Government accused of misusing constitution with new rent legislation

Government accused of misusing constitution with new rent legislation
Housing mnister Darragh O'Brien, who said the new regulations will protect tenants until next year. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The government has been accused of misusing the Constitution over their new legislation on renters.

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien tabled a new bill on Tuesday to extend the notice period on evictions, which the government says will provide new protections for tenants during the pandemic; however, the new legislation will effectively end the current evictions ban and rent moratorium.

Amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act in the Bill state a tenant will have 28 days to pay outstanding rent, an increase of 14 days, and notice periods for failure to pay rent will rise from 28 days to 90 days.

Rent increases and evictions for unpaid rent cannot take place until January 11, 2021.

A number of opposition politicians quoted leading housing charities, who say the ban on evictions, notices to quit, and rent increases introduced by the Oireachtas on March 27, led to the largest fall in homelessness in the state since 2016 and who have questioned the benefit of ending such effective legislation.

April saw a 56% drop in families presenting as homeless and an even higher drop in the numbers ending up in emergency accommodation. The state currently has the lowest numbers of families in emergency accommodation in three years.

"We know from Focus Ireland and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive that vacant possession notices to quit are the single largest cause of family homelessness," Sinn Féin's housing spokesman Eoin O'Broin said.

"Instead of getting legislation that protects renters, we are getting a Bill under the cover of a restrictive interpretation of the Constitution that leaves renters exposed to greater insecurity and unaffordability."

Likewise, Independent TD Catherine Connolly said the government had taken "a divisive unacceptable approach" which misuses the Constitution and ignores the "common good" stipulation in the text. The current and previous government have both stated that a long-term rent ban would be unconstitutional, however, this has been criticised as a "narrow reading" of the legislation by some constitutional law experts.

"The Minister is not serving the common good by increasing the number of evictions among the tenants he is not protecting. He is not serving the common good by relying on the market to provide homes," Ms Connolly said.

"In the guise of extra protection for some tenants he is withdrawing protection for other tenants and this is simply unacceptable.

"There is no recognition of the pandemic.

"I would have thought that particularly Fianna Fáil, and I have great respect for it with regard to public housing, might get in touch with its roots and realise the housing crisis cannot be solved without an absolute commitment to public housing on public land as an integral part of it."

A number of politicians pointed out that a second-wave of Covid-19 is widely expected by public health experts and the ban on evictions and rent increases should run until the threat of the pandemic has lifted.

The Dáil voted to approve the legislation. Amendments will be debated on Thursday.

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