Amendment No. 179 has already been discussed with amendment No. 172.
Residential Tenancies Bill 2003: Committee Stage (Resumed).
I move amendment No. 179:
In page 71, before section 132, to insert the following new section:
132.—(1) The landlord of a dwelling shall formally notify the Revenue Commissioners on the commencement of a tenancy of a dwelling under this Part.
(2) Formal notification under this section shall be made—
(a) in the case of a tenancy commencing on a date that falls 3 or more months from the establishment day — within 1 month from the commencement of the tenancy,
(b) in any other case (including the case of a tenancy that commenced before the passing of this Act) — within 3 months from the establishment day.
(3) Formal notification under this section shall be in the prescribed form and be accompanied by the fee specified in section 134.
(4) Formal notification under this section may not relate to more than one tenancy of a property; accordingly separate applications under this section are required for separate tenancies.
Does the Minister of State wish to offer his words of wisdom?
No. We discussed the amendment in some detail yesterday. I cannot accept it.
If the amendment has already been discussed I am pressing it.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Cuffe, Ciarán.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- McCormack, Padraic.
- Ahern, Noel.
- Cregan, John.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Healy-Rae, Jackie.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Curran, John.
- Power, Seán.
Amendment No. 180 is in the name of Deputy Allen. Amendments Nos. 181 and 182 are related and it is proposed to discuss amendments Nos. 180 to 182, inclusive, together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 180:
In page 72, subsection (1)(a), line 2, after “application” to insert “or formal notification”.
I propose this amendment to ensure that details of the tenancy must be notified to the Revenue Commissioners. The same level of information must be provided to the Revenue Commissioners as has already been given to the board under the Bill as drafted. The same procedure should apply as applies to the board.
This amendment is related to the previous one and the argument is the same. The previous amendment was not accepted and the same logic applies. This amendment is consequential on the previous amendment and I cannot accept it.
I do not see any purpose in moving these amendments because since we commenced debating the Bill we have not been able to change the score from 8:4, and I do not believe we will be able to do it on this occasion. I moved the amendment because we believed that was the right way to proceed but I am facing the inevitability that the amendment will be defeated.
I move amendment No. 182:
In page 72, line 33, after "131” to insert “or 132”.
This amendment has already been discussed. It is consequential on the other amendments which were linked. It is the same argument.
I move amendment No. 183:
In page 73, paragraph (f), line 2, to delete “personal public service number (if known)” and substitute the following:
", unless it cannot be ascertained by reasonable inquiry, personal public service number".
I move amendment No. 184:
In page 73, paragraph (g), lines 6 to 11, to delete all words from and including “situated” in line 6 down to and including “it,” in line 11 and substitute the following:
(h) if the dwelling is one of a number of dwellings comprising an apartment complex, the name of the management company (if any) of the complex and the registered number and registered office of that company,”.
I move amendment No. 184(a):
In page 73, subsection (1)(a), line 41, to delete “€70” and substitute “€20”.
The reasoning behind this amendment is based on the experience of our securing a higher rate of compliance when tax rates were reduced. A mark of the success of this Bill and of the board would be to have full compliance. Local authority records reveal there is low level of compliance in registration. Would it encourage compliance if the registration fee was a little lower? I will not press the amendment but the Minister of State might consider it.
Amendment No. 177 to section 131 provides for a maximum of two fees per dwelling per year and no further fees for one year in respect of dwellings covered by the composite fee payment. This concession represents a generous response to the landlords' concerns about the potential of registration fees. I do not favour this amendment because a fee of €20, as proposed by the amendment, would work out at only €5 per annum in the case of a tenancy that lasted for the full four years. Such a fee would be inadequate in the context of the administrative costs of pursuing registrations and maintaining the register as well as providing a source of funding for enforcement action by local authorities in regard to standards, rent books etc. To reduce the fee to that the amount proposed would render the measure as being almost neutral — it would be set too low.
I understand the theory behind the amendment, but there should be a better way of approaching this matter. I have read the list in Waterford city where only a few hundred rented properties are registered. At least in my city some 3,000 or 4,000 rented properties are registered. The number registered in Limerick is also very low. Is there any cross-check between health boards, which pay out enormous sums in taxpayers' money in rent supplements, and the local authorities to ensure that rented properties are properly registered? Properly registered properties does not mean anything other than that there is a record of them in the local authority. It is not a public record but at least the local authority has a record of the tenancies. Is there any liaison with the refuse collection section of the council which deals with sending out bills, which the tenants often say is the responsiblity of the landlord, to check such bills against the rented properties register to ascertain if those properties registered? Will this fund, sourced on fees of €50, or whatever, per head, be ring-fenced for any particular purpose in the local authority or will it be merely be put into the pool of other funding?
I welcome my constituency colleague Deputy O'Malley, to our deliberations. I was a little disappointed that her first act at the committee was to vote against Deputy Allen's amendment, the purpose of which was to prevent tax evasion by landlords but, in fairness, she did not have the benefit of being present for the debate yesterday.
I am curious about this amendment in which she is seeking to reduce the registration fee for landlords from €70 to €20. I can think of several charges put in place by the Government which would have been in my queue for reducing or eliminating before this one. There is the €20 fee levied on citizens to make a comment on a planning application, the daily fee people must pay when they attend a hospital and the charges imposed by local authorities on householders for the collection of refuse. Given the number of charges imposed on many sectors of society, it is curious and interesting that the one Deputy O'Malley decided to seek to reduce is the charge proposed to be levied on landlords for registering their properties — no doubt we will tease out the rationale for that later.
Since the Deputy has tabled the amendment, it raises the issue of why to date so many landlords have not registered their properties with local authorities. I understand that only about 20% of private rented dwellings are registered with local authorities.
The figure is lower in some areas.
Yes. Why has no local authority ever gone after such landlords? I do not know of any other area of activity where people have not complied with what is required by a local authority where they have been so let off the hook. There was the example in the autumn of some householders in this city being sent to prison because they had not paid their refuse charges and they were protesting against them being imposed.
That was because they were in contempt of court, not because they did not pay their charges.
It is like the case of electronic voting, there were rumours and innuendoes.
Not a single landlord has ever been brought to court for contempt or otherwise. Not a single landlord has been brought to book for their failure to register with local authorities. How is that the case? Businesses have to pay their rates and if they do not, the local authorities will go after them. Likewise, householders have to pay their refuse charges and if they do not, the local authority will go after them. Everybody has to pay up. Yet since the regulations requiring landlords to register was introduced in, I believe, 1996, the vast majority of landlords have not complied. Some 80% of dwellings has not been registered. The local authorities have not lifted a finger to go after them. Why is that the case? Has the Minister of State made any inquiries with local authorities as to why such an easy ride has been given to non-compliant landlords who did not register their properties? What assurance do we have that when this registration system under the board is in place that we will see some better performance and better enforcement of it?
Deputy O'Malley's amendment is more of a carrot than a stick to encourage landlords to register. Deputy Gilmore's point regarding the number of landlords who register their properties is valid. There are not enough enforcement officers in local authorities. More importantly, there is no great fear among landlords about the consequences of not registering. The chances of them ever being prosecuted for not registering is quite low. If this is to be a serious attempt to address the imbalances and to bring about a proper structured rented sector, it is incumbent on local authorities and those introducing legislation as a back-up support to ensure that landlords register their properties. Whatever legislative measures this committee introduces, we need to ensure it is enforced by local authority officials. More importantly, if landlords are brought to court for non-compliance, we need to ensure that heavy sanctions will be imposed, which would set a precedent and force others to come forward and register automatically. I can see Deputy O'Malley's point in regard to the reduction in the registration fee to €20 but the €50 reduction would not make a significant difference to landlords. We need a strong emphasis on registration and enforcement if people do not comply.
I do not support the amendment and I am glad Deputy O'Malley is not pressing it. As Deputy Kelleher said, that is only a small amount to a landlord. Whatever else is stopping him or her from registering, it is not the cost. I think it is the fear of his or her business being known. If he or she is not paying due tax on rental income, which everybody should be paying, it may be a fear of that being found out. It is a reflection on the Minister that Waterford city is the worst offender. Fewer than 300 dwellings in Waterford city are registered. No more than in Galway city, Limerick city and elsewhere, I am quite sure thousands of dwellings are rented in Waterford city. When this legislation was passed — this is making a mockery of it — included in it was an automatic fine of £1,000 on a landlord who did not register property. Has anybody been fined £1,000 or its euro equivalent since this legislation was passed? Are we making a farce of legislation passed by this House given that there has been no attempt whatsoever to implement it?
I am speaking from memory and as a member of a local authority when the original legislation was passed. I remember thinking it was a great opportunity for local authorities which were always looking for sources of revenue. The local authority of which I was a member had reasonable compliance, as did Galway. There is no doubt that it was not seized on by local authorities and it was an opportunity going a begging. The last time I looked at statistics, one county council on the western seaboard had only one house registered. That is an absolute joke because half the population of Dublin goes there for their summer holidays and rents houses. For good or for bad, that legislation was an opportunity for local authorities to try to regularise the situation and to generate revenue which was to be spent enforcing standards and rent book regulations. However, local authorities were slow to take up this opportunity. Even the best of them are not proactive and react when they get complaints.
At the time there was a campaign by the landlords' association. I think a case was taken to the High Court or to the Supreme Court but I do not know if it was ever resolved. Compliance was poor. Some cases have been taken to the courts. I think a recent case was successful but it has been appealed to a higher court, so it is still going on up through the chain.
