Minister O’Brien asks RTB to initiate targeted campaign to identify and pursue non-compliance with rent-setting
The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD, has noted the Residential Tenancies Board’s Rent Index Report for Q2 2021 (published today September 30th) which is produced in conjunction with the Economic and Social Research Institute. The Index is based on the actual rents being paid in the 13,884 private rented tenancies registered or renewed with the RTB in Q2 2021 (16,085 in Q1 2021).
However, in response to the national annual growth rate – which could indicate a concerning level of non-compliance with the legislation – the Minister has announced that he has requested the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) to initiate a targeted campaign to aggressively identify and pursue non-compliance with rent-setting responsibilities.
The Minister has formally informed the RTB of his concerns and reiterated his absolute commitment to ensuring that the full protections for tenants provided for in the Residential Tenancies Act (2004-2021) are applied and enforced across the residential sector.
The Q2 2021 Rent Index shows that nationally rents grew by 7% year-on-year in this period. This is the highest national growth rate seen since Q1 2019. During Q2 2021, the national standardised average rent stood at €1,352. This is an increase of €32 in comparison to Q1 2021.
As the report highlights the economic context is critical to determining the drivers of rental inflation in Ireland. At present, economic developments remain tied to the spread of Covid-19, the associated restrictions on economic and social life and the changes in behaviour of households and enterprises in reaction to the pandemic. The period Q2 2021 was a quarter in which there was a phased reopening of the Irish economy and a general relaxation of the strict public health measures which had been in place in Q1 2021.
However, the Minister has deep concerns about the level of increase seen in Q2 2021 and the possibility of non-compliance in terms of rent-setting.
As a result the Minister has requested the RTB to escalate its response to non-compliance, given its extensive investigation and sanction capabilities. The Minister has further asked the RTB to instigate a campaign to identify and pursue non-compliance with rent-setting responsibilities.
Where landlords circumvent the legislation in relation to RPZ rent caps, the RTB has the power to investigate and apply sanctions, with fines of up to €15,000 and/or costs up to €15,000.
As of Q2 2021, more than a quarter of a million euro has been refunded to current and former tenants as a direct result of breaches of rent-setting rules.
Commenting on the findings, Minister O’Brien said: “Rent Pressure Zones are located in parts of the country where rents are highest and rising, and where households have the greatest difficulty finding affordable accommodation. They are an essential pillar of rental policy and the impact of not complying with these measures can have severe knock-on effects – it is essential that people understand that non-adherence to RPZ legislation is a serious offence.
“In this context, I have called upon the RTB ensure that their full powers and resources are brought to bear in initiating and executing a robust and thorough campaign to identify non-compliance and breaches in RPZ rent increase restrictions and related procedures, including those related to rent reviews and notification of exemptions from the restrictions.
“My officials and I intend to work intensively with the RTB to raise awareness of rent setting responsibilities and, indeed, the sanctions that can be imposed if those responsibilities are not adhered to.
“I am particularly concerned for any tenants who might be facing, or are already contending with, a rent increase because of their landlord’s non-compliance.
“I would encourage anyone seeking more information on rent pressure zones to visit the RTB website where a new rent pressure zone calculator is available to help landlords, letting agents and tenants understand if a rent increase is permissible and, if so, the upper limit allowed. This calculator takes account of the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) which is now being used to set and review rents in RPZs in Ireland and ensures that rents in an RPZ cannot be increased by more than general inflation. At the time of introducing the legislation to link rents to HICP I acknowledged that inflation was increasing and that we would keep the need for an overall cap under review. My Department is working on legislation in this regard,” he concluded.
Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD and Minister with responsibility for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins TD have confirmed a Department of Housing circular has issued in relation to student accommodation.
The circular issued on Friday night to the Chief Executives of all local authorities and pointed to the critical need for purpose-built student accommodation to be available to meet the needs of students in third level education.
The circular confirmed that purpose built student accommodation should not be used for short-term residential accommodation indefinitely and that it should be safeguarded for use by students and other persons related to higher education institutes during the academic year.
