Wednesday, 31 March 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Hayes: Last week I was grateful to receive from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, a copy of the report of the working group on security of tenure. As Members are aware, this working group was established in November 1994 to examine the issue of security of tenure within the private rented sector. This followed considerable public attention with the sale of apartments in the Mespil Estate by Irish Life plc. At that time there was widespread public revulsion at the manner in which elderly people were given notice to quit from the Mespil Flats.
The working group on security of tenure was asked by the then Government to examine the situation and to report on possible changes to the law. It is interesting that it has taken five years for this report to be published. The Mespil Flats controversy highlighted the vulnerability of tenants in the private rented sector. We sometimes wrongly have an image of tenants in this sector as being people in their early 20s with mobile employment opportunities. It needs to be stressed that a large proportion of tenants are elderly people who have been in various accommodation units for a considerable period.
The core issue which the working group examined was the practice referred to as long occupation equity. In these cases, a tenant acquires over a period, normally 20 years, long-term tenancy rights to a rented property. Although the working group emphasised the exceptional nature of long occupation equity, it has made a concrete proposal to amend the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1980. Its recommendation that an opt-out clause be included as a solution to this problem has been met with stony silence from both the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Is it the Government's intention to amend section 13 of the 1980 Act and, if so, when will the amending legislation be published and enacted?
I am surprised the Minister responsible for housing policy has not commented publicly on the content of the working group report. The group considered the complex area of security of tenure and examined various options for the future. It was important that the group referred to the existence of a form of security of tenure in other EU countries and to the possible establishment of a landlord and tenant tribunal to determine fair rents where conflict has arisen between landlord and tenant.
Some weeks ago the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, informed us the Government had decided in principle to establish a commission to investigate security of tenure. I would be grateful if he would inform the House when this principle will be put into practice as the matter is urgent,  given the obvious problems of tenant insecurity in the current housing market. As it has taken two years for the Minister to establish such a commission, I hope we do not have to wait as long for it to meet.
The terms of reference and membership of the commission have yet to be established. It could build on the views and observations of the working group report on security of tenure. Given the current debate on housing I am flabbergasted the Government has yet to air its views on this important subject. I hope this evening's Adjournment debate will provide such an opportunity.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): The working group on security of tenure was established by the then Minister for Justice in 1994 to examine and report on the provision of security of tenure in the private rented residential sector, with particular reference to any changes which may be desirable to the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1980. The group presented its report in July 1996 and it was published by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in February 1999.
The principal issue considered by the group was that of long occupation equity, that is, the right under Part II of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1980, to a 35 year, renewable lease after continuous occupation of 20 years. This issue had come to public attention with the sale of apartments in the Mespil Estate, Dublin 4. The group found that the general practice appears to be that landlords terminate tenancies before statutory rights under the 1980 Act can accrue. This means a provision intended as a pro tection for the rights of tenants works against their interests in practice.
Consequently, the principal recommendation contained in the report deals with this issue. The report recommends that serious consideration should be given to amending the 1980 Act to include a provision whereby a tenant, on whom a notice to quit had been served, could waive any future rights to a 35 year lease in return for a continuance of his or her occupancy. The other two recommendations relate to the removal of anomalies arising from sections 13 and 58 of the 1980 Act. The Department of the Environment, as it was then called, was represented on the working group and had no difficulty with the recommendations contained in its report. Consideration of and action on the report's recommendations are, in the first instance, matters for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has responsibility for the landlord and tenant legislative code.
The Government announced on 9 March 1999, as one of the range of measures in response to the report The Housing Market : An Economic Review and Assessment, a decision to establish a commission to examine issues relating to security of tenure in the private rented sector. Consideration is being given to the appropriate membership and terms of reference of the commission and an announcement on the matter will be made as soon as possible. The commission will take into account the report of the working group on security of tenure, but the intention is that it will examine the issue of security of tenure on a much broader basis, including the complex legal and constitutional issues inherent in the landlord and tenant relationship.
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