Shift needed on ‘serious power imbalance’ between landlords, tenants - Bacik

Labour party Bill aims to make renting ‘long-term, viable, sustainable option’

Labour TD Ivana Bacik said “we need to ensure renting becomes a long-term, viable and sustainable option for people in Ireland”. Photo: Gareth Chaney / Collins Photos

Labour TD Ivana Bacik said “we need to ensure renting becomes a long-term, viable and sustainable option for people in Ireland”. Photo: Gareth Chaney / Collins Photos

 

A cultural shift is needed to change the “serious power imbalance” between landlords and tenants and to bring the regulations on renting into the 21st century, the Dáil has been told.

Labour TD Ivana Bacik said “we need to ensure renting becomes a long-term, viable and sustainable o ption for people in Ireland”.

She added that “we also need to ensure we have a cultural shift to skew away from this vision of renting as always being in terms of a landlord’s investment and income”.

The new Dublin Bay South TD was speaking during debate on her Residential Tenancies (Tenants’ Rights) Bill to address “the existing power imbalance between landlords and renters”.

The legislation aims “to address years of housing policy” which has “favoured landlords and emphasised the use of rental properties as investments rather than as homes”.

Ms Bacik’s comments and legislation follow remarks on Tuesday by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar who re-emphasised his view that there needed to be “a balance” between the regulation of rents and income for landlords.

Mr Varadkar said “one person’s rent is another person’s income, it might be their pension, it might be how they pay their mortgage”.

In the debate on the Bill Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin claimed the Tánaiste’s remarks showed “an appalling ignorance of the reality in the rental market”.

He said “there is no balance at all between the rights of landlords and those of tenants in the current market. That is why there has been a doubling in rent across the State in recent years.”

Opening the debate on her first Dáil Bill Ms Bacik said it provides for tenancies of indefinite duration and restricts grounds for eviction, allowing it when a property is passed on to spouses or children as well as curbs on evictions for refurbishment. Blanket bans on pets would be lifted.

Rent pressure zones would be expanded across the State and people would be allowed to rent an unfurnished home. The measures also prevent landlords prohibiting their tenant from hanging clothes to dry in the garden or balcony.

Ms Bacik said the Bill will also cap deposits at one month’s rent and declares the entire State a rent pressure zone. The party also supports a three year rent freeze though it is not a specific measure in the Bill.

Ms Bacik cited the case of one constituent who had spent more than €341,000 in rent after 26 years renting in Dublin and could not save for a deposit to purchase a home.

She said that in other European countries it is common for tenants to keep pets and “to request an unfurnished property so that they can move their own furniture and belongings in”.

She said “we have never had that approach in Ireland” and it was time to change things.

Provision is also made for a public register to set out the number and length of previous tenancies and the rent paid and previously paid. “It would also list the refurbishment and renovation works that purportedly led to eviction,” she said.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien will not oppose the legislation and said he will “consider any positive ideas” ahead of the Government’s own planned rental legislation, before the end of the year.

Mr O’Brien said a sustainable supply of homes was needed for rent which should be affordable. “Tenants who are renting need to have certainty that as long as they pay their rent and meet their obligations they will be able to stay comfortably in the property they are renting”.

He warned however that “we must be careful that abrupt legal or regulatory changes do not undermine confidence in the sector or add to uncertainty for both tenants and landlords”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin offered no specifics on measures to help renters in the budget and he said there are “limits to what we can do” on student accommodation.

He acknowledged there is a “crisis” for young people and insisted the Government is committed to seeking a way to deal with the housing pressures they face.

Mr Martin was asked about the backlash over Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s Dáil remarks about landlords and what the Government will be doing to offer tenants hope there will be measures in the budget to support them.

Mr Martin said it is “absolutely essential that we increase the supply of housing.

“That’s what the housing for all strategy and policy is about - a dramatic increase in supply.”

Put to him that this is not an immediate measure to help renters and could be years away he said: “It’s not years down the line.

“It has to happen very quickly,” Mr Martin added highlighting the goal of reaching 33,000 new homes per year.

Mr Martin said: “It’s a real crisis for young people. I’ve said that.

“We can’t solve it all overnight but the whole country and society has to be focused in terms of getting additional housing supply”.

He said: “We’ve already announced a range of measures in housing for all.

“Obviously we’re not going to go through the specifics of the budget, this week or today, but we’ll be looking at all the range of issues that are putting pressure on people and then trying to work out how we can deal with that.”

Asked about the student accommodation crisis and what the Government can do about that now Mr Martin said: “It’s a very serious issue I know the Minister for Housing is working with the Minister for third level education to see what we can do in the short term, in relation to that.”

He said measures have already been brought in to try and protect students in terms of the amount of money that can be asked upfront from students in respect of deposits.

Mr Martin said it will take time for third level institutions to build up supply levels.

He said “In the immediate here and now it is challenging.

“We acknowledge that, and there are limits to what we can do, but we’re going to explore any options that are there potentially to help students in the current crisis.”