Saturday 23 September 2017

Comment: 'Irish landlords now prefer to take on foreign rather Irish tenants and quietly discriminate against our own'

Irish tenants have proved themselves less than desirable in the past. Photo: PA
Irish tenants have proved themselves less than desirable in the past. Photo: PA
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

If you could pick a nationality as your ideal tenant - or as a house-share partner - if you had a choice across all the nationalities now living in Ireland, which would you choose?

More importantly would you opt for someone Irish?

Stereotyping is, of course, racist and we Irish have had our own experiences abroad when it comes from being barred from accommodation based on race. Some time ago, an irate reader wrote to The Guardian newspaper asserting that its references to 1950s "No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs" signs were misguided. The reader asserted that no evidence existed. In response, other readers - largely of an Irish background - furnished hard photographic evidence in the form of contemporary pictures of signs that older family members had taken and kept as reminders of less enlightened times.

But whether we like it or not, there's an alternative take to be had on the "No Irish" scenario, which is beginning to apply again today. But more about that later. First, back to 1950s London.

Might we once again be seeing an unspoken return to
Might we once again be seeing an unspoken return to "No Irish, No Dogs" - but this time on our own doorsteps?

It is worth noting that most of the Irish men moving into British cities at that time were single young labourers from hard-drinking trades and also from a hard-drinking and partying culture. Most had never been away from home. Consider, for a modern comparison, any group of young lads from Ireland or Britain let loose in the holiday resorts of Spain and Greece today.

While racism can never be sanctioned, could it be that this type of Irish tenant was rowdier than the common-and-garden English landlady wanted to take a chance on back in the 1950s?

When you hand your property over to someone you don't know or you bring a stranger in to share your home, it's human (even if it's wrong) to factor in the tiniest perceived risk. Could some of the notorious signs have reflected the type of Irish tenant looking for accommodation at the time rather than all Irish? Many perfectly decent people I have talked to who travelled to Britain at this time have regaled me with tales of wild bawdy days, antics and excessive drinking as young single men, paid loads and released from the moral pressures of a hard Catholic Ireland.

However, we have seen questionable Irish tenant behaviour reported abroad continually from 2007 onwards as young Irish guys left again to work in other countries, in particular, the United States and Australia, where Irish tenant behaviour became national news.

So ashamed were the Irish community of one 2014 incident, in which seven Irish students trashed a San Francisco home they were renting (this was reported in media here and nationally in the USA), that local Irish groups volunteered to come and fix up the broken house for free in an attempt to stave off bad feeling against the Irish in that most notoriously laid-back city.

If "No Irish" signs were permitted today in Australia or the USA, would we see them posted again now in some cities? Possibly.

For discrimination we might have to look closer to home. In an ironic twist, recent conversations I have had with Irish landlords in recent months have revealed a startling new departure: that many Irish landlords now prefer to take on foreign rather indigenous Irish tenants. That they will quietly discriminate positively against our own at home.

One property owner told me this week: "Those coming from other cultures are here to study hard or to work hard. They're not from a drinking culture, they don't stay up all night making noise, they don't trash the place. Because they come from rental cultures, they generally pay their rent on time and treat the property with respect. People say that's because they are exploited here and don't know their rights. But that's simply not my experience. They are just far more respectful tenants."

Someone else I know in the property profession moved to Australia after the crash and rented his Dublin home to Irish tenants who smashed it up as badly as the apartment in the San Francisco case.

It took him a year and a half to get them out despite his tenants not paying rent and selling the furniture. Finally, they smashed the bathroom suites and filled the pipes with foam. The damage cost thousands. Today, he happily rents to foreign tourists through Airbnb. There's good and bad in every cultural group and his tenants were certainly the exception to the rule, but they did put him off renting long term to our own ever again.

Yet another landlord I spoke to talked about young Irish adults not being properly "house trained", having being so mollycoddled at home with mother doing everything that they actually have no concept how to look after a home. He said that goes for both girls and guys.

When faced with calmer cultures and considering minimum risk to our homes, could we Irish discriminate against our own? Might we once again be seeing an unspoken return to "No Irish, No Dogs" - but this time on our own doorsteps?

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