Part of the reason we are bringing in this new legislation is because of the failure of the old legislation. This time the board will be in place to drive it; we will not just leave it to local authorities. Members who are on local authorities should question why efforts at local level have been half-hearted at best. The commission has looked at all the angles and aspect to this. In the future, tenants will go to the board, whether landlords are registered or not, and that will flush out the landlords. It will be a totally different regime.
The thinking behind this legislation is that both sides have signed up to it and can see the value in it. Perhaps the last legislation was just seen as an imposition. The charge under the legislation is now €50.79, so there is no significant increase. Going backwards in respect of the charge would not make sense. In a way, I welcome the amendment but I am not accepting it. It gives balance to the argument. Yesterday, members suggested I was not being balanced. Generally, the arguments in this debate have been interesting but rather one-sided.
I hope it was not in regard to the Minister of State's health.
I did not get that, Chairman.
If there had been strong debate from both sides of the argument, I might have appeared to have been much more balanced than perhaps I have been. Yesterday, some members said we were not being balanced. We are trying to be balanced but the arguments on most of the amendments have come from one side, which I understand.
Does the Minister of State think Deputy O'Malley is geared towards the interests of the landlords?
She is giving a slightly contrary view to the rest and, to that extent——
It is part of the complexity of politics. I will not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 185:
In page 75, subsection (1), line 7, to delete "declare in writing" and substitute "prescribe by regulations".
The purpose of this amendment is to provide some formality in the context of increasing fees. The Bill provides for the basic fee to be set at €70. It states that the board may declare in writing for a greater or a lesser amount. I suggest that should prescribed by regulation. I am not sure that the board should have the power to set the fees.
The amendment is not necessary. It is clearly being laid down that the fees are to increase in line with inflation. We are not giving the board any great discretion — in fact, we are giving it absolutely none. If we were giving it discretion to change the fees from time to time as it saw fit, then the Deputy's amendment would be good, that is, that it should do so by regulation. However, when it is laid down in law that the fees are to be changed in accordance with the inflation index, I do not think the amendment is necessary.
In view of that clarification, I withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 186:
In page 77, subsection (3), line 22, after "shall" to insert the following:
"(unless an application has by then been made under section 131 to register the tenancy)”.
I move amendment No. 187:
In page 77, subsection (4), lines 29 to 34, to delete all words from and including "offence;" in line 29 down to and including "be." in line 34 and substitute the following:
(5) For the purpose of a person's complying with the requirement in a notice under subsection (2) or (3) to register a tenancy under section 131, that section shall apply as if subsection (2) were omitted from it (but for that purpose only and not so as to affect the application of section 134(6) (fee of double the ordinary amount to be paid on late application)).”.
Amendments Nos. 189 and 190 are related to amendment No. 188. Amendments Nos. 188 to 190, inclusive, may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 188:
In page 78, before section 143, but in Part 7, to insert the following new section:
Data exchange — privateresidential tenancies
143.—(1) A local authority shall, at such intervals as are specified by the Board, supply to the Board such information in its possession as falls within any class of information specified by the Board for the purpose of this subsection, being a class of information the supply of which to the Board is reasonably necessary for the performance by the Board of its functions.
(2) The Minister for Social and Family Affairs shall, at such intervals as are specified by the Board, supply to the Board such information in his or her possession as falls within any class of information specified by the Board for the purpose of this subsection, being a class of information the supply of which to the Board is reasonably necessary for the performance by the Board of its functions.
(3) The Board shall, at such intervals as are specified by a local authority, supply to the local authority such information in the possession of the Board as falls within any class of information specified by the local authority for the purpose of this subsection, being a class of information the supply of which to the authority is reasonably necessary for the performance by the authority of its functions relating to houses, dwellings or other structures (either generally or those which have been provided by it).
(4) The Board shall, at such intervals as are specified by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, supply to that Minister of the Government such information in the possession of the Board as is reasonably necessary for the performance by that Minister of his or her functions under Chapter 11 of Part III of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993.".
These amendments insert three sections into a new Chapter 4 of Part 7. A fourth section dealing with transfer of data to the Revenue Commissioners is being inserted by amendment No. 191 discussed earlier.
The three amendments deal with data exchange of details of tenancies and the use of their personal public service number as the unique identifier for landlords and tenants in registration applications and record. These provisions were not included in the published Bill as they had not been drafted at the time. It was decided to leave them until later.
Amendment No. 188 inserts a new section 143. It deals with reciprocal data exchanged between the board and the local authorities and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. It requires local authorities to supply to the board such information in their possession that is relevant to its functions and as specified by the board for the purpose of this section. It provides similarly for the supply to the board of information in the possession of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.
Section 144 deals with data exchange between local authorities and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. It requires local authorities to supply to that Minister information in their possession required for the performance of his or her functions relating to the supplementary welfare allowance.
Section 145 amends the definition of specified body to include the Private Residential Tenancies Board. There is a possibility of the provision in amendment No. 190 being transferred to the next social welfare Bill if its timing is appropriate and technically feasible. If that happens we might bring forward another amendment on Report Stage.
First, these amendments mean that a local authority can supply the Department of Social and Family Affairs with any information in its possession on a housing applicant. We discussed this yesterday. Information could also be supplied to a health board since they also relate to the supplementary welfare provisions. Similarly, the Department of Social and Family Affairs can supply information to the local authority or the board on anybody applying for rent allowance or social welfare benefits. The information is transferable to the local authority. Information on tenants is freely transferable between the Department of Social and Family Affairs, a local authority and the board. However, the board may give information on a landlord to the Revenue Commissioners only if it has the landlord's personal public service number. This is inconsistent.
I do not favour people evading their taxation obligations or seeking to pull a stroke and avail of the social welfare system. I have no difficulty with the transfer of information between one authority and another. I do not agree with the Minister's proposal to set up a legislative framework that treats tenants and landlords differently.
Second, as the Minister of State has said, these amendments touch on the supplementary welfare provisions of the Social Welfare Acts under which rent allowances are provided. A huge problem has emerged with rent allowances and their administration. Earlier the Minister of State mentioned that part of these amendments might be incorporated into the Social Welfare Act. One of the amendments tabled amends the Social Welfare Act. Since the Government, particularly the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, decided to introduce new regulations for rent allowance many tenants are finding themselves in an utterly impossible situation. I shall give two examples that I came across recently. Yesterday, a constituent came to me in great distress. She told me that she received rent allowance but her landlord informed her that he will increase her rent by €60. That will put her above the limit prescribed in the rent allowance regulations. Her community welfare officer told her that she has three months to find alternative accommodation. She has been a tenant at the dwelling for seven years and she suffers from serious medical problems. That is what the Minister's regulations are doing.
In another case the local authority is seeking to recover a property from a partner of a former tenant who died some time ago. She is willing to co-operate with the local authority in surrendering the dwelling and will go into private rented accommodation. Under the new regulations she must be a tenant for six months before she can qualify for a rent allowance. Therefore, a problem exists for her and the local authority.
The Minister for Social and Family Affairs introduced the new regulations which came into effect at the beginning of this month. Tenants must have six months tenancy to qualify for a rent allowance. If their rent exceeds a certain limit they will not get any allowance. These measures are driving tenants to a state of homelessness. We need to address this increasing problem. We are dealing with the sections of this Bill that were laid as supplementary welfare provisions of the Social Welfare Act. A couple of weeks ago 35 agencies made a joint case to the Minister that the new regulations were crucifying tenants in poor circumstances. How will the Government address this problem? Even within a few weeks of the new regulations coming into effect, we have already found that tenants have been put in an impossible situation. Many tenants will be driven onto the street. Community welfare officers administer the programme on behalf of the health boards. They are at the frontline. They have a difficult enough job as it is but it has been made impossible. They find it very difficult to explain to distressed clients the reason they cannot obtain rent allowance. In the context of these amendments, I want to know how the Government will deal with this issue which will continue to affect more and more people.
In light of Deputy Gilmore's comments on the earlier amendment, is it fair that one group of people is treated differently from another? Is it legal that a distinction can be made in the disclosure of information regarding the different groups?
The Minister for Social and Family Affairs clarified her position on rent allowance. She made it clear last November that she was introducing changes because of the enormous increase in the pay-out last year under supplementary welfare. In a year in which rents in the private sector were falling by 20% to 25%, depending on who one listens to, it seemed extraordinary that the Minister's pay-out increased by some €70 million, from €250 million to €330 million. That does not make sense. The Minister made changes and clarified them. I deal at constituency level with many clients and I am amazed at the level of misinformation going around because certain people are running with an interpretation of the Minister's decision which is not correct. It was made quite clear that the decision would not affect people others pretended it would.
Anybody on the housing list is exempt from the six-month rule. The person in the second example mentioned should be on the housing list. If not, it should be possible to get him on it. If a person or family is assessed by the local authority and put on the list for the local authority scheme of lettings, that person is exempt from the six-month rule. One would not think that if one were to listen to everybody out there. I agree that in early January there was still confusion at community welfare officer level. I found some constituents were approaching me to say the community welfare officer was unaware of the position. Perhaps that was in the period before the officers received the formal order from the Minister. Nevertheless, various groups have been spreading misinformation. The Minister's decision was made in an attempt to restrict the growing number of people entering private rented accommodation without the performance of an assessment of need by the local authority. How the subsidy to private landlords could increase by 25% in a year in which rents were falling beats me. The issue will settle down once the misinformation campaign passes.
