How long does it take to get a progressive, important and relatively uncontroversial piece of legislation passed in this country? One year, two years, three? In the case of the Landlord & Tenant Law Reform Bill, the gestation period is currently running at almost 14 years, and counting.
In 2003 the Law Reform Commission (“LRC”) published a Consultation Paper on the General Law of Landlord and Tenant and invited submissions from interested parties. This consultation process resulted in the publication by the LRC in 2007 of their Report on the Law of Landlord and Tenant to which was appended a draft Landlord and Tenant Bill. This draft bill proposed fundamental reforms of landlord and tenant law, particularly as it applies to business tenancies.
Anyone who has had to grapple with the vagaries of our landlord and tenant law, be they business owners, lawyers, surveyors or other professional advisers, knows that it is riddled with archaic rules and procedures that are entirely unsuited to the commercial realities of today. The bill proposed by the LRC would get rid of most of these anachronisms once and for all, proposing as it does to repeal many pieces of outdated legislation dating from the Distress Act 1493 to the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1989. I don’t propose to go through everything that is contained in the bill but, suffice to say, it would bring about an extensive modernisation of many aspects of landlord and tenant law, such as the formalities required to create a tenancy, rent review procedures, and when and how tenancies may be terminated. The legislation, if and when implemented, would have the effect of providing a much greater degree of certainty for both landlords and tenants as to their rights, entitlements and obligations in dealing with leased property.
So what has happened to this bill? Four years after the LRC Report, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr. Alan Shatter, published draft heads for the bill, commenting that “a modern landlord and tenant code applicable to business tenancies is essential for our economic recovery”. He invited submissions on the proposed bill from interested parties prior to 31st May 2011. Since then, it appears to have gone nowhere fast.
Some clues as to the importance attributed to this bill by our legislators can be gleaned from the Legislation Programmes issued by the Government at the beginning of each Dáil session. For example, in the Legislation Programme for the Autumn Session 2013, this bill was listed in “Section B – Bills in respect of which heads have been agreed and texts are being drafted”. We were told that publication was expected in late 2014. In the programme for the Spring/Summer Sessions 2015, it was still in Section B, but publication was “not possible to indicate at this stage”. In the programme for the current session of the Dáil, Spring/Summer 2017, the bill has been relegated to the third division, a section entitled “All Other Legislation”, and we were reassured that its status is “heads approved, work is continuing”!
Ireland’s pre-eminent landlord and tenant scholar, Professor J.C.W. Wylie, in the preface to the third edition of his book on Landlord and Tenant Law expresses “great sadness” at the lack of progress in implementing this bill. In fact, Professor Wylie, who played an important role in the LRC process way back in 2003-2007, had delayed the latest edition of his work in the hope that the bill would be passed; eventually he decided he could wait no longer.
As mentioned earlier, there is nothing particularly controversial in this bill and it is difficult to understand why it has languished in some legislative limbo for so long, while the inadequacies of our current regime continue to have a negative impact on the business life of the country. At least part of the reason must be disinterest and indifference on the part of our legislators. Most of the time, there is nothing vote-catching or headline-grabbing about landlord and tenant law, but it is noteworthy that one of the only recent changes in the law relating to business tenancies, the abolition of upward-only rent reviews, was hurriedly inserted as a last-minute addition to a largely unrelated statute in 2009, a time when the high level of commercial rents was a hot political issue.
So it seems we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for anything to change in the near future. Or perhaps we should all, whether individually or through lobby groups, professional bodies and other groupings, try to bring some pressure to bear on our politicians to expedite this much-needed reform.
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