I am grateful to this House and Dáil Éireann for facilitating the passage of this critical legislation through the Oireachtas. I am conscious that the Seanad has been given limited time to examine the Bill and table amendments for debate. As colleagues know, I am a strong supporter of the Upper House, having been leader of the Opposition here for five years - in the other Chamber, that is, rather than this one - and having voted against and defeated the Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013. I firmly believe that Seanad Éireann plays an important role in the democracy of our State.
I am asking Senators to pass the Residential Tenancies Bill 2020 to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on tenants and to support the Government's efforts in restricting the movement of people in order to suppress the spread of the virus. The front line of the struggle against the virus is in every house and community across our country. A safe and secure home has never been more important. The roof over our heads has become the limit of our social lives, the four walls of our homes our new work office, and the rails of our gardens and balconies our refuge from the pandemic. This challenging time for our country demands that we put aside party politics and ideology to work collectively for a common cause. It is a moment for politicians of all parties and none to stop letting their version of perfect be the enemy of what we can all agree is good.
In that light, I hope that every Senator and party supports this practical and urgent legislation. I am pleased to inform the Seanad that the Dáil passed the Bill unanimously last night. I welcome the support of those from all parties as well as Independents who contributed to the debate in the Dáil and, most importantly, supported the Bill's passage.
The Bill is committed to protecting tenants and recognising the rights of property owners in this deeply challenging time. It gives clear legal protections to tenants by effectively stopping evictions for the duration of the travel restrictions and adding a further ten-day grace period for the small number of people who may need to find new accommodation afterwards. It is a targeted and balanced measure to protect our shared public health interest by insulating tenants from any need to move beyond their homes during the travel restrictions. The temporary restrictions on property owners' constitutional property rights are justified on the basis of a broader social good.
It is important to recognise that the majority of tenancies do not end in dispute and the majority of our 170,000 landlords, most of whom own just one unit, act decently and fairly. The Bill is about providing unambiguous certainty to renters and landlords that their tenancies will be frozen during this emergency period. It is also necessary to provide for extreme and rare circumstances, such as severe anti-social behaviour, where landlords will need to act to protect their properties during the lockdown and protect neighbours beside the small number of unruly tenants.
The Government has a strong record of protecting tenants. The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 was passed by the Oireachtas in March. Upon my request, a Government order to extend it to 1 August 2020 was put in place. I then introduced the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 to provide further protections due to the pandemic's economic ramifications, not just the public health considerations. That Act set out a new emergency period from 1 August 2020 until 10 January 2021 and was specifically focused on tenants economically impacted by Covid-19, in rent arrears and at risk of losing their tenancies. The Act was passed by the Houses, albeit not with the unanimous support we received last night.
It is in place, however, and is a very important protection. Those tenants who make a necessary self-declaration cannot have their tenancies terminated prior to 11 January 2021 and no rent increase can apply for the period ending 10 January. The Act also introduced important permanent protections through new procedures requiring landlords to serve the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and the tenant with the 28-day warning notice seeking payment of rent arrears and a notice of termination.
These protections are working. Others have tried and continue to try to make little of them by twisting the numbers and claiming that the protections introduced in August are only helping a small number of people. This is simply not true. The legislation enacted in August will protect all those eligible and has done so successfully so far. That means any person whose income has been negatively impacted by Covid-19 and who is in arrears. Thankfully, as it stands, not many have had the need to apply for these protections due to the range of other measures and income supports that the State has brought in through its multibillion euro investment in our economy and society during this pandemic. That Act will continue to operate and deal with rent issues and it is independent of this Bill.
In the budget, in addition, I also increased the budget of the RTB by 22% to enable it to carry out its expanded duties fully and ensure a fair and equitable rental system. I have also increased funding to ramp up rental inspections and given extra money to local authorities to address overcrowding and inadequate accommodation. Ultimately, today's Bill is needed to help restrict movement in a unified, national effort by Government to address the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic. The disease demands our constant vigilance and our collective efforts and this Bill forms part of that endeavour.