I do not see why the rent of the constituent mentioned should be increasing if rents overall are decreasing. She might have a difficulty right now, but when this legislation is enacted she will be able to approach the board. She will have somebody to fight her battle for her if the landlord is putting the rent up unnecessarily and in a way which does not conform with the market. There is no way she should have to fight that battle with the landlord. I am concerned that where a cap is set, landlords consider their tenants have a God-given right to obtain that sum from the community welfare officer. The cap should be the maximum figure for the best accommodation in the best area. It should not be the price paid for sub-standard accommodation in a less desirable area.
To be frank, we have been lashing out too much money. I make no secret of the fact that in my constituency I am trying to restrict rent allowance to possible tenants in proposed regeneration areas. I am in negotiations with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs on this matter. I am thinking specifically of Ballymun where the masterplan said we should have a social mix. There are 6,000 units of accommodation there all of which is social housing. In keeping with the masterplan, we are building a further 1,500 rent-allowance private apartments. The first 100 of those to be made available have gone to rent-allowance tenants, which is not in keeping with the provision of a social mix. We need private tenants and owners in areas in which there are many social tenants and we need social tenants where there are many private dwellings. That is the secret of a stable society. I am hoping the Minister for Social and Family Affairs will use Ballymun as a pilot project which can be reviewed on an annual basis. She could help to ensure that there should be no rent-allowance tenants in the new tax-driven private apartments.
Overall, the Minister for Social Welfare has a problem of increases in rent allowance payments. Many people are employing scare tactics but if one examines the detail of her ruling one will see a list of persons who are exempt from the six-month rule. These include persons regarded as homeless by a housing authority, persons assessed by a housing authority as having a housing need, tenants of accommodation provided by approved bodies under the capital assistance scheme, persons aged 65 or over and persons in receipt of disability allowance. The category to note is the category of persons assessed by a housing authority as having a housing need. That means if one has 50 or 60 points in a local authority area, one has been assessed and is exempt from the six-month rule. The second constituent mentioned by the Deputy will be protected by that provision. The first one should not be paying the level of rent she is. In the new regime she will have the board behind her to fight her battle for her. The board will prevent the landlord imposing a new rent which is above the market rate.
The Minister mentioned scare tactics. Scare tactics arose because community welfare officers did not get the message right. The way they were implementing the scheme is not the way in which the Minister is now saying they should. Was it an after-thought that properly assessed applicants for local authority housing should be eligible for rent supplement? I do not recall that being part of the Minister's proposal in the Dáil.
If a person applies for rent supplement, the property will be assessed in about three or four months. The six-month rule will nearly apply. First, the health inspector has to visit and write a report which must be provided to the local authority before a person can be included on a waiting list for local authority housing. It is not simply the case that a person can apply for local authority housing and then be assessed.
Are all community welfare officers aware of the decision of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs? The matter does not appear to be as straightforward as the Minister of State says from what we are hearing in our constituency offices. Community welfare officers are not as up to speed as the Minister of State seems to be. If it were as simple as the Minister stated it was, there would have been no need for any change because everybody would be entitled to rent supplement if it were simply a matter of applying for local authority housing to qualify for it.
Consider the new restrictions regarding a single person's entitlement to rent only one bedroom and the entitlement of a person with one child to rent two bedrooms. There are rent thresholds in this regard which if exceeded render one ineligible for rent supplement. What is happening is that landlords are giving letters to prospective tenants stating the rent is €170 per week, for example, but also stating that the tenant must pay the landlord an additional €40. People are putting themselves under extreme financial pressure because of this regulation. Will the Minister of State clarify this?
I am surprised the Minister of State is surprised that the State's bill for rent allowance is on the increase. I predicted this would happen four or five years ago. Anybody could see that it would happen in circumstances in which house prices were rising and in which the State was not providing sufficient social housing — there are now about 60,000 applicants for social housing in total and the output last year was between 4,000 to 4,500 units — and in which rents have increased in line with house prices. There is much empirical evidence to support this. There is also anecdotal evidence of rents levelling off somewhat, but they are still two and a half to three times what they were seven or eight years ago. The weekly rent of typical accommodation is about twice the income received by one on social welfare. Rents are far in excess of what people can afford. In such circumstances, it is inevitable that the amount of money paid out on rent supplement will increase.
If the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, or the Minister for Social and Family Affairs said rents were to be capped, this would make some sense but this has not been done. It is not the tenant who increases the rent but the landlord. The Minister has not penalised the landlord; he has decided to penalise the tenant and has done so in an oppressive way. The tenant has no control over whether the landlord will increase the rent.
There might be some case for the Minister of State setting a limit, which, if exceeded, would result in the amount of rent allowance not increasing in proportion if he believed the rent should not have increased. For example, if one paid a rent of €900 last year and one's landlord decided to increase it to €1,000, one would still be paid the same rent allowance as last year. However, this is not what the Minister of State has done. He or his colleagues have decided that if the rent increases above the limit, the tenant will not receive any rent allowance at all. He or she will lose the entire rent allowance, will not be able to pay the rent at all and will ultimately be evicted from the dwelling. Under this legislation, the landlord can, in circumstances where the State has decided not to pay the rent allowance because the rent has exceeded the limit, go to the board, seek recovery of the rent that has not been paid from the tenant and seek the costs associated with having pursued such a case. This is utterly unfair.
The Minister of State is wrong in respect of the examples I gave. In my first example, the tenant will lose the entire rent allowance and ultimately face the prospect of losing the home she has been living in for the past seven years. She did not decide to increase the rent; the landlord decided to do so. However, the Minister of State is not touching the landlord but hammering the tenant.
On the second case, the Minister of State is wrong regarding the two exemptions. He said that the provision does not apply if one is homeless. I do not know if he thought through the logic of this. By definition, if one is homeless one is not renting private accommodation. One is in a hostel or B& B and the question of rent allowance does not arise.
The Minister of State, in the second circumstance he outlined, stated that one has to be assessed by a local authority. That will not solve the problem of the woman in question. She is not yet an applicant for housing from a local authority. She was sharing a dwelling with a partner who was a tenant of a local authority but the partner passed away and because she was not a joint tenant she has no claim on the tenancy. She will have to apply to the local authority and I understand she is doing so. However, as Deputy McCormack stated, she might not be assessed for another five or six months. Who will pay the rent between now and then? The regulations state that between now and the assessment, the community welfare officer cannot pay her rent allowance.
There is an inconsistency between what is being provided for in this legislation and what the Government is doing in practice. The Minister, through this legislation, is stating that the determination of rent will be by reference to the market. The committee has agreed that this is the reality. To be consistent about this, the payment of rent allowance should also relate to market rent, not to an arbitrary limit that has been set by the Minister. Let us consider a practical example of this in respect of the East Coast Area Health Board limit. I happen to represent a constituency, as does Deputy Fiona O'Malley, where market rents are considerably in excess of those in the rest of the health board area, yet the limit applied to tenants in that area is the same as that which applies everywhere else. It does not correspond at all to the market rates.
Is it not the quality——
That is arguable.
The quality of the representation.
They say it is location, but it is probably the quality of the public representative.
This is a major issue. I appreciate that the Minister of State represents a constituency in which he probably encounters this type of problem. However, it is a major problem for a section of society that has been left behind by the Celtic tiger, who now find themselves in circumstances in which they cannot afford the kinds of rents that the market is determining. Instead of addressing the problem of rents, the Government has decided to screw the tenant. Unless I hear proposals from the Minister of State to reconcile what his colleague is doing regarding rent allowances and what this Bill will do in terms of the determination of rents — there is now a proposal by him on data exchange between the different authorities — I will oppose the Government amendments.
I am listening very carefully to Deputy Gilmore because I have encountered a very similar case to that which he has described. I know of a tenant who was receiving rent allowance who, because of unforeseen desperate circumstances, had to give the house she was renting in Dublin back to the corporation and move down to Kerry, where she rented another house. She is more or less, except for an extraordinary man who gave her the house, on the hoof and he expected she would be in receipt of allowance again. She has now been in the house for three months but no rent has been paid. As a result of the regulation mentioned by Deputy Gilmore, the community welfare officer cannot give her rent allowance. At present, she is on the brink of being thrown out with two young children and will end up homeless in Kerry. It is a scandal that the community welfare officer cannot grant her rent allowance because of that regulation. I appeal to the Minister of State to take this into consideration. It is terrible that a person in such a desperate state may be on the street in a strange county before this Bill is passed.
I do not fully grasp Deputy Healy-Rae's point. On the other issues, some of us need to look at where we are standing. For good or for bad, Deputy Gilmore has taken the tenant's side in this debate and there is nothing wrong with that. Here, however, he is fighting the battle for the landlord. We cannot give in to landlords who look for excessive rents, we can only say no to them, otherwise they will keep coming back. Last year the rent allowance increased to €330 million despite the freeze that so many people said would create problems. Rent allowance increased by 31% over the previous year with only an 11% increase in the number of claimants. On that basis there was an average increase of 18% in the rent subsidy figures despite the cap. Those figures do not add up.
I will give the Minister of State a solution to this.
