Rental system is broken and rents are too high, says Sinn Féin

Housing Minister says Government wants renters to be able to buy own home

Eoin Ó Broin said ‘the rental system is well and truly broken with rents too high and continuing to rise.’ File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Eoin Ó Broin said ‘the rental system is well and truly broken with rents too high and continuing to rise.’ File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has insisted the Government wants “Generation Rent to become a generation that owns their own home” amid Sinn Féin claims it failed to stop rents being at least €500 to €600 more than they should be.

The Minister insisted measures the Government introduced including its Affordable Housing Bill “show in real terms how we’re going to be able to help people” move from renting to “owning their own home at an affordable rate”.

He was speaking during a Dáil debate on a Sinn Féin motion to end the crisis in the private rental sector.

The party’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said “the rental system is well and truly broken with rents too high and continuing to rise” and that truly affordable rent should be between €700 and €900 monthly and not the current rates of €1,200 to €1,300.

He claimed that the four pieces of legislation Mr O’Brien has introduced have “progressively stripped vital Covid-19 protections from renters, including notices of rent increases, notice to quit, and evictions”.

He said that since August of last year, when one of those pieces of legislation was introduced, over 2,000 rent warnings have been issued by landlords to tenants, while just 407 tenants have secured protections under the law by submitting written declarations to the Residential Tenancies Board.

Mr Ó Broin added that the “big fear now is that tenants will face further increases as the notices come down the line” and there could be “perhaps a slow but nonetheless steady progression of notices to quit issued by the rental sector” leading to increases in family homelessness.

The Dublin Mid-West TD claimed “the Government has no plan to reduce rents, no plan to protect renters and no plans to end the crisis in the private rental sector”.

Mr Ó Broin introduced a private members’ motion to stop rents rising by introducing an emergency, three-year ban on rent increases, a tax relief for private tenants equivalent to a month’s rent, tenancies of indefinite duration and an annual €1 billion investment to deliver at least 4,000 genuinely affordable cost -rental units on average every year.

He also said that 5 per cent of all rental homes should be inspected annually, something that cannot currently be done due to a lack of staff.

Mr Ó Broin said “the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of Government policy is ever growing. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have never been on the side of renters, and I suspect by their opposition to today’s motion that they continue to be on the side of developers”.

In defending the Government’s approach, the Minister highlighted a number of Government proposals including the introduction of a national cost-rental scheme through a shared-equity scheme that “is going to help first-time buyers bridge that affordability gap”. These are “real measures that are going to have a real impact, in real legislation, backed by real money, and that will have a real positive impact, impact for thousands of people across this country”.

He hit out at the Sinn Féin proposals for a three-year ban on rent increases and warned that “in all likelihood” it would face a significant legal challenge “as just occurred in Berlin, and where rent freezes there have recently been overturned by the Constitutional Court”.

He said it could have the unintended consequence of individual small landlords continuing to leave the market. “Whether we like it or not the rental market is in place with 300,000 tenancies” and the State had to ensure existing tenancies are supported.

He also accused Sinn Féin of wanting to “pull 4,000 affordable rental homes out of the sky” within one year, forgetting that the capacity may not be built up to do that.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said his party for the last five years called for tax loopholes to be closed to prevent vulture funds buying up large housing developments.

“These advantages have to end and have to end now,” he said.

Mr Doherty warned that investment fund after investment fund are going to be buying large housing developments into the future because of Government failure to end the tax advantage to them.

Labour TD Duncan Smith said the Government “will not balance Constitutional property rights with protections for tenants” and is “ignoring that the Constitution equally allows for property rights to be regulated by the principles of social justice” and the common good. It is not in the common good to allow renters to live in insecure housing with crippling rents and to privilege the rights of institutional investors over people who need a home.

Social Democrats housing spokesman Cian O’Callaghan said that even if the Government faced legal challenges over legislation to protect tenants it would show that it had at least tried to do something.