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Rental Accommodation Scheme Administration

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 12 June 2013

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Ceisteanna (5)

Dessie Ellis

Ceist:

5. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the problem that many tenants are having finding suitable accommodation under the rental accommodation scheme following the completion of their original RAS contract and that in some cases families with young children are being forced to enter emergency accommodation despite a local authority commitment that this would not be allowed to happen; his plans to rectify this issue; and if he will ensure that this will be rectified where it has occurred and not allowed to happen again. [27055/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Environment)

The grounds on which a tenancy in the private rented residential sector may be legally terminated are clearly set out in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. The Act provides the main regulatory framework for the private rented residential sector and the operation of the Private Residential Tenancies Board. It provides for security of tenure and specifies minimum obligations for landlords and tenants under a tenancy. In addition, it contains provisions relating to the setting of rent and rent reviews and sets out the procedures and notice periods that must be complied with when terminating a tenancy. The ongoing development of a stable, well regulated rented sector is a key goal for the Government and stability of tenure is fundamental to that goal.

As the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, is deemed to be a social housing support, local authorities retain the responsibility to source further accommodation for a RAS household should the dwelling that the household is living in become unavailable through no fault of its own. There is no prohibition on households sourcing alternative accommodation themselves if they so desire, as long as the local authority is satisfied that the accommodation meets the needs of the household and conforms to standards for rented accommodation which are set out in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2008. Statutory responsibility for the provision of accommodation and related services for persons requiring accommodation rests with housing authorities. My Department has no function in regard to, nor is it involved in, decisions on specific cases.

The first thing we must do is recognise that there is a major problem with the rental accommodation scheme. Many landlords are now saying they must sell the houses which have been available for rent, with the result that people are ending up homeless or looking for new rental accommodation which is not forthcoming. Rents are rising and it is more attractive in some cases to move into the private market. It is a significant problem for residents. Local authorities have the responsibility to house people who have been housed under the residential accommodation scheme and they must live up to it.

In several instances across the country they have not done so. In an incident in Bray, tenants barricaded themselves into the local council because they had to go into homeless accommodation due to the removal of the rental accommodation scheme tenancy. Their children are being forced into homelessness and it is unacceptable. That is not what this was about, according to the rules laid down. We are seeing this more and more. Landlords are using the excuse that they must sell their houses. The rules are too lax and we are allowing them off the hook too easily.

There have been difficulties where, for various reasons, the rental accommodation scheme landlords end tenancies. There are various conditions under which landlords can end tenancies. Then, the local authority works with the tenants to try to find suitable accommodation. Ultimately, the local authority has the responsibility and if it cannot find an alternative in the area where a person or family wants to live, there may be cases where people are offered accommodation they consider unsuitable. However, the local authority has an obligation to offer something.

The rental accommodation scheme tenant has the protection of the Residential Tenancies Act and is entitled to the normal notice period required in any private residential tenancy. It presents difficulties where there are supply issues, particularly in areas of high demand and where it is difficult to find suitable accommodation. Although I am aware of the case to which Deputy Ellis refers, I cannot comment on individual cases. My Department will provide any assistance it can but, ultimately, the local authority must fulfil its obligations in so far as it can and meet the requirements of the tenants.

It is unacceptable that some contracts are for three and four years but landlords are saying properties must be sold six months into the contracts because the banks are forcing them to do so. Under the forthcoming insolvency system, I can see this increasing because banks are putting more and more pressure on landlords to meet their obligations. The families pay the price and it is unacceptable.

In one case, ten people are in a hotel because they cannot receive rent supplement. It is totally unacceptable. It is difficult to get rent supplement for ten people but setting a level of €950 for ten people allows no flexibility in terms of the number of people. If they are going for a three-bedroom house, they are entitled to €950, irrespective of whether there are three or ten people. Even that would not be sufficient to deal with the problem. There are major problems and when the local authority takes over the role, the problems may get bigger because we are not building enough social housing. We need to bring these people into more permanent housing. In the recent past, the Minister of State said she was looking at the matter of more social housing. I would welcome that.

We must try to address people's needs in the various ways available to us. As soon as we can do so, that will include the direct provision of more local authority houses. Deputy Ellis had raised this case with me at a meeting of the committee. The Minister for Social Protection recently announced revised caps, which in the case of the Dublin area are an improvement on the current situation. There are different rules for different types of housing, whether it concerns rent supplement or the rental accommodation scheme. That is why we are working towards having a system whereby people with a housing need, apart from short-term needs, are catered for under the local authority system. Then, we will get rationalisation. There is a supply problem partly as a result of the fact that, despite the Celtic tiger era, waiting lists increased consistently over a number of years and are now very high. We must address that in whatever way we can.

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