The tenant may be at the mercy of the landlord but he will have protection under the new legislation. We cannot continue with landlords demanding whatever price they can get and our giving it to them. Rents are falling in the private market and there is no justification for landlords looking for increased rents, as they have been doing over the last two years.
Going back a few years, when house prices started to rise, rents were slow to go up, although I accept that they did increase. Rents in the private market, however, have stabilised due to extra supply. That should trickle down through all sections of the market. There is no reason a house that was being rented for €1,000 has seen a rent increase or remained the same when a house that was being rented for €2,000 is now €1,600 and one that was €1,600 is now €1,300 — the rent should have decreased. The State spent a fortune on rent allowance when rents were increasing to allow the tenants to compete for rental accommodation. If rents have decreased, equally, they should have fallen in the sector occupied by social tenants.
In response to Deputy McCormack, when the Minister made the announcement in November that she was introducing restrictions on the rent allowance, she made it clear that they would be subject to regulations. Naturally, people picked up on the headlines and went off scaring the community welfare officers and tenants. The Minister has since issued the regulations. There may have been a gap in between when people were making up policy based on newspaper headlines rather than the detail but the regulations were issued in January and came into effect in February. People who are assessed by a local authority as having a housing need will receive the allowance. I accept that people are not assessed in a day but the only person being caught by the six-month rule is a young person living at home who decides he will not put up with grief from his parents and seeks rent allowance on a whim. He might not be getting social welfare at home so he decides to sign on and be means-tested to get rent allowance.
The regulations do not seriously affect people who have a real housing need. People who have a need who are assessed, and that takes time, are exempt from the rule. If we look at the detail of the regulations that is the reality. The Minister has fought this battle. There was discussion between the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government because, if she had implemented regulations in the manner of the newspaper headlines, which was never her intention, the problem would have come back to our Department.
Deputy McCormack spoke about the figures. There are parts of southside Dublin where rents are much higher than in other parts of the city and rents are more expensive in Galway city than in villages in the county. The problem is that because we give one figure, every landlord, no matter where he or she is, or whether he or she is renting a newly built house or apartment or some old tip that should not even be let, comes looking for the top rent. We cannot give in to that and under the new Bill there will be far better enforcement of standards. Good accommodation deserves the rent, the bad accommodation does not. Landlords have been getting away with murder and we cannot give in to them on this. I do not want to bash either side, I want to be balanced, but we cannot subsidise excessive rents. Under the current regime that is what happens — landlords will work through the tenant, and we are sorry if the tenant is being blackguarded, but we cannot subsidise excessive rents. We must face that reality.
The Bill puts right many of the anomalies that were mentioned. There is a need for relevant data exchange and the Bill will rectify many of these issues.
I appeal to the next two speakers to be brief and to avoid repetition. We have given some time to this amendment.
Maybe the data exchange would help if it was there. We are getting back to what the amendment is about, because the others issues are merely related. If the data exchange were there so that local authorities could ensure that — regarding the amendment we spoke of previously — property would be registered, then data should be exchanged. The last time I heard the Minister speak in the Dáil, he said he was doing everything in his power to keep down house prices for new purchasers, and the following week we heard of development charges being slapped onto houses by means of the regulation introduced by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. These charges come into effect on 9 March, increasing the price of new houses from €10,000 to €20,000 and making it impossible for young people to own their houses, obliging them to enter the rental market. This is partly why the rent supplement has increased by 31%.
I do not know if the following situation is catered for anywhere in the legislation. If a young person buys a house and to help pay for it rents out one room, he or she gets tax exemption for that income. If another room is rented out, in a three-bedroomed house for example, tax has to be paid on the income. That is an anomaly. It is another penalty on young people.
Could I suggest a solution to the problem? I do not want to see landlords ripping off the tenant or the taxpayer. Under this Bill, if a landlord tries to charge excessive rent to a private tenant, one not in the rent allowance situation, the tenant can approach the residential tenancies board and argue that the rent is in excess of the market rent. The board has the power to effectively set the rent at the market level. The Minister has noted the problem of landlords who think that the rent allowance system is a lovely cash cow for them to milk, but the solution is to give the health boards the same authority to go to the residential tenancies board. For example, the community welfare officer might find a landlord hiking up rent in anticipation that the rent allowance is going to follow it and exceed the market rent. The community welfare officer or the health board should have the power to go to the residential tenancies board just as a tenant would, and point out that the rent is in excess of the market rent. The board could then determine the rent, with the health board liable only for the rent allowance which applies to the market rent set by the board.
That would be a fair way of doing things. I will table an amendment for Report Stage to that effect, which will propose replacing the formula that has been used by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to cap the rent allowance. The idea is to replace those regulations and allow the health board to approach the residential tenancies board: the board can set the market rent, which indicates to the health board what level of allowance is appropriate. That will end the problem of landlords hiking rents to milk the rent allowance system. It will be fair, because the tenant will not be penalised.
I find it strange that the State was prepared to pay rent allowances to landlords who were not registered, and was not prepared to do anything about following up those people, but decided instead to put pressure on the unfortunate tenant.
The Minister gave an example of a young person living at home who decides to move out, get private rental accommodation and rent allowance. If that young person was already on the housing list, would he or she now qualify for a rent allowance?
The decision is based on an assessed need.
The person would first have had to be assessed?
Yes, and accepted as being in need.
Would it be the case that the person would not be paid the rent allowance until assessed at the new address? Which assessment applies, the old or the new?
People would have to have their needs assessed if they were at home, living with a parent or parents, perhaps in a four-bedroomed house. There might be three spare bedrooms there.
There could be an assessment there.
That would be up to the local authority, which might say the person had zero points.
Yes, but it is still an assessed need.
An assessed need means that we are satisfied that a person has a need for housing. There might well be three empty bedrooms in a person's home but on welfare grounds, for example, there might be a problem in the house. The people would have to have been accepted by the local authority as in need of housing.
There is one other anomaly relevant to this section. There is another way the Minister could control the level of rent supplement paid. There is no stipulation, when a rent supplement is paid, that the tenants of the house who are receiving rent supplement must behave in any particular manner. Quite often there are cases of serious unsocial behaviour by tenants on rent supplement, yet the supplement still has to be paid to them. That is not so in the case of a local authority tenant whose behaviour is unsocial. Such a tenant can be expelled from the house. Regardless of how a person on rent supplement behaves in rented property, he or she cannot lose the supplement. There are people currently renting property and receiving rent supplement who are involved in various illegal activities. Rent supplements must continue to be paid to such people because there is no attached regulation regarding behaviour, despite the fact that rent supplement is State aid, just as tenants in local authority houses are in effect given State aid.
Power is there to withdraw rent allowance on the grounds of anti-social behaviour.
It is not. I have been through this issue on several occasions. Community welfare officers assure me there is no such power to withdraw the allowance because of unsocial behaviour.
My understanding is that under the 1996 Act, the officers have the discretion to remove the allowance.
Regarding Deputy Gilmore's point, in the new situation it is a case of how it operates between the community welfare officer and the tenants. If a tenant says a landlord is increasing the rent, and asks for a higher rent allowance, the community welfare officer might say that the limit is being exceeded, for example, or might agree to continue the rent allowance for one or two months on condition that the tenant take the case to the residential tenancies board. I could envisage such a joint working practice. I would not oppose the principle of the community welfare officer referring the matter to the board directly, but it would probably be done in an informal way. The welfare officer might say that the landlord is overcharging and insist the tenant go to the board, supplying him or her with a letter to that effect. It is only one step further to say that the welfare officer should initiate the process.
With all these amendments we are talking of reciprocal exchange of information back and forth, whereas yesterday's discussion dealt with information going in only one direction, so to speak. I would not object to the community welfare officer having the power to take the initiative, and in effect this may well be the case. The officer may say that a rent subsidy cannot be continued at a particular level, or might continue it on a temporary basis, but at the same time insist on the tenant getting clarification from the board. It will work in whichever way one likes.
As there are fewer than 12 members present, under Standing Orders we are obliged to wait eight minutes, or until a full membership is present, before we take the division.
- Ahern, Noel.
- Cregan, John.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Healy-Rae, Jackie.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Moloney, John.
- Power, Seán.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- McCormack, Padraic.
Will the Minister of State please forward the regulations to me about unsocial behaviour of tenants on rent supplement and will he indicate what regulations concern this committee?
I will try and get that information for the Deputy.
Amendment No. 189 is in the name of the Minister and has already been discussed with amendment No. 188.
I move amendment No. 189:
In page 78, before section 143, but in Part 7, to insert the following new section:
"144.—(1) A local authority shall, at such intervals as are specified by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, supply to that Minister of the Government such information in its possession as falls within any class of information specified by that Minister for the purpose of this subsection, being a class of information the supply of which to that Minister is reasonably necessary for the performance by that Minister of his or her functions under Chapter 11 of Part III of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993.
(2) The Minister for Social and Family Affairs shall, at such intervals as are specified by a local authority, supply to the local authority such information in his or her possession as falls within any class of information specified by the local authority for the purpose of this subsection, being a class of information the supply of which to the authority is reasonably necessary for the performance by the authority of its functions relating to houses, dwellings or other structures (either generally or those which have been provided by it).".
Amendment 190, in the name of the Minister, has already been discussed with amendment No. 188.