Commenting, Minister O’Brien said:
“Minister Harris and I have been liaising on the issue of student accommodation and the challenges students are facing. We have introduced safeguards to protect students in rented accommodation. In July we passed legislation so that upfront payment upon the commencement of a tenancy will now be restricted to a total value that does not exceed two months’ rent i.e. a deposit and one month rent in advance. This much needed measure means that students and their families are no longer required to pay a lump sum each term. This restriction applies to all tenancies including for students residing in student specific accommodation. A student can make a larger upfront payment if they so wish, by way of an opt-out option, but they cannot be forced to do so. The Bill also provides that the notice period to be given by students in respect of student specific accommodation will be limited to a maximum 28 days’ notice. Students in Rent Pressure Zones are also protected by legislation which links any potential rent increases to inflation only, putting an end to the annual 4% rent increases which we were seeing. I am acutely aware that inflation is increasing and my Department is working on legislation to cap the overall amount at which rent can increase.
The circular issued by my Department on Friday leaves local authorities in no doubt that purpose built student accommodation should be retained for that use where that is appropriate,” he concluded.
Minister of State Niall Collins said: “Student accommodation should be safeguarded for students during the academic year. I want to thank my colleagues Minister Harris and O’Brien for issuing this circular. My Department continues to work with the Union of Students of Ireland on this and other measures to assist students.”
The two Departments will host a meeting of Universities over the coming days to discuss the issue of student accommodation generally.
Today, the Government approved a comprehensive review of Irish planning legislation.
The review of our planning laws, to be overseen by the Attorney General and a dedicated working group of professionals with planning law expertise, will improve the Government’s ability to implement major programmes, including the National Development Plan and Housing for All Plan, as well as improve Ireland’s national competitiveness. The Attorney General will work closely with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
Over time, planning legislation has become overly complicated and difficult to navigate, contributing to significant delays and additional costs in the delivery of housing.
The planning legislation review sanctioned by the Government today is of an unprecedented scale, using experts in planning law under the supervision of the Attorney General, to improve our planning laws.
This review will be a key enabler in the delivery of the Housing for All plan and it is intended that it will be completed by September 2022. Housing for All is the Government’s plan to increase the supply of housing to an average of at least 33,000 housing units per year over the next decade, with a mix of social, affordable and private housing for sale and rent.
Welcoming the announcement, the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin T.D. said:
“When we published Housing for All earlier in the month, I reiterated my view that housing is the single most urgent and important social issue facing our country at this time and that I am determined that we as a Government get to grips with it.
We also committed that the Housing for All plan would be underpinned by accountability and a strong delivery focus. This large-scale planning reform programme, which will bring about fundamental improvements to our planning laws, reflects the approach we are taking overall, with challenging deadlines and a truly cross-Government approach to delivery of Housing for All’s objectives and other major plans.
Our planning laws need a complete overhaul to meet the ambition outlined in Housing For All. Streamlining and simplifying the planning laws will support the accelerated delivery of housing set out under the Housing for All plan.”
Ministers O’Brien & Noonan meet An Fóram Uisce to commence public consultation phase of the next River Basin Management Plan
Today, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD, and the Minister of State with responsibility for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, held a meeting with members of An Fóram Uisce (The Water Forum) to mark the opening of the public consultation on the draft River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2022-2027. The public consultation begins on Tuesday 28 September 2021 and ends on Thursday 31 March 2022 at 5pm.
This vital plan will set out the environmental objectives that must be achieved to put in place the measures that will protect and restore our rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters by the end of 2027, together with actions to ensure those objectives are achieved. Under the Water Framework Directive (WFD), Ireland is required to produce a River Basin Management Plan every six years to protect and improve water quality.
The Plan sets out over one hundred proposed measures, including:
Provisional data indicates that the Priority Areas for Action (a key element of the 2018-2021 River Basin Management Plan) are helping to improve water quality. Twenty-one per cent of rivers in Priority Areas for Action (those identified for targeted measures) have seen improved water quality. Thirteen per cent of rivers outside of these areas saw improvement. This indicates that targeted measures are helping to improve water quality. Nevertheless, a large number of river waterbodies are still declining.
The plan will also see an increase in the number of Areas for Action with 527 areas proposed for focused attention in the third cycle, up from 190 in the second-cycle.
Water quality analysis indicates that agriculture, hydromorphology (physical changes to habitat conditions and water flows), forestry and urban waste water are the main pressures on water quality.
Commenting on the opening of the consultation Minister O’Brien said:
“Ireland has made substantial progress in how we manage our water services and how we work together to protect and improve water quality. However, water quality is still in decline. People, nature, and our economy all rely on healthy and well protected water catchments. Working together, through a new and strengthened River Basin Management Plan, will put us on course to achieve our environmental objectives and deliver the clean waters that are vital for protecting public health, supporting economic growth and preserving our environment.”
