Protections against evictions for renters, who've been financially hit by Covid-19 and are in arrears, are due to be extended under plans to be brought to Cabinet next week by Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien.

This emergency legislation, which the department says is very targeted legislation and aimed at those who need it most, is due to expire on 12 July.

However, Opposition parties say thousands of other renters, who are living in designated pressure zones, could be hit with an 8% increase from next month.

Under the relevant 2016 legislation, a landlord is entitled to increase rent by 8% in a pressure zone, if they didn't raise rent by the allowable 4% the previous year.

The Department of Housing said that rental pressure zones are due to expire at the end of this year and Minister O'Brien will be introducing a range of rent reforms which will be introduced into the Oireachtas in the Autumn.

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Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil that Minister O'Brien will "bring in legislation quickly" to close the loophole allowing an 8% rent hike for tenants.

Minister O'Brien will move "in relation to those who are most vulnerable and those most at risk", the Taoiseach said during Leaders' Questions.

However, he said that the Government is limited by the Constitution on introducing a blanket ban on rent increases.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that "an entire generation is locked out of home ownership" because of high rents.

Not only do they face the prospect of the Government "cutting their income support", she added, but they also face a "double whammy" of an 8% rent hike.

"You should get the finger out and act on behalf of these struggling renters", Ms McDonald told the Taoiseach.

"You have left renters in the lurch," she said.

The Sinn Féin leader called for legislation to be fast-tracked and brought before the House before the summer recess.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald says people don’t stand a chance in saving for a mortgage deposit when paying such high rents. She says the Covid-19 pandemic has hit 'generation rent’ very hard. | Read more #politics:

— RTÉ News (@rtenews) June 2, 2021

In response, Mr Martin said the Government is doing everything it can to help tenants, with the "proportionate response" of rental protections.

The Minister for Housing will soon bring proposals to extend rental protections beyond 12 July, he said.

He said the minister was also planning to provide long-term security of tenure for tenants, and the "scale and level" of rental increases will "be curtailed into the future".

On the same issue, Solidarity-PBP Paul Murphy said "we have a Government of landlords for the landlords".

Irish renters pay the highest proportion of their rent in the world, at 40%, Deputy Murphy added.

"The Government does not represent landlords," Mr Martin asserted.

"I know many renters - many renters," Mr Martin insisted.

He added that the Government is bringing forward a right to housing insertion in the Constitution.

A rent freeze for at least three years is what is needed according to Senator Rebecca Moynihan, and the Labour party Spokesperson on Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime Senator Moynihan said she is "concerned" that renters will not be sufficiently protected by legislation to deal with a legal loophole that allows landlords to impose double rent hikes of 8% when the Covid-19 rent freeze ends.

She said she believes this protection will only apply to those who are on supports linked to Covid-19.

"If you take an average renter in South Dublin pays €2,200 per month according to the Daft property report, you could see rises of 175, or higher per month, based on their average of 24 months. And we're talking about property tax for property owners of on average, €90 a year. This is a problem. Renters are vulnerable."

Senator Moynihan said landlords are using the 4% rent rise rule as a "target" and are raising it every year.

"This is a problem. 4% is the target for landlords. They are raising it every year. I think we need a rent freeze for at least three years."

She said the state should intervene to bring rents down.