Seamus Healy TD calls for an end to evictions and formal declaration of a housing emergency

Speech on Planning Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016

From Official Dáil Record  07/12/2016

Deputy Seamus Healy: In the short time available to me, I will address in the main the residential tenancy aspects of the Bill. The Bill is a pretence. It purports to give protection to tenants when properties in which there are existing tenants change ownership. Cruelly and grotesquely, it provides that where a landlord can get 20% more money with vacant possession in the sale, the tenants must leave. It also provides that if apartments are sold in lots of under 20, the tenants have to go. I understand that this number has been reduced to under five by a Seanad amendment. However, 80% of tenants evicted from apartments are evicted by landlords with under five rental properties. In a word, the Bill continues the cruel system under which tenants are evicted when rental properties are sold. The Government continues to put the rights of property owners over the right to home. It is fast-tracking evictions in the Courts Bill, which is also before this House. The largest single group among the homeless has previously been in private rented accommodation. This Bill will ensure that this continues.

I will be proposing the amendment suggested by Focus Ireland, the homelessness charity. The amendment provides tenants in buy-to-let properties will continue in residence despite the sale of the property in all circumstances. Focus Ireland, the leading charity working with homeless families and those facing homelessness, says up to 20 families are becoming homeless each month simply because their buy-to-let landlord has been forced to sell by his or her bank. This means that 40 children every month are losing their homes and joining the record 1,200 families who are already homeless across the country.

Along with escalating rents, these evictions are one of the leading causes of family homelessness. There are hundreds, if not thousands, more families waiting to face the same trauma. According to the Central Bank, there are a further 15,000 buy-to-let mortgages that are more than two years in arrears. Whether they know it or not, all tenants in these properties are at risk of eviction. Other countries have found solutions to this. Just up the road, in the North, banks that repossess a buy-to-let property are prohibited from evicting the tenant. We must do the same. If the Focus Ireland amendment is passed, the grotesque escape clauses in this Bill enabling eviction of buy-to-let tenants will fall.

I will also be proposing the formal declaration of a housing emergency by Dáil Éireann. This would put the right of families to a home above the property rights of vultures and other landlords. Landlords and the Minister for Finance would then be unable to block a halt to convictions and be unable to block a halt to rent freezes by citing a qualified right to private property in the Constitution, which is of course subject to the public good. The Government itself has formally certified the continuation of a financial emergency as recently as June of this year to enable it to continue with pay and pension cuts under FEMPI legislation. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, has said that a housing emergency exists. My amendment would formally declare that to be the case. The Taoiseach has asked the European Union to relax the provisions of the EU fiscal treaty to enable borrowing to build social housing but he has not declared a formal housing emergency at home. Of course, the European Union knows the Irish Government is only going through the motions because a housing emergency has not been declared. I noted over the weekend that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, called on the European Union to give flexibility under the fiscal treaty at the EU Finance Ministers’ meeting. He and the rest of the Government can now show they are serious by formally declaring the housing emergency. It is time for an end to pretence and hypocrisy. We must halt evictions for mortgaged and rented properties as a first step in tackling the housing emergency.

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