Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin clashed in a Dáil row over legislation to extend a ban on evictions and rent increases for private rental tenants.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has said his Residential Tenancies Bill will protect renters but Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin insisted it will do the opposite.
The legislation is an amending Bill to prevent evictions for another three months of tenants who fall into arrears because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Provisions of current legislation lapse on April 12th and the Bill aims to extend them to July 12th.
But Mr Ó Broin said it would protect only 407 tenants, “a tiny group”, out of more than 200,000 who are not availing of State rental supports.
Mr O’Brien said it was the fourth Bill the Government had introduced to protect tenants since he came into office and the measures were “required and proportionate”.
“The virus has mutated and challenged us in different ways, but we have responded to ensure that as best as possible the vulnerable are shielded from the unprecedented economic fallout. Today’s Bill is a further important action to safeguard tenants in the face of an ever-threatening pandemic,” he said. And he added that the Government had “prevented turmoil in the rental system”.
The Minister stressed the provisions of the Bill are “separate and distinct” from legislation implementing a moratorium on evictions taking place while travel is restricted to 5km from home.
Mr O’Brien said that in broad terms the protections “are on separate economic and health grounds, respectively” but added that “the Bill seeks to clarify that a 5km travel restriction does not affect the legal obligation on a tenant to pay rent, nor should it ever have been the case”.
But Mr Ó Broin said that while Mr O’Brien is tabling legislation that promises to protect renters, “what he gives with one hand, he takes away with the other”.
He said the legislation “extends protections to a small group of renters for a very short period of time.
“Crucially, it removes protections from a much larger group of renters with immediate effect. This would be unacceptable in normal times, but it is totally unacceptable in the difficult and dangerous times we find ourselves living in now.”
The Dublin Mid-West TD said that section 1 of the Bill extends for three months the ban on rent increases and evictions of tenants “in arrears due to Covid-19 income loss and in receipt of a Covid-19-related payment”.
But it “makes no sense to extend those protections for only three months” when many of the people availing of the provisions “will likely not be back in employment until the end of the year, if not next year, and, therefore, they will need those protections for much longer”.
He said that only 407 tenants had applied to the Residential Tenancies Board for protection from eviction on the basis of falling into arrears because of Covid-19.
But he said section 2 “strips all other tenants in rent arrears of the protection against eviction linked to the 5km travel restriction”. It “removes protections for renters in arrears, many through no fault of their own. The number then affected is likely to be much greater.”
Mr Ó Broin also sharply criticised the Minister’s handling of the tabling of the legislation when Mr O’Brien called on the housing committee to waive pre-legislative scrutiny.
He said department officials briefed the committee but members were not given copies of the Bill and only after protest they were shown some screen shots of the legislation and there was “no adequate explanation as to the reason this legislation was not brought forward sooner” when “we have all known for some time that these deadlines were approaching”.
Labour TD Duncan Smith said the Minister had “significant opportunity” to accept amendments and “to take a longer term view of banning evictions. He could use Covid-19 as an excuse.
“Rather than waste a crisis, he could use it as a reason to keep people in their homes and build the houses he wants to build and has committed to building, including social and affordable housing and everything else he has said.”
Debate on the legislation concludes on Thursday.