I move amendment No. 190:
In page 78, before section 143, but in Part 7, to insert the following new section:
"145.—The definition of ‘specified body' in section 223(1) of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993 (as amended by section 10 of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003) is amended—
(a) in paragraph (t), by deleting ‘or’, and
(b) by substituting the following paragraphs for paragraph (u):
‘(u) the Private Residential Tenancies Board, or
(v) such other persons as may be prescribed;’.”.
Amendment 191, in the name of the Minister, has already been discussed with amendment No. 172.
I move amendment No. 191:
In page 78, before section 143, but in Part 7, to insert the following new section:
"146.—On the request of—
(a) a landlord of a dwelling, or
(b) the Revenue Commissioners, on their furnishing the personal public service number of a landlord of a dwelling,
the Board shall, at such time or times as are reasonably specified in the request, furnish to the Revenue Commissioners—
(i) confirmation as to whether that landlord has registered a tenancy in respect of a dwelling, and
(ii) in the event of there being one or more than one tenancy so registered, such of the particulars registered in respect of it or them as the Revenue Commissioners may require.".
Amendment No. 221 is cognate to amendment No. 192 and they may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 192:
In page 78, subsection (1), line 29, after "as" to insert "Bord um Thionóntachtaí Cónaithe Príobháideacha, or in the English language".
Since Fianna Fáil is not longer interested in the Irish language I thought it appropriate that somebody should provide for the Irish title of the board. The amendment is to provide for an Irish title for the board, the Irish language version of the title.
I support the principle of the amendment, but I would like to check the wording of it with the Attorney General's office. We suspect it might require another comma or a buailte. If the Deputy withdraws his amendment, I will check the wording of it and reconsider it for Report Stage. The wording of the Deputy's amendment may well be right, but I am not 100% sure it is.
How stands the amendment?
I think the Minister of State is accepting it.
I accept the principle of it, but I would like to check the spelling of the words. Subject to such a check I will reconsider it for Report Stage.
The Minister of State will include the correct version on Report Stage.
We will table an amendment on Report Stage.
I will withdraw my amendment pending a grammatically correct version of a similiar amendment on Report Stage.
I thank the Deputy for bringing this to our attention.
Amendments Nos. 194 to 196, inclusive, and amendment No. 198 are related to amendment No.193 and they may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 193:
In page 79, subsection (1), between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
"(e) the monitoring of any discrimination against tenants or any other discriminatory actions in the private rented sector,”.
I cannot accept these amendments. The board will have the function under the Bill of carrying out research and providing information on policy advice generally in regard to the private rented sector. In addition, I am introducing amendment No. 196 to give the board the specific function of monitoring the operation of this legislation and reporting to me on any changes that it might consider necessary. These functions will largely address the objectives of the amendments in this grouping.
I am satisfied that the Minister of State has conceded enough in amendment No. 196 to cover what is proposed in this group of amendments and I will withdraw them.
I move amendment No. 195:
In page 79, subsection (1), between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
"(f) the monitoring of the quality and pricing of accommodation in the private rented sector,”.
I can expand on what I said but basically this amendment covers the same point.
I move amendment No. 196:
In page 79, subsection (1), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
"(g) the review of the operation of this Act (and, in particular, Part 3) and any related enactments and the making of recommendations to the Minister for the amendment of this Act or those enactments,”.
Amendment No. 197 has been ruled out of order and therefore cannot be moved.
Amendments Nos. 200 and 201 are related to amendment No. 199 and they may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 199:
In page 80, subsection (4), line 19, after "balance" to insert "(i.e. at least 40 per cent of each gender)".
The Bill, as presented, states that in regard to the composition of the board the Minister shall in so far as is practicable ensure an equitable balance between the numbers of members of the board who are women and the number who are men. I propose to strengthen the bill by providing that there should be at least 40% membership of the board from each gender.
I do not consider the amendment is necessary, because if there is a balance in the composition, there is an assumption that the Minster will do what he or she can to ensure a reasonable proportion in terms of the gender mix of the composition of the board. This type of amendment ties down the gender mix of the composition. It might also undermine the confidence of members of the board if they thought they had to raise the quota of male or female members and find another male or female member rather than seeking to appointment a person on the basis of merit. The amendment is a little excessive in that sense.
I have a strong view on this matter and I have expressed it previously. Inserting such a gender balance provision in legislation undermines the confidence and credibility of members of State boards, as statements can be made to the effect that a member is on a board because of legislation which enforces a gender balance provision. Such a provision undermines the status of members of boards. I have concerns about a requirement that the gender make up of a board must conform to 40% or 60%. Deputy O'Malley has made a valid point. If we go down this road of gender proofing, it will undermine the status of women who sit on State board.
Yes. However, such a provision is generally targeted towards women. It undermines boards and damages the credibility of their members.
I go along with the general objective of the Deputy's amendment. It conforms with the long-standing Government policy to have 40% of each gender on State boards. It is not normal to insert a specific figure in this regard in legislation nor it is not necessary or appropriate. It is not the standard practice to insert such a provision, but it is our intention as far as possible to have a gender balance among members of the board. We have achieved that already in regard to the ad hoc board, the membership of which is 50:50 in terms of gender. We aim to achieve that balance on an ongoing basis, although we may have some difficulty in achieving a proper gender balance among the membership of some of the committees, particularly the dispute resolution committee, an area where it appears there is currently a greater preponderance of males. We certainly intend, as far as possible, not simly to reach the Government standard in terms of gender balancing but to ensure it as close to 50:50 as possible. We will try our utmost to do that in regard to sub-committees. It is not normal practice to insert a specific figure in this regard in legislation but we are committed to trying to aspire to this objective.
Why is there a problem in this regard in terms of the dispute resolution committee?
We envisage a difficulty in achieving sufficient female representation on the dispute resolution committee as it appears there is a greater preponderance of males working in the field of alternative dispute resolution.
We have not achieved such a standard on our own committee — we are honoured to have Deputy Fiona O'Malley present today.
When appointing mediators, a large number of females did not apply for the posts. I accept there might be more women than men engaged in dispute resolution at community level. Perhaps, in this instance, it may be a question of the numbers with expertise in the valuation area. We may be wrong, but that is an opinion formed from seeking mediators. We sought expressions of interest from people who might be interested in serving on the board as mediators and adjudicators and from that response we came to a conclusion that there seemed to be more men than women engaged in this segment of the business. Perhaps word will get around and opposition will change. Based on that information, there may be a diffficulty in securing gender balance in that regard. However, we will try to do so as far as possible.
I am a little surprised that is the case. The equitable balance has already been achieved in the composition of the board.
I move amendment No. 200:
In page 80, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following subsection:
"(7) The Minister shall ensure, in so far as is practicable, that representatives of both tenants and landlords are represented on the Board.".
It should be enshrined in the legislation that tenants and landlords should be represented on the board.
We are aiming to have people with experience and expertise. We are trying not to have people representing certain interests, particularly in the board's judicial type functions. We do not want anyone to be labelled as representing tenants or landlords. Everyone is influenced by their experiences but we do not want members of the board to represent a segment of the sector. We will have a balance of experience and expertise. We have people with a broad experience and they may be broadly sympathetic to the Deputy's point of view.
I want to give notice that a technical amendment to section 148 will be brought forward on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 201:
In page 82, subsection (3)(b), line 17, after "time" where it secondly occurs to insert "being at least 40 per cent of each gender".
I tabled this amendment because there seems to be a problem with the dispute resolution committee achieving a gender balance. Earlier the Minister of State told us that the preponderance of those offering for mediation, adjudication and dispute resolution functions were men.
As I said, we are sympathetic to the principle. Perhaps I should not have volunteered that information earlier. We will do everything we can to have a balance. If my view is correct about a shortage of women with a particular qualification I do not know if putting it in the Bill will help. We want people with experience who are qualified. I do not want to insert the figures in the Bill. My view of the situation was formed by the expressions of interest. Perhaps that matter could be put right.
We may introduce a small technical amendment to section 158.
I move amendment No. 202:
In page 87, subsection (6), line 11, to delete "this Part" and substitute "Part 6".
This is a technical amendment to correct an incorrect reference.
I move amendment No. 203:
In page 91, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) The Freedom of Information Act 1997 shall apply to the Board, and reference to this section shall be inserted in the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act 1997.".
It is not appropriate. As is the case with all new bodies the application of the FOI Acts to the private residential tenancies board will be by way of regulations made by the Minister for Finance. That is the way it is done, not by putting it into individual legislation.
Will that be done?
I am sure it will be. They do it a batch at a time. I understand that the next batch might be some months away. I expect that it will be in the next batch.
Will the Minister of State recommend that to the Minister for Finance?
We must recommend it anyway.
I want the Minister of State to draw his attention to it.
It is already in the batch and it will be happening.
We could easily finish the Bill in 15 minutes as there is nothing contentious to discuss.
We shall resume at 2 p.m.
I move amendment No. 204:
In page 93, subsection (4), line 24, to delete "these" and substitute "those".
This is a technical amendment.
I move amendmentNo. 204(a):
In page 94, subsection (1), lines 36 to 42, to delete all words from and including "one" in line 36 down to and including "€20,000," in line 42 and in page 95, to delete lines 1 to 4 and substitute the following:
"damages of an amount of more than twice the annual rent is being claimed under the proceedings.".
This section of the Bill would undermine the authority and purpose of the board. Deputy Gilmore has alluded to the nature of accommodation in our constituency. In an urban area it will not be long before the figure of €20,000 included in the Bill for damages or arrears is reached.
