now as there will be another discussion with another Minister on that point.

I can assure the House that I am interested in this question of house building. I have 33 years' experience and in my own area we built more houses for the poorer sections of the community than any other county in Ireland having regard to the population. That is a record that we can be proud of. I can assure the House, therefore, that I will do everything I can to have the Bill next year if I possibly can with the approval of the Government.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 1st December, 1954.