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Sinn Fein welcomes the opportunity of taking part in this

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Sinn Fein welcomes the opportunity of taking part in this

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									                       Sinn Féin, 51-53 Falls Road, Belfast, BT12 4PD




Sinn Féin welcomes the opportunity to take part in this consultation exercise and we
reiterate our view that this procedure should be clear, concise and as efficient as
possible and that all the views expressed will be reflected in the final document.

Sinn Féin believes that the right to shelter, to affordable quality accommodation is a
basic inalienable right. Social policy should be centred on delivering this basic right.
Legislation should promote and safeguard the entitlements of tenants and home
buyers rather than the rights of property speculators, some of whom exploit people’s
essential needs.

Sinn Féin has raised the issue of the private rented sector on many occasions and
indeed, our motion on landlord registration received total support in the Assembly.

In our view the most relevant question was missing from the consultation document
which is the basic issue of whether mandatory registration should be implemented
immediately. We, just like others, believe that it should.

It is unthinkable that a housing sector which receives a huge amount of tax payers’
money remains unregulated, particularly when one considers the caustic process
which the voluntary and community sector has to go through for handling much less
money. It is amazing that the Department or Minister have still not brought
guidelines to control this sector, and unfortunately it seems that this position is
unlikely to change.

Sinn Féin has said many times that society needs a cross section of housing providers;
we also believe that the private rented sector provides much needed housing, the
demand for which has increased greatly over the past number of years.

But it should be also recognised that many landlords in this sector are driven by profit
alone and are not motivated by the requirement to provide accommodation which is
safe, efficient, affordable and fit for purpose.

 In fact there is evidence that many in this sector abuse their position in terms of the
standard of their accommodation, the rents charged and their attitude towards their
tenants.

Sinn Féin is surprised that the Department is saying that they believe that mandatory
registration is unnecessary at this time. This flies in the face of all those voluntary
housing groups, residents associations and individuals who have consistently called
for mandatory registration.



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                      Sinn Féin, 51-53 Falls Road, Belfast, BT12 4PD

We hope this is not an indication of the direction the Department is taking with this
consultation. In a meeting which Sinn Féin held with a representative of the private
rented sector, it was stated by him that the only controls required by the sector were
market forces.

It is necessary that the issue of anti-social tenants is seriously considered in any new
legislation to ensue from this. Such people can make life unbearable for everyone
around them and there must be safeguards against unacceptable behaviour.

In our submission to the Private Tenancies Order 2005 we argued for stronger
legislation. We have also stated that whilst we welcome any move forward we
believe we now have a golden opportunity to give full protection to tenants and this
must not be squandered.

In the above-mentioned submission we also argued for the setting up of a group
equivalent to the Private Residential Tenancy Board in the south of Ireland, which
could oversee the private rented sector.

We also believe that penalties should form part of any legislation to ensure
compliance of new regulations. This would include heavy fines and prison sentences
if landlords refuse to register or are caught renting substandard accommodation.

Sinn Féin also believes there should be a system for suspending landlords from
operating who consistently overcharge their tenants, carry out illegal evictions or are
found to be intimidating their tenants.

We would also argue that a dispute resolution system be introduced similar to that in
the South of Ireland. We recognise that there have been some teething problems, but
the concept is positive and praiseworthy and it could effectively deal with many of the
problems which exist in this sector.

We would also suggest that this panel could draw its membership from the voluntary
housing sector, the Landlords’ Association and from the resident association sector;
this would bring with it a level of expertise to effectively deal with any issue. We
would also suggest that landlords who consistently charge over and above the Local
Housing Allowance could be equally dealt with by this panel, and they should have
the power to suspend that landlord from operating a licence to rent.

Sinn Féin believes that the standards which are expected of social landlords such as
the Housing Executive and Housing Associations should be the standard set for the
private rented sector.

Sinn Féin believes that the introduction of the Private Tenancy Order was a move in
the right direction but many omissions still exist; the opportunity should be taken to
close these loopholes either in the proposed housing bill or any proposed legislation
emanating from this.

Sinn Féin believes that a proper system of training for landlords should be
implemented and co-ordinated by the Housing Executive which would aim to offer a
rights-based service for both landlords and their tenants.


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                       Sinn Féin, 51-53 Falls Road, Belfast, BT12 4PD

We in Sinn Féin also believe that the issue of letting agencies and management
companies need to be legislated for and strict controls implemented such as those
suggested for the Private Rented Sector. These agencies have grown in quantity and
have a poor record in their dealings with tenants, with allegations that they can be at
times uncooperative and abusive when approached by Residents Associations, tenants
and political parties.

Sinn Féin believes that there is a wide body of expertise within the community and
voluntary sector in relation to housing and we believe that the broad coalition of such
groups should be involved in the discussions on the response from this consultation.
This would not only bring transparency to what is a closed system at present but could
bring an expertise to an issue which does not exist within the department.

In other jurisdictions such as the South of Ireland, and Scotland, action was taken to
deal with identified problems such as in the Scottish case to deal with ever increasing
anti-social activity, or in the South of Ireland to deal with the lack of regulation of bad
landlords.


While in the past there was no legislation in England and Wales to deal with the
private rented sector, this has changed recently and in fact their proposals go much
further than those in the South of Ireland or Scotland. They propose huge fines for
non-compliance and see mandatory registration as a major plank in dealing with the
private rented sector.

Other issues which must be included are the following:
    Deposit retention by landlords at end of tenancy
    Monitoring of property condition to ensure appropriate maintenance
    Control over rents
    Training for land lords
    Provision of tenancy agreements

Sinn Féin would argue that the only way forward is for strong legislation of the
private rented sector, which action we have been recommending for many years.

