Friday 30 September 2016

Home economics... Answering your property questions

Published 12/06/2015 | 02:30

A wild fox is finding its way into a reader's garden.
A wild fox is finding its way into a reader's garden.

Our property expert answers questions about letting houses to the council and a neighbour who insists on feeding visiting animals.

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Question: I heard a radio ad about landlords letting their houses to the council with guarantees on rent. Is this scheme generally available and is there a catch? Do they vet tenants and what is the cost for the guaranteed rent? I missed hearing the ad again so I'm not sure where to find out this information.

Sinead replies: All four local authorities in Dublin (and others countrywide) offer deals to landlords guaranteeing rental income for housing long-stay social housing clients. In Dublin alone there are 4,600 units availing of them under the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) or Housing Assistance Programme (HAP). They have started a campaign to grow that number due to the housing crisis. Tenants are vetted and handled by the council.

There are a range of options which allow landlords hand over properties for up to 20 years with no letting fees, vacancy costs or rent arrears. Landlords are offered rents up to 92pc of the market rate and in some cases, the council handles property maintenance also.

There are strict criteria to be met in terms of fire, health and safety measures, location and suitability of properties and your own authority can best advise on this.

Many landlords like the security of the scheme, and even if they believe they could get higher rent on the open market they may not want the hassle of it. Do examine the terms and conditions carefully before making your decision, but you could sign up for a year and see how you get on. See dublinlandlords.ie for more information.

Question: My neighbour has a very verdant garden with lots of trees and bushes while mine is gravelled with plants in pots and very neat and tidy. The problem is that she insists on feeding everything that comes into her garden including stray cats and wild foxes, and on occasion they make their way under our shared wire fence and they dirty and dig up my plants. I've spoken with her, to no avail - she thinks she's helping them. Is there anything I can do legally?

Sinead replies: This would annoy me too. The first thing, rather than hop down the legal route could be to deter the animals yourself. There are lots of repellents you can buy which spray either water, a citron-based product or a sound device which foxes and/or felines cannot bear. Others are granules you spread on your garden which they avoid. In addition, there are 'prickle' strips you can buy to put under the fence which hurts (but don't maim) animals. See www.rentokil.ie for options or your local garden centre.

Because your neighbour doesn't actually own the animals, it does pose a trickier legal issue, explains Susan Cosgrove of Cosgrove Gaynard solicitors as she cannot be held liable for damage to your garden as if it were caused by, say, her dog.

"There is no law that prohibits feeding stray animals. No doubt your neighbour is doing so out of the goodness of her heart and does not realise the problems being caused. It is definitely worth trying to discuss this matter once again and explaining your concerns and in particular the damage being caused to your garden due to her actions. There should be actions she can take, ie keep the feeding area away from your garden, mend fences, provide a litter area on her own property etc.

"If she refuses to assist, there may be enough to take a nuisance action against her. You should note that even though these animals are stray it would be illegal to dump them elsewhere, however you can take an animal you have caught to a shelter."

The Ryan review

Hmmm.  Language is everything.  When Housing Minister Alan Kelly talks about introducing 'rent certainty', does he really mean 'rent control' and if so, how can that possibly work in a free market?

The Attorney General recently paved the way for "rent whatever" allowing rents to be linked to inflation, but with that figure languishing close to zero, it's surely semantics.

Creating an artificial ceiling on rents while tackling the real problem - supply - means that the opposite of that required occurs: the black market flourishes and demand for too few units increases exponentially as those who were just about making their rent, or are paying higher than the new ceiling, strive to move or reset their leases.

For their part, landlords are not buoyed by the measure, but perhaps see it as the final straw and sell up, or default on their own mortgages, not helping the rental market one whit.

You can call it what you like; the yanks favour "rental stabilisation" but irrespective, it doesn't work. It's a little like the crèche fees argument: offer tax relief and private businesses simply increase their charges to meet the new normal.

In the housing market, increasing rent supplement will have precisely the same effect, so Mr Kelly's job is undoubtedly tricky and he is attempting to find a middle ground. Slapping a site tax on recalcitrant developers might be the best start.

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