Last week a person tried for a serious pornographic offence was fined £2 under legislation enacted in 1936. That shows the danger of inserting figures in a Bill. I propose to include a multiple of an annual rent because that would provide a wider scope. Good legislation is less regimented. I criticised amendment No. 199, tabled by Deputy Gilmore, because less is more and we do not want to over-prescribe. The Bill should not contain a figure because it will have to be redrafted in future. We should also seperate the figure for damages and that for arrears. We must be sure the board has authority so as many cases as possible go before it and free up the courts. This amendment would be in the interests of the Bill.
The amendment might work in one way but in cases of low rent it might cause difficulties. We want to find the correct wording but I do not know if this legislation will be in place for 100 years, it is a stepping stone to enable landlords and tenants to move into a new regime as soon as possible. If the figure is to be set in stone for a long time, it might be possible to include "€20,000 or a multiple of the annual rent, whichever is the greater". We will tidy this up and come back with an amendment on Report Stage. Twice the annual rent could work well for expensive accommodation but cause problems in low rent accommodation.
I move amendment No. 205:
In page 94, subsection (1), lines 36 to 42, to delete all words from and including "of" in line 36 down to and including "€20,000," in line 42 and in page 95, to delete lines 1 to 4 and substitute the following:
"or more of the following reliefs is being claimed in the proceedings—
(a) damages of an amount of more than €20,000
(b) recovery of arrears of rent or other charges, or both, due under a tenancy of an amount, or an aggregate amount, of more than €20,000.”.
I move amendment No. 210:
In page 95, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following subsections:
"(4) Any tenancy or sub-tenancy of a dwelling (the 'first-mentioned tenancy') purported to be created is void if, from all the circumstances, it is a reasonable inference that it is a transaction not of a bona fide nature effected at arm's length but effected solely or mainly for the purpose of facilitating the termination (through collusion between some or all of the parties to that transaction) of any sub-tenancy created out of the first-mentioned tenancy.
(5) If the first-mentioned tenancy in subsection (4) is void by reason of that subsection any sub-tenancy created out of it that is not so void shall be deemed to be a tenancy held by the person in whose favour the sub-tenancy was granted from the person who purported to create the first-mentioned tenancy (but of no greater term than the term of the sub-tenancy).”.
This is an anti-avoidance section, the purpose of which is to render void any provision of a lease or a tenancy agreement designed for the sole or main purpose of facilitating tenancy termination. It could reflect a situation where a head tenant would combine and collude with a landlord to facilitate the early termination of a sub-tenancy. It is appropriate to put this clause in to avoid that happening. If there was obvious collusion, the board could render void any agreement such as that. It inserts two new subsections to render void any attempt to facilitate terminations by creating the tenancy as a sub-tenancy through a head tenancy. Its purpose is to stop any collusion of this nature.
Amendments Nos. 211and 212 are related and will be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 211:
In page 96, before section 180, to insert the following new section:
"180.—(1) This section applies where a tenant of a dwelling which is one of a number of dwellings comprising an apartment complex makes a complaint of the kind referred to in section 12(1)(h)* to the landlord of the dwelling and that complaint (the ’relevant complaint’) is forwarded to the management company of the complex (the ’relevant company’).
(2) Where this section applies the relevant company, in performing any of its functions in relation to the apartment complex concerned, shall have regard to the relevant complaint and shall furnish to the landlord mentioned in subsection (1) (for the purpose of its being forwarded to the tenant concerned) a statement in writing as to the steps, if any, it has taken to deal with the matter or matters to which the complaint relates.”.
This amendment inserts a section relating to the treatment of complaints by tenants in apartment complexes run by management companies. It is an attempt to give extra rights. It applies where a tenant has made a complaint that has been forwarded to the management company concerned. The company is now required to have regard to the tenant's complaint and must provide the landlord with a written statement outlining the steps being taken with regard to the complaint.
I move amendment No. 212:
In page 96, before section 180, to insert the following new section:
"181.—(1) A tenant of a dwelling which is one of a number of dwellings comprising an apartment complex may request the management company (if any) of the complex ('the company') to furnish to him or her particulars in writing of the service charges made by the company in respect of the dwelling in a specified period and how those charges have been calculated.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), it shall be the duty of the company to comply with such a request.
(3) If the owner of the dwelling were to make a request of the company to furnish to him or her the particulars mentioned in subsection (1) and the company would not be obliged to furnish all of those particulars to him or her then the duty of the company under subsection (2) shall be read as extending only to the particulars that the company would be obliged to furnish to the owner were such a request to be made.
(4) In this section ‘service charges' means charges made by the company in respect of the performance of functions by it in relation to the apartment complex concerned.".
The same argument is contained in this agreement. However, we might be making further amendments to amendment No. 212. There are a few points regarding wording that need to be clarified. There might be a further amendment on this on Report Stage.
I want to give notice that the parliamentary draftsman is concidering whether there is a technical gap in section 93, which is related to this section, as it does not explicitly deal with the subsequent processing of a serious dispute that has been the subject of an application to the Circuit Court for interlocutory relief. I may therefore propose an amendment on Report Stage to section 93 or section 180 which would have consequential amendment to section 96.
The Bill ends the current arrangement whereby a tenant with 20 years' tenancy can automatically obtain a 35-year tenancy. There are not too many of these cases. In many cases, landlords tend to terminate a tenancy before the 20 years is up. Nevertheless, there is a legal entitlement — one of the few that tenants have — which automatically affords them security of tenure for 35 years if they have already held a tenancy for 20 years. This Bill introduces the idea of a fixed four-year tenancy after which the tenant goes back on probation from whence he or she may or may not obtain another four-year tenancy. The 20-year right is being terminated except for tenants who already have held a tenancy for 20 years or longer. That is a step backwards, especially for many people with long service as tenants. There is no reason the two systems cannot operate in parallel. There is no reason for existing tenants not being able to retain their tenancy rights or indeed the service as tenants that they have built up which might contribute towards an entitlement to a 35-year lease.
We are not abolishing it. It is still there for another five years. After that, it will be abolished.
It is only for those who have it already.
It will exist for somebody who has it or who manages to get it in the next five years.
In other words, for someone with 20 years' tenancy or more, he or she already has a 35-year tenancy and will hold onto that. For someone with 15 years tenancy, if he or she continues as a tenant up to the 20 years, he or she will qualify for a 35-year tenancy. Is that the case?
That is right, assuming he or she manages to continue as a tenant.
What about someone with 14 years' tenancy?
The provision will be abolished in five years' time.
The most that someone with 14 years' tenancy already can get is six months probation for a four-year tenancy.
Yes. Few people who have 15 or 16 years tenancy manage to reach the 20-year mark. We all know of people who have been tenants for 15, 16 or 19 years. That is the difficulty. It is a great and well-intentioned idea. Unfortunately, it was always the mechanism that allowed landlords to find some reason to churn the tenancy or say the house, flat or apartment needed to be refurbished or whatever. It is in place for the next five years for anyone who manages to obtain it. However, we all know that landlords can be vigilant and innovative in ensuring that tenants do not obtain it. The provision will cease in five years, so anyone who has 14 years' tenancy will not have a hope.
Those tenants are being cut off at the knees. Their service has been thrown out the window. It is a matter of opinion as to whether they would ultimately build up the 20 years to qualify for the 35-year tenancy. The Minister of State is depriving them of even that chance.
I accept that is one way of putting it. The present rule is well-intentioned, but very few actually manage to——
Why is it being abolished? Why not just let those who qualify get it and those not get it who do not?
It has not achieved anything. It is a recipe for getting people evicted. That is the reality. Few tenants escape through the net. It has been the excuse, reason and motivation for landlords to evict tenants. As well as the five years provision, we are introducing an optional opt out into the scheme to give tenants the opportunity to discount the possibility of getting the 20 year advantage, because it has not actually benefited tenants. It has been the cause of tenants being evicted.
Is not the optional opt out sufficient? Why does one have to abolish the entitlement? I understand the optional opt out. It is a matter for tenants to form a judgment. A tenant who has 14 years' tenancy will form a judgment himself or herself and may do better than the four year arrangement provided for in the Part 4 tenancy or take his or her chances with their landlord. It is fair enough that they have that choice. All I am arguing is for the choice to remain but not to abolish the existing arrangement.
This well-intentioned provision has proved counterproductive, prompting eviction of those approaching 20 years of occupancy. It has also discouraged institutional investment in private rental accommodation particularly since the controversy surrounding the termination of tenancies in the Mespil estate in the early 1990s. The implications of this aspect of the landlord and tenant code were the subject of a report by a working group, established in 1994, in the wake of the Mespil estate controversy. That group, which reported in 1996, recommended the amendment of the Act to provide an opt out from the entitlement but the recommendations were not implemented. The commission considered that long occupation equity would be inconsistent with the proposals for successive four-year tenancy periods and recommended the abolition of the entitlement after five years and the availability of an opt out for that transitional period. That abolition is provided for in this section of the Bill with the opt out facility.
A person who has obtained one of these leases before the transitional five year period has expired will continue to be able to claim successive new leases. The voluntary opt out is merely seen as a transitional arrangement. If we leave the 20 year advantage, the tenant is still vulnerable to the landlord seeking eviction and is what we are trying to get away from. We are trying to give protection to tenants. This was a potential benefit and a potential long-term right that the tenant could get if he or she could get over the magical line. Very few ever got over it. It was the incentive the landlord needed to evict tenants. While it may have been well intentioned and was seen as something the tenant could achieve, in reality it worked against the tenant.
