Monday 20 May 2019

Rent crisis: 'The landlord didn't fix broken things - we went the whole winter without heating'

A view of Dublin city centre from the top of Liberty Hall. Photo: Damien Eagers
A view of Dublin city centre from the top of Liberty Hall. Photo: Damien Eagers
(Stock photo)

Jane O'Faherty

Housing and homelessness have been listed among the top priorities for the new Government. But for many of the thousands living in rented accommodation, reform will come far too late.

The latest report grabbed headlines when it found that prospective tenants can expect to pay at least €1,000 per month for the average property in Ireland.

But that is little surprise to many who have hunted high and low for affordable accommodation in recent months.

On May 1, rental supply was at its lowest point on record with fewer than 3,100 properties available to rent nationwide, according to the report.

In 2015, that figure was 4,300 and in 2009 there were 23,000 homes advertised to rent.

As of Thursday, there were just 3,400 rental properties available, and with so few places on the market, tenants are becoming more willing to settle for extremely poor conditions at eye-wateringly high prices.

But soaring rents are not the only worry, with some tenants citing unrealistic demands from landlords and breaches of contract.

Landlords in turn cited red tape and other barriers to making accommodation more easily available.

It's a perfect housing storm where nobody is happy, and nobody claims to be winning.

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But rent hikes, vicious competition for leases and shabby accommodation are just the tip of the iceberg for generation rent.

Roisin, a masters student who did not wish to be identified, said her current letting agent demanded that she and her housemate paid up 12 months' rent before being allowed to move into the property.

"She got really angry when she found out I was a student," she said. "Once she discovered that, she said I had to pay the entire year's rent upfront."

While Roisin felt the demand was extortionate, she believed she had no other alternative.

"We did pay it all in the end," she said. "We didn't have much choice. We had been looking for about a month, and we were getting nowhere," she added.

Roisin says the total sum exceeded €7,000 and did not include her security deposit. To amass the funds, Roisin had to turn to her parents for a loan.

Argentinian-born Patricia moved to Dublin with her daughter last summer, seeking a new start after her restaurant in Italy went out of business.

Patricia then moved to a two-bed rental property, paying out €1,300 to secure the property initially.

However, she says her current situation isn't much better.

"The landlord comes inside the house with his keys all the time," she says. "He didn't fix broken things in the apartment - we went the whole winter without heating."

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But Fintan McNamara of the Residential Landlords Association of Ireland (RLAI) dismissed claims that it was a landlord's market.

Mr McNamara said charges and taxes faced by landlords did not encourage people to buy property to let - contributing in part to the shortage of rental accommodation.

He also called for a reduction to the PRSI payable by landlords, and a revision of current rental regulations.

Under the regulations, which came into force in 2013, all rentals are required to have decent food-preparation facilities, heating appliances controlled by the tenant and access to laundry.

Crucially, they are also required to have a bathroom inside the unit.

While Mr McNamara said he understood that the regulations were well-intentioned, he felt they needed to be reconsidered.

"Let's be clear here - landlords don't have a problem with the regulations on kitchens and good housing standards," he said.

"It's only that there is a requirement for a bathroom en suite. It's just not economically and structurally feasible in a lot of properties."

Mr McNamara added that many landlords he knew wanted to rent out a well-kept property to tenants, but were unable to because of the en-suite rule.

He also welcomed Housing Minister Simon Coveney's statement that he was "open" to allowing for bedsits to alleviate the rental housing shortage.

Kevin Donoghue of the Union of Students in Ireland said he was willing to "engage with any recommendations" to ease the accommodation crisis.

"There is a potential to allow for non-traditional forms of accommodation - that could include bedsits, but also modular housing if it was done well," he said.

However, he stressed such action must be accompanied by long-term plans for purpose-built student accommodation in Ireland's main cities.

A spokesperson for the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB, formerly known as the Private Residential Tenancies Board) said while it does not encourage an upfront payment of a yearly rent, landlords or tenants could do so if they wished.

However, the RTB stressed that tenants were entitled to receive a rent book or records of all rents paid during the tenancy.

A spokesperson also said that complaints about maintenance issues in the property should be made in writing to the landlord.

They also stated that it was never acceptable for a landlord to enter a property without giving notice.

Irish Independent

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