Minister of State Noonan said:
“The River Basin Management Plan process is founded on stakeholder participation and involvement – Minister O’Brien and I are particularly keen to see an inclusive process where all voices and ideas are heard. Key to this will be engaging with stakeholders and with communities at a national and local level.
I would encourage everyone to participate and to express your views as these will help inform and improve the plans and programmes and wider policy developments that impact our waters.”
Copies of the consultation document and supporting materials are available for download on the Department’s website at www.gov.ie/draftRBMP. The final date for responses in respect of this consultation is Thursday, 31 March 2022.
Minister O’Brien announces his intention to nominate Dr Martina Moloney as Chair of the Heritage Council
The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, TD has announced that Dr Martina Moloney would act as Chair-designate of the Heritage Council, with effect from 6 October, pending approval of her appointment by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
Dr Moloney has served on the Board of the Heritage Council since October 2020, having been appointed through the Public Appointment Service’s open and transparent process for appointments to State Boards. She is presently Chair of the Board’s Audit and Risk Committee. Dr Moloney has a distinguished career in public service having formerly served as Chief Executive of Louth County Council and Galway County Council and has experience of serving on a number of other state boards, including the Arts Council and the National Oversight and Audit Commission for Local Government. She will take over the role at a significant moment for the Heritage Council, which has recently increased its staff by 50% and is about to begin work on a new strategy.
Making the announcement at the Heritage Council’s offices in Kilkenny, Minister O’Brien said: “I am delighted to nominate Dr Martina Moloney as Chair of the Heritage Council. Martina will bring considerable skill and experience to the role at an exciting time for the Heritage Council and I look forward to working with her and the Council in the protection and promotion of our heritage. I want to wish outgoing Chair Michael Parsons the very best and thank him for his work.”
Commenting on the announcement, Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, TD, added “I very much welcome the nomination of Dr Martina Moloney to the role of Chair of the Heritage Council. Martina has served as a board member with great commitment and vision and will lead the Council ably in its support of CEO Virginia Teehan and her team.”
Dr Moloney’s appointment will follow the completion of Michael Parsons’ term as Chair of the Heritage Council in October. Michael has served as Chair for the past five years and was commended by Minister O Brien, who stated: “Michael Parsons has served the Council with distinction in challenging times and has demonstrated an enduring commitment to our heritage throughout his long career.”
Minister Noonan also paid tribute to the departing Chairman, stating: “Michael has committed much of his personal and professional life to the protection and promotion of our heritage. He should be very proud of all he has achieved here at the Heritage Council and I wish him well in what I hope will be a long and happy retirement.”
The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien T.D., has today issued an update in relation to two serious incidents in drinking water plants which have occurred in recent weeks.
In a letter to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage this week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlined two serious incidents in recent weeks that occurred in drinking water plants serving parts of Dublin City (served by the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant) and Gorey, Co. Wexford. This included, in the case of Gorey, illnesses detected by the HSE in the community served by that water supply.
It’s important to note that these incidents have been rectified and the water supply from the two plants is now safe to drink.
Commenting following a meeting with the Irish Water Managing Director and officials and both the Chief Executives of Dublin City Council and Wexford County Council, Minister O’Brien said, “In the immediate term Irish Water will now undertake an audit of the water treatment plants across the country. They will prioritise the largest 20 treatment plants, visiting each of them, meeting with the caretakers of each plant to ensure that proper processes are in place in terms of dealing with and escalating any incidents which may arise. Irish Water’s Managing Director and the local authority Chief Executives each assured the Minister of their full cooperation and that their organisations are working together in full cooperation to put in place the urgent and necessary corrective measures.
“Irish Water will also work with each Local Authority over the coming two weeks, conducting re-fresher training on incident reporting for all plants. Where appropriate, Irish Water will now put in place a technician on site, to ensure the continued safety of water treatment plants.
“Ultimately, as we all know, there are limitations to the current working arrangements between Irish Water and Local Authorities and it is impacting on the delivery of services. A process is underway in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to deliver the transformation of this service but I am also requesting that Irish Water and local authorities to take further steps to improve Irish Water control of all water service plants in the immediate term pending the implementation of the agreed longer term operational and staffing arrangements,” concluded Minister O’Brien.
The Meeting also included a representative from the County and City Managers Association on behalf of all local authorities.