It is odd logic to argue that because landlords act to frustrate a legal entitlement that one should abolish the legal entitlement.
It is fundamental to the way rental accommodation is viewed. We talk about other countries and the way the rental sector is viewed. Until this is gone there will be no proper institutional investment in the sector. That has been a sword hanging over the whole system. It changes the whole ethos of the system. We are trying to get into a new era where tenants can have long-term protection. This was a theoretical protection which worked against most tenants. We have all come across cases where, even in the one apartment complex, a landlord had a reason to gut the apartment, after 17 or 18 years major refurbishment was needed and one had to move down the corridor to somewhere else or into the other building. There was always some excuse to get the tenant out. In reality it was not a protection. Those who got it were cases where the landlord was asleep.
I move amendment 213:
In page 98, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"(a) section 42 of the Landlord and Tenant Law Amendment Act Ireland 1860,”.
This amendment is for the purpose of clarifying a point about Deasy's law.
He has got a law already. He has a law all to himself.
It is about the non-application of section 42 of Deasy's Act re repairing obligations. An 1860 Act, called Deasy's Act, provided that the tenant is always responsible for repairs to a dwelling. The present Bill does not provide for that. Therefore the amendment provides for an opt out from that obligation. There is a potential conflict between it and section 12 in Part 2, which places responsibility for repairs on landlords, except where the repair is not normal wear and tear and is attributable to the tenant's actions. The amendment removes the potential conflict between the 1860 law and what is being provided for in the Bill.
If Deasy's law is eliminated, for what is the tenant responsible? Is responsibility for all repairs removed from the tenant? In the event that, for example, a tenant breaks a window, accidentally or otherwise, that was covered by Deasy's law but will not be covered by the Bill.
They are responsible for any damage they cause, other than normal wear and tear. Under Deasy's law the tenant was responsible for everything, including normal wear and tear.
All that is being eliminated is responsibility for wear and tear.
Seemingly, under Deasy's Act, the tenant was responsible for everything — structural repair, roof repairs and so on.
Does that surprise Deputy McCormack?
That is OK.
I move amendment No. 214:
In page 98, line 22, to delete "to which Part 4” and substitute the following:
"in so far as its operation is not affected by Part 4 or to which that Part”.
This amendment is about recovery of possession of vacant dwelling. Section 185 is complementary to section 37 and enables a landlord to recover possession of a dwelling where the tenant has vacated without complying with the proper procedures.
Where a landlord is selling a property, how does the four month's notice apply? Where a landlord wished to see his property, following some unforeseen circumstance, how does that govern the notice to the tenant?
We discussed that matter the other day. He has to give notice. The notice period relates to the length of the tenancy. There is a graduated notice period which went from 28 days to 112 days. For whatever reason the landlord is ending the tenancy he would have to give the proper notice depending on——
The landlord could be trapped in a situation of not being able to dispose of his property for a maximum of 128 days.
No, 112 days is the maximum.
: That is four months.
That is 16 weeks. That would apply where a tenant was in occupancy for four years.
That would not prevent the landlord from selling.
A landlord could not sell a property in which he or she had tenants.
Of course, he or she could.
We discussed that matter the other day in regard to a tenant's rights. A provision of the Bill is that a tenant will get extra notice periods. We discussed the other day whether such a provision should be reciprocal, namely, that the landlord should get the same notice from a tenant. That was a matter of dispute. The notice increases to a maximum of 112 days.
I move amendment No. 215:
In page 98, lines 30 to 32, to delete all words from and including "landlord" in line 30 down to and including "subsection (2).” in line 32 and substitute the following:
(a) any later than 1 month before, nor
(b) any sooner than 3 months before,
the expiry of the period of that tenancy.
(4) If a tenant fails to comply with subsection (2) and the landlord suffers loss or damage in consequence of that failure the landlord may make a complaint to the Board under Part 6 that he or she has suffered such loss or damage.
(5) An adjudicator or the Tribunal, on the hearing of such a complaint, may make a determination, if the adjudicator or the Tribunal considers it proper to do so, that the tenant shall pay to the complainant an amount by way of damages for that loss or damage.".
Amendment No. 217 is related to amendment No. 216 and they may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 216:
In page 98, paragraph (a), line 34, to delete “section 6 of”.
Essentially, this amendment seeks to preserve the entirety of the Equal Status Act 2000 and not only section 6 of it.
Section 6 is the relevant section of the Equal Status Act dealing with the provision of accommodation. The purpose of section 187 in this Bill is to prevent landlords from relying on provisions of the Bill, namely, the right to unreasonably refuse consent to subletting in order to practice discrimination. This provision is required because by explicitly ruling out such reliance, the potential for conflict between the two pieces of legislation is eliminated. It is unnecessary to refer to the Equal Status Act as a whole because there is no potential for conflict in any other part of it; section 6 is the only section of it that is of relevance to this legislation. It is not that we are not subscribing to the Equal Status Act in total. It is a little like the argument made yesterday in regard to the Revenue in that every Bill introduced need not endorse or reinvent all other legislation enacted. Section 6 is the only section of the Equal Status Act that is relevant to anything we are doing in this legislation.
May I tease this out a little further in practical terms? Where a landlord decides he or she needs to let a dwelling, what is the legal position in that regard? If the landlord wants to only let the dwelling to a group of female tenants, am I correct in thinking that is not legal any more under the Equal Status Act?
One would often see advertisements requesting professionals ladies only to apply to rent a property.
One would want to be careful placing an advertisement like that these days.
Generally speaking, one cannot discriminate.
Can a landlord decide to rent to female tenants only, for example, to four female nurses.
He or she could not go public on that.
If the landlord does not live in the dwelling, he or she cannot discriminate.
The landlord cannot discriminate.
If the landlord lives in the house, he or she can discriminate.
There still may be landlords who would have moral reservations about renting their properties to tenants of mixed gender. What rights have such landlords if they are strongly of that view such that they would not accept tenants of a mix of gender in their properties on moral grounds?
I thought the general movement was that we should not be legislating on morality grounds. I thought that would be a requirement the Deputy would expect of me rather than throwing it back at me.
Some landlords could be of that view.
I understand the position on single-gender tenancy. However, if a landlord has four female tenants and one leaves and the remaining tenants decide to sublet to a man, can the landlord refuse to agree to that?
Would the male tenant be allowed in at the same rent or would he have to pay double the rent?
He might have to pay for all four.
What example did Deputy Gilmore give?
He asked about three nurses and a man renting.
I will give the example of a dwelling near Beaumont Hospital being rented by four female nurses and one nurse leaves and the other three approach the landlord and tell him that Mary has gone——
No, a male nurse.
——a male colleague is moving in, and they want him to agree to the subletting. Can the landlord refuse to do so?
If the dwelling has individual bedsits——
No, I am referring to house-sharing or flat-sharing.
In the case of individual bedsits, the landlord cannot discriminate. However, in the case of house-sharing, that comes under licensing, in which case the tenants decide, not the landlord.
The landlord has no say in it.
That is the position.
Some landlords may not like that type of set up in their rented properties. How can one bind a landlord by legislation who might consider tenants of a mix of gender are against his or her moral conscience or beliefs? How can we legislate to stop such a landlord from renting his or her property to tenants he or she would consider acceptable? After all, the landlord is the owner of the property.
In legal terms, we cannot do anything to provide for such a landlord. Under the provisions of the Bill such a decision would be a matter for the tenants. If the tenants decide the renting arrangements will be 2:2 or 1:3 in terms of each gender, that is their business.
What was the legal position prior to the introduction of this Bill?
I am not sure if there was a provision in this regard.
Deputy McCormack can table an amendment on Report Stage in support of the gentleman about whom he has spoken.
I am referring to a hypothetical case. Such landlords could exist and I know people with such a view. I do not know if there are such landlords but if so, I would like to know what rights they would have.
From the point of view of landlords, the position was better up to now. If a landlord did not like the colour of a tenant's eye or who or what the tenant was, he or she could have given the tenant 28 days' notice to quit and did not have to give a reason. The approach in this Bill is very much targeted at tenants' rights. If a landlord does not like that approach, he or she is subject to the law and it would be much more difficult for him or her to regain vacant possession. There are still certain clauses by which he or she could regain it, if he or she wants the house for family use, but under law he or she might be stuck with the tenants for the duration of their tenancy.
I wish to clarify the position in regard to landlords of the view I outlined in case they might not understand what is provided for in the Bill. Deputy Gilmore is saying that if there are four tenants of one sex in a house, they will have full authority to have a licensee of another sex in the house if they wish.
A licence for licentiousness.
Let us not pass moral judgment or query any of them. Let us live and let live.
I am not passing moral judgment. I am saying there might be some landlords who would wish to pass moral judgment.
Is the amendment withdrawn?
I am satisfied that the Minister is legislating to prevent landlords from refusing permission for mixed tenancies or to discriminate against either gender in tenancies. I welcome that and thank the Minister. It is an open approach to the reality of modern Ireland.
I was only asking a hypothetical question, in case there might be contrary landlords in my constituency who might have wanted something different from what is in the Bill and who might ask me why I did not have this clarified when the Bill was being discussed. What about marriage status? Does that make any difference? What about where a landlord rents his property to single people who become married people and then become a family? He started the tenancy with single people. Is there anything to protect either the tenant or the landlord in that case?