Sinn Féin is a 32 county political party and it is our view that the issues related to
housing are best dealt with on an all-Ireland basis. Following from that position Sinn
Féin proposes:-

      A National Housing Strategy and a National Housing Agency to co-ordinate
       all aspects of housing provision.
      Enshrining the Right to Housing in the Constitution in the 26 Counties and as
       a right enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the Six Counties.
      State-led initiatives in partnership with progressive financial institutions such
       as credit unions to allow lower-income earners to purchase their own homes.
      Increased and sustained funding of local authorities in the 26 counties to
       provide housing with a target of supplying suitable accommodation within two
       years for 70 per cent of applicants on the waiting lists.



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                       Sinn Féin, 51-53 Falls Road, Belfast, BT12 4PD

      Development of a properly funded social housing programme in the Six
       Counties
      An increase in Capital Gains Tax on speculative owners of multiple dwellings,
       introduced on a phased basis over two years.
      Direct community involvement in planning for housing. Legislation to ensure
       that social needs are incorporated in all housing schemes from the earliest
       stage.
      A single streamlined funding scheme for voluntary and community housing.
      Rent control in the private rented sector and enforcement of enhanced
       legislative protection for tenants.
      The establishment of a Housing Ombudsman’s Office.
      Full implementation of an integrated strategy for homelessness with a target of
       70 per cent reduction within two years.
      A Government fund to provide capital loans for universities and third-level
       institutions to facilitate the development of purpose-built student
       accommodation.
      Suitably tailored housing provision for those with special needs such as people
       with disabilities, women at risk, asylum seekers, Travellers, elderly people and
       the homeless.

The erosion of the social sector has meant that the private rental sector increasingly
acts as a refuge for people on low incomes. However, in recent years the
unaffordability of home ownership has also led growing numbers of middle class
households to turn to private rental accommodation.

While dependence on private rental accommodation has swelled rapidly, the sector’s
reputation for high levels of cost and low levels of quality has not changed.
Inspections of private rental properties take place to ensure they are habitable, but
enforcement of minimum standards is far from stringent. What we need is a robust,
all-Ireland tenant protection regime to protect the equal rights of all to adequate and
appropriate housing.

One potentially important initiative in the 26 Counties is the Residential Tenancies
Act 2004 which established compulsory registration of landlords and the Private
Residential Tenancies Board to resolve landlord-tenant disputes. However it remains
to be seen whether this body is equipped to tackle the widespread problems of
insecurity, illegal evictions, deposit retention, unfit dwellings and escalating rents. At
the moment the Irish Government is starving it of resources and, as a consequence, it
is only open to the public for two hours a day and there is already a two month
backlog in tenancy registration. Similar regulatory measures for the private rental
sector, including mandatory landlord registration and dissuasive penalties for non-
compliance, must also be introduced in the 6 Counties.

Sinn Féin acknowledges that regulating private landlords will drive some out of the
market, potentially reducing supply. However, in our view the loss of unscrupulous
landlords and substandard accommodation in the short term is a price worth paying
for better quality accommodation and tenant protection in the long term.

Another problem with this sector is that, like the private owner-occupied sector, it has
become increasingly state-subsidised in more than 40% of private tenancies. In the 6


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                      Sinn Féin, 51-53 Falls Road, Belfast, BT12 4PD

Counties over 50,000 households in private rental accommodation claim Housing
Benefit at a cost of £135 million annually – an increase of 55% in less than 10 years.
This money could have built up to 1,600 homes per year in the social sector. In the 26
Counties, over 60,000 individuals in the private rented sector in 2005 were in receipt
of the Rent Supplement, representing an annual expenditure of more than €368
million. This means that every day in the 26 Counties alone, more than one million
euro of public money is shovelled into the pockets of private landlords rather than
being used to build social housing. This has got to stop. We need a managed transition
away from state subsidy of private tenancy and towards increased public resources for
social housing, where tenure is by definition more secure.

Sinn Féin Policy Proposals:
• Significantly increase regulation of the private rented sector, and harmonise tenant
protections north and south

• Provide strong powers and adequate resources for the enforcement of the tenant
protection regime.

• Bring legal protection against eviction into line with international human rights
standards.
• Introduce a system of rent control in both jurisdictions that guarantees a fair rate of
return for landlords and is linked to both the Consumer Price Index and the quality of
the property

• Introduce compulsory registration of all private landlords in the 6 Counties within a
specific timeframe, with enforceable financial penalties for non-registration

• Introduce a Private Residential Tenancies Board in the 6 Counties, equivalent to that
in the 26 Counties

• Introduce a mandatory contract between landlord and tenant, providing for enhanced
security of tenure, and scrap the four year limit in the 26 Counties

• Provide for the Private Residential Tenancies Boards to hold and refund deposits
paid, as withholding of deposits was the single biggest cause of complaints brought by
consumers in the Small Claims Court in the 26 Counties in 2004

• Legislate for and enforce minimum dwelling standards, and legislate for a right to
maintenance (including cyclical maintenance) and repairs within a reasonable time
frame

• Legislate for the power to bar unscrupulous landlords from letting property

• Phase out the Rent Supplement and Housing Benefit subsidies to the private rented
sector as social housing becomes available for such tenants to move them into more
secure social tenancy. Spend monies saved on the social housing sector.




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Sinn Féin, 51-53 Falls Road, Belfast, BT12 4PD




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