The Bill introduces measures to protect tenants from tenancy termination in all but very limited circumstances during the current period of lockdown due to Covid-19. Importantly, it will also do if required during any future lockdowns where severe restrictions are imposed on people's movements. That hardwires this legislation directly to the Health Act 1947 and means these protections will kick straight back in should there be a further restriction of movements to 5 km. This is a strong and robust legislative protection. It will work, like the Act that I brought in August, which does work.
The Long Title of the Bill describes my policy aims and the policy context in which the limited restrictions on landlords' constitutionally-protected property rights are being introduced in the interests of the social good. Section 31A of the Health Act 1947 provides the Minister for Health with extensive regulation making powers to prevent, limit, minimise and slow the spread of Covid-19. Addressing unprecedented and grave circumstances, regulations under section 31A may provide for travel restrictions, prohibition or restriction of some events, such as large outside gatherings, for example, and the requirement that persons remain at home.
The provisions in this Bill will modify the operation of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 during periods specified by the Minister for Health in regulations made by him under section 31A of the Health Act 1947 to restrict the movement of people outside a 5 km radius of their place of residence. Again, I stress that once the Minster for Health makes regulations restricting movement outside 5 km, these tenancy protections will kick in automatically. They will last for as long as the health regulations are in force, and this includes the regulations currently in force by virtue of the provisions of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020, to which I referred to earlier.
I will now outline the main provisions of the five sections of the Bill. Section 1 provides for the interpretation of certain terms in the Bill. Section 2 concerns the emergency period and it defines the period during which the temporary prohibition on tenancy terminations shall apply in an area. The period of time and the area in question shall be set out in the regulations made, as may be required, by the Minister for Health under section 31A of the Health Act 1947 to restrict, in a specified area, people's movements outside a 5 km radius of their homes.
Section 3 deals with notices of termination under the 2004 Act. Subject to subsection (2), it provides for a temporary prohibition on tenancy terminations taking effect in an area where section 31A health regulations apply to restrict the movements of people outside a 5 km radius of their homes. The duration of any emergency period shall not count as part of any termination notice period given. A revised termination date shall apply and should factor in an emergency period of an additional ten days. Subsection (2) disapplies temporary prohibition on tenancy prohibitions in cases of antisocial behaviour and where a rental property is being used other than as a dwelling and without the landlord's consent.
Section 4 provides that security of tenure rights shall not accrue to any tenant on foot of a delay in giving effect to a tenancy termination caused by the operation of section 3. Section 4, on the entitlement to remain in occupation of a dwelling during the emergency period, provides that where a tenant was served with a notice of termination prior to the emergency period and that notice period had expired but he or she remains in occupation on the commencement date of the emergency period, he or she is entitled to remain in occupation until ten days after the expiry of the emergency period, subject to the terms and conditions that applied under the tenancy. Section 5 provides for standard provisions regarding the Short Title to the Bill and provides for a collective citation. The Bill will commence upon enactment.
Several Deputies, Senators and NGOs have raised concerns in recent few days, and last night, regarding local authority tenants and members of the Traveller community. I reassure this House that I again intend to give guidance to local authorities to ask them to neither terminate local authority tenancies, apart from in cases of severe antisocial behaviour, nor to move members of the Traveller community at this time, unless it is required to ameliorate hardship or for health and safety reasons. That will be done today. A circular from me will go to each local authority and that will be followed up by my team in the Custom House.
We will continue to monitor the situation and any need for additional advice or guidance will be addressed. This worked very well at the start of the pandemic and I thank our local authorities for their co-operation and for all the work they have been doing on the ground on our behalf. It is important that local authorities continue to manage tenancies during the Covid-19 pandemic and continue, where necessary, to use their powers under 2014 Act. That is particularly case in respect of dealing with antisocial behaviour, including the serving of a tenancy warning or an application to the District Court for a possession order. That can still take place in the context of severe antisocial or criminal behaviour.
As the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I know that at this time of great uncertainty, a safe and secure home is the best shelter from this storm. That is why I am asking Senators to pass this Bill without delay to help tenants to stay in their homes. I will seek to respond to any specific questions or points raised at the conclusion of this debate. I ask the Senators, as I know they will, to approach the Bill with an open mind, good faith and the sense of urgency that this moment demands, as we are called to work together as a collective to overcome this cruel virus.