That was addressed in an earlier section.
Perhaps the Minister was not as clear on the issue of marriage as he is on this matter. He was a little flaky on defence of the family in the context of earlier amendments.
He has a chance to redeem himself now.
We are not removing all the landlord's rights. The landlord still lets his property and in the first six months of the letting he can issue a termination notice without giving any reason. He still has many rights. It is his property.
It is after six months that the situation develops.
If the tenant gets a four year lease, the law comes into force. A house might have individual self-contained bedsits or it could have individual bedsits but the tenants share kitchens, bathrooms and so forth. It might be the general feeling of the tenants where they are sharing bathrooms, for example, that the tenants should all be males or females. If people try to have local agreements and operate in a manner which will suit all the tenants, so be it. However, under the law, if it is a case of individual bedsits, the landlord cannot discriminate so he had better find some other reason for not wanting the tenants.
What about when their status changes while they are tenants? What if their status changes from being single people to married people?
Can the Deputy explain that?
If the status of the tenants changes during the tenancy from being single persons to married couples, can the landlord do anything?
What if somebody underwent a sex change operation? Legislation has to cater for every eventuality.
That is not my query.
It is a valid point.
Society is changing but everybody abhors discrimination. Let us return to the case of the four nurses. Let us say that one leaves and a non-Irish nurse applies to become a tenant in the house. The Minister is saying the three nurses would have the right to refuse any tenant. On what grounds can they refuse a tenant?
That is what would happen at present in a house sharing arrangement. In such an arrangement, nobody would tell two or three people who are sharing a house that they must take in Mr. or Ms X.
For what reason can they refuse a person?
They might not like the look of them. They do not need a reason. We are not altering that.
That is fair enough. The three people in the house, therefore, have full authority to decide what other tenant can come into the house and they do not need a reason.
Absolutely. That is their own affair.
I move amendment No. 217:
In page 98, paragraph (b), line 37, to delete “reward” and substitute “award”.
This is a technical amendment to change the word "reward" to "award".
In the course of the Second Stage debate, reference was made to the problem of anti-social behaviour occurring in tenant purchased houses in local authority estates, something all members have encountered from time to time, and the fact that there are no statutory powers available to local authorities to deal with this problem, unlike in the rented local authority houses. Similarly, power to refuse the sale under the 1997 housing Act does not specifically apply to affordable housing and shared ownership housing schemes.
I appreciate that the problem of serious anti-social behaviour is not confined to social housing. Anti-social behaviour occurring in tenant purchased houses within local authority estates can be severely detrimental to the peace and quiet for a neighbour and I am seeking the views of the Office of the Attorney General to see what might be legally possible in this matter. It might be possible to bring forward an amendment in this regard on Report Stage.
Will the Minister also seek the advice of the Attorney General on how to deal with the anti-social behaviour of people in receipt of rent supplement? They live in communities as well and, to my knowledge, there is no means available to the community welfare officer or the health board to discontinue the supplement no matter how bad the anti-social behaviour might be.
I am glad the Minister proposes to address this matter. There should be a strengthening of the legislation to deal with anti-social behaviour and its application to tenant purchase situations, shared ownership, affordable housing and rent supplement tenants. However, it should also be considered in the context of private housing. Anti-social behaviour is anti-social behaviour regardless of where it occurs. I would welcome a proposal on that. However, if the Minister is considering bringing forward such an amendment on Report Stage, it will be the introduction of new provisions in the Bill. Will he agree now to have the amendment recommitted for a Committee Stage discussion? It is a new area. I am concerned that a new legislative provision will be brought forward but will only be the subject of a limited, Report Stage debate. If there is a new provision, there should be a Committee Stage discussion. We have not seen the amendments yet, but I would ask the Minister of State to agree to having them recommitted to Committee Stage.
I cannot guarantee that we are bringing forward any amendments. Some speakers mentioned this on Second Stage but in my own experience I have been seeking that at local authority level for years. It is a huge outstanding problem, so any of us who are active on the ground will see the real value of it. It has often surprised me that the official answer coming through the local authority system is that we cannot do anything. At the same time, however, as regards houses that have been purchased under the sales scheme, the local authority retains the right to give approval to their subsequent resale. I have had one or two cases — I am sure we all have — involving houses that were bought out by tenants and were being sold five, ten or 15 years later, where the local authority said "Yes" or "No". On the one hand, the local authority retains certain rights as regards resale but in other ways the local authority may say it could not do anything with a tenant purchaser. It is a tricky situation because a tenant purchaser is the legal owner, so can such action be taken? The argument against my own argument is that one's home is one's castle. If there is anti-social behaviour by a private person in their own home — a tenant purchaser — up to now it was a matter for the Garda Síochána; it was not a matter to be dealt with under housing legislation. I am making the argument against myself now. In recent years, following the 1996 Act, we have had evictions at local authority level and we have exclusion orders. I would settle for any step forward in this regard, even if it was some form of exclusion order rather than an eviction. I have a personal interest in this and I am trying to see if we could get any form of amendment or strengthening of the law in that regard, which would help local authorities to have some say over tenant purchasers. It might well be a half-baked measure, however, and I am not sure of the argument. I am surprised that the Deputy wants the amendment to be recommitted.
I only want to discuss it. Believe me, I think this type of measure is necessary. From what the Minister of State has said, I expect that I will be supportive of the direction in which he is going. I want to have an opportunity of discussing it on Committee State, however, rather than having a limited discussion on Report Stage. That is all I am saying. If the Minister of State is bringing forward new amendments in this area, I will be seeking to have them recommitted. I am simply asking the Minister of State to agree to that.
I would like the Minister of State to report back on his deliberations with the Attorney General. If he finds that it is not possible to bring forward that legislation we would like to know why.
I do not know what the procedure is — whether or not I am supposed to agree, or who decides on whether or not these amendments constitute new material. Amendment No. 188 concerned the Housing Act 1997, so one could say that it is not totally new material but I do not know who decides whether or not it is new. I do not want to raise false hopes either. I do not know whether this can happen because the contrary argument has been thrown at us for years. At best, it might well be of limited value but I do want to see something.
I propose to move an amendment on Report Stage to section 34 of the 1992 Act, with a view to bringing the monetary fines applying to convictions for offences under the Standards and Rent Books Regulations into line with those applying under the Bill. This will mean an increase from €1,270 to €3,000 for the maximum fine on conviction, and an increase from €127 to €250 in the maximum daily fine applying.
I move amendment No. 218:
In page 101, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:
"4. (1) For so long as the sub-tenancy continues in being the following obligations of the head-landlord shall be owed to the sub-tenant, namely the obligations under paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 12(1) and, for the purpose of this paragraph—
(a) the reference in that paragraph (a) to the tenant shall, for so long as the sub-tenancy continues in being, be construed as a reference to the sub-tenant, and
(b) a dispute between the head-landlord and the sub-tenant with respect to compliance by the head-landlord with either or both of those obligations may be referred under Part 6 to the Board for resolution.
(2) For so long as the sub-tenancy continues in being the following obligations of the sub-tenant shall be owed to the head-landlord, namely the obligations under paragraphs (f) and (g) of section 16 and, for the purpose of this paragraph—
(a) references in those paragraphs to the tenancy shall, for so long as the sub-tenancy continues in being, be construed as references to the sub-tenancy,
(b) references in those paragraphs to the landlord shall, for so long as the sub-tenancy continues in being, be construed as references to the head-landlord, and
(c) a dispute between the sub-tenant and the head-landlord with respect to compliance by the sub-tenant with either or both of those obligations may be referred under Part 6 to the Board for resolution.
(3) Save to the extent provided by the foregoing subparagraphs, nothing in this paragraph affects the obligations owed—
(a) by the head-landlord to the head-tenant (or the head-tenant to the head-landlord), or
(b) by the head-tenant to the sub-tenant (or the sub-tenant to the head-tenant), under the Part 4 tenancy or the sub-tenancy, as appropriate.”.
This amendment refers to the direct relationship between the head landlord and the sub-tenant regarding repairing obligations.
I move amendment No. 219:
In page 102, paragraph 7, to delete lines 31 to 35.
This amendment concerns the schedule for multiple grounds for termination.
I move amendment No. 220:
In page 102, paragraph 7(5)(b), line 48, to delete “or things”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment No. 219. It is the same basic point. It is superfluous really.
Amendment No. 221 has already been discussed with amendment No. 192.
I move amendment No. 221:
In page 13, line 18, after "AS" to insert "BORD UM THIONÓNTACHTAÍ CÓNAITHE PRÍOBHÁIDEACHA, OR IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE".
I think the Minister of State accepted that earlier on.
Is the Deputy withdrawing that amendment?
Did the Minister of State accept the previous one, which is the same?
I accepted it in principle but I said there was a question that the comma, dot or buailte might be in the wrong place.
I will withdraw it and the Minister of State can come back to it on Report Stage.
I agree with what the Deputy is doing.
In accordance with Standing Orders the following message will be sent to the Clerk of the Dáil:
The Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government has completed its consideration of the Residential Tenancies Bill 2003 and has made amendments thereto.
I would like to thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending the series of meetings the select committee has had on this Bill since 21 January, as well as for their advice, assistance and patience.
The select committee adjourned at 14.58 until 1 p.m. on Thursday, 19 February 2004.