Home Economics: Answering your property questions
Our property expert answers questions on radon gas and the tax implications of renting half a property.
Quesion: We're in the process of buying our first home in a new estate. During the viewing the agent told us (proudly!) that radon gas detectors had been fitted to all houses. We were a bit alarmed to say the least - is this a general problem or are they mandatory everywhere and what dangers could it pose? We are expecting a baby, so we'd like to know before committing.
Sinead replies: Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which is produced in the earth and is quite common - although odourless and colourless - so is not naturally detectable. It is considered a carcinogen, so the estate agent was quite right to point it out.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, radon accounts for 56pc of the total radiation dose received by the Irish population. Up to 250 cases of lung cancer in Ireland every year can be linked to radon. It seeps into houses through cracks in foundations, bricks and pipes - most modern building methods will preclude this and it's often older houses which need retro-fixing. When it becomes trapped in a house and cannot escape is when it tends to do most damage.
It is measured in 'becquerels per m3' and there are clear guidelines about what is considered dangerous. My advice is to get more advice. Ask the agent for the actual measurement in the area (200 bq/m3 = 2pc chance of developing cancer in your lifetime for example). The EPA provides a radon map on its website (www.epa.ie) which shows the extent to which your house might be affected. The Radiological Protection Institute has a homeowner's guide on the issue which might be helpful (rpii.ie). I would ask also what measures the builder has taken to ensure against radon seepage.
If you are planning to live in this area, it's possible that radon will seep from the ground whatever you do, so do equip yourself with the information you need first.
Question: My sister and I are buying a two-bedroom apartment between us. I will live there and she is letting her portion out as she lives in the UK at present. I thought I would just pass on the rent to her and wouldn't need to be involved, but I'm told it's not straightforward and I have to pass some of it on to Revenue - I'm not the landlord nor am I a tenant - why is this?
Sinead replies: As you jointly purchased the property with your sister you are considered joint landlords I'm afraid. This places responsibilities on you even though your 'half' of the apartment is not let.
With this in mind it would normally be the case that you would be obliged to register with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, for instance, collect tax, hand over an obligatory 20pc of your sister's portion of the rental income to the Revenue as a non-resident landlord, and be responsible for the tenant.
However, Susan Cosgrove of Cosgrove Gaynard Solicitors says that as one of you is living in the property, it is entirely possible that you would qualify under Revenue's 'Rent a Room' relief scheme whereby a bedroom within an owner-occupied property is let to a full time tenant (as opposed to a guest or occasional letting).
You can earn up to €12,000pa under this scheme tax free and it also frees you up from the other obligations such as providing a rent book or registration with the PRTB. You don't even have to provide a lease for your tenant, although Susan strongly advises you enter into a licence agreement regarding ground rules of occupancy, including rent, conduct etc.
The Ryan Review
So, since entering into the 'Nexus' phase of the Banking Inquiry we've seen a succession of former big wigs trot into Government Buildings and an ECB bigwig into Kilmainham (avoiding the jail though), but we've learned diddly squat about the whats and whys of the bank guarantee.
What is clear is that the banks are definitely coming under pressure to handle their arrears issues which all have been recalcitrant on, it has to be said. Ulster Bank, after being dragged like a horse backwards through a hedge has said it will do 2,000 debt deals with arrears customers.
It's on their terms though - you can't apply for one - they'll let you know. It also appears to apply to those who have been poorest at engaging with them, which is a little harsh on those who have dutifully filled out their financial statements, and come to a payment arrangement, but time will tell.
These people will undoubtedly have to give up their homes though, and as worrisome as that is, it's an action caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, and at least in crystallising it, Ulster Bank will be doing some service.
Owners will also have to be eligible for social housing, so income limits will come under scrutiny.
The increase in house prices has lowered the bank's risk here and I would hope the borrowers being contacted will have the sense to do the deal before the house is sold, rather than after.
So, how does that differ from insolvency again?