Thursday, 17 April 1980
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): By and large this Bill re-enacts with amendments the 1931 Landlord and Tenant act and it also deals with reversionary leases but one thing sticks out like a sore thumb in the new Bill and that is that so far as there are any changes these changes are heavily loaded against the tenants and the lessees. I will confine myself to three specific instances to illustrate my point. Section 4 of the Bill provides specifically that it shall not apply to the State as a landlord. In effect, while all private landlords are obliged to renew the residential leases of lessees who bring themselves  within the Act, the State as a landlord is not obliged to renew a residential lease. An ordinary citizen who may have been a tenant of the State for 50 years and may during that time have built up valuable goodwill in the premises may be thrown out of the premises without any compensation or consideration. If instead of holding from the State a person held from a private landlord he would be entitled to a new lease on terms laid down in the Bill or to compensation for disturbance. This is a disgrace and at best it puts the matter beyond doubt.
On Committee Stage I raised a question about premises in this city with which we are all familiar, a premises in Henry Street known as the Post Office building. When I raised the question I did not know that a dispute had arisen about those tenancies but I knew that certain tenants had occupied a portion of the post office building since the foundation of the State and I wondered if they would be turfed out. Apparently a dispute arose and because at worst, as far as the tenant was concerned, there was a doubt in the law about this, the case was settled. Now we are writing into this Bill that such a tenant will not be entitled to a new lease or compensation from the State. From the passing of this Act the State will not be able to settle in such cases because it is put beyond doubt and of course whoever would settle would be charged or surcharged by the Auditor and Comptroller General.
Í cannot see why the State should be in a different position from the private landlord. A private landlord could be a poor man and might have a hardship imposed on him by renewing the lease and yet he has to do it. The State is not a poor man and usually the State can operate as well in one building as another and the State is putting itself in a peculiarly privileged position by saying that while every other landlord must be reasonable to his tenants, the State can act the bully and throw out the tenant regardless of the loss that the tenant will suffer, which could be enormous, and regardless of the hardship caused. I  protest in the strongest possible terms against that.
The second amendment which this Bill brings about and which emphasises discrimination against the tenant is section 23 which has the machinery for fixing the gross rent of residential premises. Ever since 1931 the section which dealt with the fixing of such rents provided that scarcity of premises was one thing that should not and could not be taken into account when fixing the new rent. It was specifically written into the Bill that the court has to assume that there was a sufficient number of such premises to meet demand and that competition therefore was normal, a very reasonable position. I picked that up on Committee Stage and thought I had convinced the Minister that the proposal to change it was wrong. The words that have stood there since 1931 should be left in the new Bill or the Minister should put in new words that would have the same effect if he did not like the words that were there. He consulted somebody and did nothing about it.
Now we find that the court is directed to fix the new rent of a residential lease—the Minister for State so admits —on the basis of the situation that exists; and if there is a scarcity of premises the court will have to take that into account and fix the rent on what I would call, for want of a better description, a black market basis. That is a disgrace and is running contrary to what has been the position since 1931. The rent of a new lease was always fixed on a reasonable basis assuming that demand was reasonable and that there was neither a glut nor a scarcity of such houses on the market. Resisting to the bitter end attempts to improve a Bill is an example of bad use of Parliament. It is an example of a Minister coming in with his civil service brief and refusing to yield one inch. This Bill is so much the worse for that.
Section 35 provides for the renewal of ground rents. If the country realised what is in this section they would be shocked. The Fianna Fáil manifesto of 1977 on page 21, paragraph 9, states  that Fianna Fáil will provide a scheme which will lead to the abolition of existing residential ground rents. There may be a difference of opinion as to how that short sentence should be interpreted. ACRA interpreted it as meaning that ground rents should be abolished at no cost to the tenant. Fianna Fáil and the Minister say that is not so. It only means that Fianna Fáil undertook to introduce a scheme to lead to the abolition of ground rents. Whatever else section 35——
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): It is reversionary leases and they are, in good ignorant layman's language, ground rent leases. They are a renewal of ground rent leases. Whatever else paragraph 9——
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): If the Chair goes back to page 17 it states what a reversionary lease is and how the terms are fixed. I gave a long sermon this morning about a man who took a plot of ground for 99 years for £10 a year and who built a house on it. After the 99 years his successor seeks a new lease. That is a reversionary lease. He finds out that the ground rent has jumped from £10 to £500. That is what I am grumbling about.
Paragraph 9 on page 21 of the manifesto undertook to introduce a scheme which would lead to the abolition of ground rents. ACRA say that meant that ground rents would be abolished at no cost to the tenant and Fianna Fáil say that it did not but only meant they would introduce a scheme which would lead to the abolition of ground rents. The re-enactment of the 1931 Act, as has been done in Part III of this Bill, is a perpetuation of ground rents on a grand scale. It is an escalation of ground rents from £10 to £500. I protest against that in the strongest possible way.
Committee and Report Stages of Bills are hard to follow but if the country knew that the party which had solemnly undertaken in an election manifesto to abolish ground rents or introduce a scheme to lead to their abolition were piloting through the House a Bill which will increase them by 100 per cent, extend them for scores upon scores of years and make it infinitely more difficult to buy them out, and that they were doing so by the lazy lifting of section after section of the 1931 Landlord and Tenant Act and planting it back in this Bill, they would be shocked. That is what happened and about that there can be no doubt.
Sections 4, 23 and 35 of this Bill worsen the position of the tenant. Under section 4 the position of an unfortunate businessman could be worsened in an alarming way to the extent that he could be put out of business just because he happened to be a tenant of the State for 50 years instead of a tenant of a private  individual. Section 23 creates a black market situation for fixing rents and section 35 perpetuates ground rents.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. Doherty): I should like to thank the House for the help that Members have given with this Bill, particularly Deputy Fitzpatrick. Legislation of this kind is very proper to Committee. Stage debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas. Any legislation concerned with the property rights of people needs to be looked at very carefully. That is what the Oireachtas is for. I think we should welcome constructive amendment of such legislation, and we have had some very useful constructive work where the present Bill is concerned.
The only really substantial point of difference that arose concerns section 4 of the Bill. At the conclusion of the Committee Stage debate the Minister for Justice gave an assurance that he would think about section 4 in the light of that debate. That assurance has been implemented. The re-examination of section 4 did not result in the tabling of any official amendment of section 4 for the Report Stage. I do not propose to rehearse the arguments that were put on the one side and on the other; I am only sorry that we have not been able to arrive at an agreed view about the provisions of that section.
Arguments were also raised in the course of the Committee Stage debate against certain other provisions that are contained in the Bill and those arguments have been considered very  carefully. In some cases it has been possible to concede to those arguments, as is shown by the official amendments that were tabled for the Report Stage. In other cases it was not so possible. Nevertheless, I trust the House will appreciate that every case that was made was looked at very thoroughly and, even where no official amendment was tabled as a result, it is no bad thing at all to have had the proposals in the Bill subjected to that kind of scrutiny. All in all. I think the debate on this Bill has been a most useful one.
Assuming the early enactment into law of the Bill, it would be the intention of the Minister for Justice to bring it into operation at the earliest possible date. We can look forward therefore to having in the very near future a comprehensive, modern and, to a useful extent, consolidated code of landlord and tenant law. The importance of having such a code may not be very apparent to the man in the street. However, I feel sure that the business community generally and the legal and conveyancing practitioners in particular will appreciate the benefits of this legislation and will be greatly facilitated in their activities by its enactment.
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