Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Ceisteanna (35)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

35. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will intervene in eviction attempts by two owners of properties (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37383/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Ceist ar Housing)

In the Public Gallery we have three groups of tenants comprising more than 100 families and individuals facing eviction at the hands of vulture funds. One group is from the constituency of the Minister. They reside in Grove Park, South Richmond Street and Rosedale Terrace. Val Issuer DAC, a vulture fund, is trying to evict them. Another group is from my area. They reside in St. Helen's Court in Dún Laoghaire and are facing the fourth attempt the vulture fund has made over the past two years to exploit loopholes regarding sale or substantial refurbishment to evict them. The other group comprises approximately 50 families residing at Emmet Lodge, Emmet Manor and Emmet Court in Inchicore who face eviction by Mill Street Projects Limited, which is, interestingly, the same group trying to evict the people in Dún Laoghaire.

What will the Minister do to stop these vulture funds evicting these people into homelessness?

I thank the Deputy for the question and his guests in the Gallery are welcome. The Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, was established as an independent statutory body under the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2019, with one of its key functions being to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. Due to the quasi-judicial and independent role of the RTB, it would be inappropriate for me, as Minister, to intervene in specific disputes.

A number of measures have been introduced in recent years with the objective of improving security of tenure for tenants under the Residential Tenancies Acts. Section 34 of the 2004 Act provides that a landlord must state a reason for the termination in any notice served, in accordance with the allowable grounds for terminations. Through an amendment introduced in 2016, where a landlord proposes to sell ten or more units within a single development at the same time, that sale is subject to the existing tenants remaining in situ, other than in exceptional circumstances. In addition, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 provides that where a landlord terminates a tenancy because he or she intends to sell the property, he or she must enter into a contract for sale within nine months of the termination date and, if not, must offer to relet to a former tenant who provides his or her contact details. The 2019 Act also provides that where a landlord terminates a tenancy because he or she needs vacant possession to substantially refurbish or renovate the property, that property must be offered back to the former tenant, who provides his or her contact details, upon completion of the works. Also, such a termination notice must contain or be accompanied by a written certificate of a registered professional under the Building Control Act 2007, such as an architect or surveyor, stating that the proposed substantial refurbishment or renovation works would pose a health and safety risk necessitating vacation by the tenants and that such a risk would be likely to exist for at least three weeks. The 2019 Act provides additional powers for the RTB to investigate and sanction landlords who engage in improper conduct, including non-compliance with the tenancy termination provisions. My Department will continue to keep the effectiveness and enforcement of the security of tenure provisions in these Acts under review.

All three of these cases demonstrate that the Minister's legislation is riddled with loopholes for unscrupulous vulture funds, which lack any compassion or humanity. The Minister's laws make assumptions about landlords - and I am sure there are many individual landlords out there who care about their tenants and have a scintilla of compassion or humanity - but these three cases demonstrate that there are vulture funds that do not want to be landlords, do not give a damn about tenants and do not care about making people homeless. They just see the property as an asset they can sweat and the best way to sweat it is to evict people, exploiting loopholes, particularly the loophole around substantial refurbishment, the loopholes around sale or, in the case of Dún Laoghaire where there are 11 tenants, they will move to evict eight and will try to evict the other three a little bit further down the line because of the Tyrrelstown amendment. We need a ban on evictions on the grounds of sale. We need a tightening up of the issue of refurbishment so that it cannot be used to justify evictions and we need the passing of the anti-evictions Bill 2018, which was passed by the majority of this Dáil but which the Minister is blocking, which would prevent many of these evictions.

Does the Minister recognise there is a problem? Will he address it in order to help these people avoid homelessness?

I thank the Deputy for the follow-up question. The RTB has confirmed that a number of cases related to the question have been referred through its independent dispute resolution processes and are still ongoing. The RTB replaces the courts for the majority of landlord and tenant disputes and it is important that all parties are afforded due process in order to ensure that the system of dispute resolution is legally robust. I am precluded from interfering with the judicial nature of the RTB, just like it would be improper for me to interfere with planning applications or planning decisions. What I will say to the Deputy is that the reforms we brought forward to protect tenants were not my laws, they were the laws of this Oireachtas, and they could only be passed if they had the majority support of the Oireachtas because the Government is in the minority. These are ambitious reforms to protect tenants who find themselves in this difficult situation. We have strengthened those protections and we have talked about banning sales and vacant possession before and how that would not be a solution because it would still allow the person who is buying the property to then serve a notice to quit. All that is being done is to displace the problem from one landlord to a new buyer, to someone else without solving it. With the protections we have brought in, we are trying to make sure that tenants have the strongest rights possible so that where there may be a breach of those rights, they can find resolution through the RTB, and find it quickly, and where those rights are upheld, that they have access back to the property they have been evicted from.

The tax breaks the Government has given these people and the meetings that were held in 2013 with Deputy Noonan who invited them in have created the conditions in which these vultures are operating. I repeat that the measures mentioned by the Minister do not address the problems that are faced by these people. It is no good for the Minister to say he is independent of the RTB. The Government proposed the legislation which is failing to protect these tenants. We have proposed alternatives, such as the anti-evictions Bill 2018, as have other Opposition parties, to close down these loopholes. The Government resists these efforts for reasons I do not understand when it is as clear as day that these vultures do not care about tenants. They are not even interested in being landlords. They are buying property to evict people and then to flip it on because the asset will have an increased value. That is what they are doing. Society and the tenants are paying the price because they will end up in homeless services because the Minister failed to address the problem. Will the Minister address the problem or will this continue to happen? What does the Minister have to say to the people in the Visitors Gallery who are faced with this situation? What are they supposed to do?

We have made a number of changes to the laws to make sure that where we are constrained by the Constitution, we are not constrained to the degree that we cannot rebalance matters back in terms of the public interest. The Tyrrelstown amendment, which was brought forward to protect people in these situations, has stood up when it has been tested in the Residential Tenancies Board.

They have found a way around it.

I cannot interfere in matters that are before the RTB. It would be illegal, improper and unethical for me to do so. I am very sorry for the plight of people who are facing these difficult circumstances, who find themselves in housing insecurity and who are vulnerable as a result but that does not mean I can break the law and interfere in matters such as RTB cases, legal cases or An Bord Pleanála decisions because people want me to for different reasons.

That is why we have brought in these robust changes in the law to protect tenants so they have rights to go back into the property when they bring cases to the RTB and they are successful where the landlord or the person who owns the property has been offside. They have those rights because we brought them in. We have also given more robust powers to the RTB. They can go through criminal as well as administrative sanctions because of the new powers that this Oireachtas introduced earlier this year. That is the work we are doing to try to protect tenants and it is important that we continue to do that work. When people find themselves in housing insecurity, which we will be addressing later, we should continue to have the supports in place to prevent them from having to go into emergency accommodation. It is worth noting so I will repeat that in the first six months of this year, for every two families that presented to homeless services, one family was found a home immediately.

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 32.