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'Renting our apartments has been a window into the worst of human behaviour'


Ciaran Byrne with his wife Martha Kearns and their two children, Ciara and Leo, in Hazelwood, Sligo. Photo: James Connolly

Ciaran Byrne with his wife Martha Kearns and their two children, Ciara and Leo, in Hazelwood, Sligo. Photo: James Connolly

James Connolly

Ciaran Byrne with his wife Martha Kearns and their two children, Ciara and Leo, in Hazelwood, Sligo. Photo: James Connolly

I guess we're the classic Celtic Tiger property couple - the ones that got burned and are still trying to mop up the mess. I bought my apartment in 2005 for €335,000. If I sold it tomorrow I'd be lucky to get €250,000 for it.

My wife, before we met, bought hers for €299,000. Similar properties are selling now for around €170,000.

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In the last three years, after two children came along, the logical thing would have been to offload the apartments and buy a house.

Trading up: that's the way it was supposed to be, right?

Well, yes, but in Ireland 2015 it would actually be easier to book a holiday in space.

We looked at the price tags in Dublin: €400,000 for a shoebox house. More than €2,000 a month to rent. If you get lucky.

So we moved out of the capital. To Sligo. That's where we now rent a family home for €650 per month while we work out our next move.

Thankfully, the crazed pace of rental inflation in Dublin is not a factor in the north-west so, all of a sudden, we have some room to breathe, a period of calm to try and save some money and see what happens next.

We're accidental landlords, saddled with properties we don't want and at times wishing we could go back in time to unsign those mortgage forms.

Which of course is impossible.

So what we will do is sit it out for another couple of years and wait for the economic recovery to raise all boats - including the price of our two Dublin apartments. Yes, we want property prices to rise. We need them to. It's the key to our future.

Renting our apartments has been a voyage of discovery, a window into the best and absolute worst of human behaviour with some truly terrible tenants, incompetent utilities and the State pawing at our wallets for all sorts of fees, charges and taxes.

Let me take you on a tour: every time we register tenants to the Private Residential Tenancies Board, we must pay €90 for the privilege of handing over their name.

That fee doubles to €180 if the registration is submitted more than a month after they move in.

There's the annual Second Home tax of €200, annual property management company fees for our two properties of €2,600 and the Revenue - the taxman requires a return each year laying out the 'income' we 'earn' on our property, which is virtually zero.

Now we have another problem: Irish Water wants us to oversee the collection of its charges from tenants. Nightmare stuff.

Despite what callers to Joe Duffy might say about greedy landlords, that sure ain't us, buddy. The rent is almost 100pc cancelled out by all the varying fees and levies.

All we want is for the apartments to wash their own faces. That's all we hope for, while we play the role of accidental landlords caught up in the great 'Generation Rent' game.

At the beginning, we made the mistake of trying to look after the lettings ourselves and it was a disaster.

Stressful and time-consuming, many accidental landlords are unable to afford the services of people, agents, who do this professionally.

We had a guy who used to pay his rent in cash, until one day he broke off all contact. When we finally got into see the apartment, we found he had caused almost €4,500 in damage to the property.

The walls had holes in them, the carpets were destroyed, the rooms uninhabitable.

Naively, we had the wrong insurance policy so had to carry the huge financial burden ourselves, only made possible by a credit union loan.

After him came a man who had a full-time job as a bus driver. But he didn't fancy putting his hand in his own pocket, and decided to stop paying rent after the first month.

Luckily he left after three months, but not before leaving us to pick up the tab of almost €2,500 in mortgage payments.

It was crippling, yet the law sets out a series of ludicrous measures and rules that protect people like him who don't pay rent - no, who won't pay rent.

Caught in the middle are thousands of amateur, accidental landlords, who have been through the very same thing as us.

The property crash may have interrupted our plans to find a permanent family home of our own, but bizarrely - and I feel a little guilty about this - it looks like we will eventually exit the landlord game courtesy of the rise and fall - and rise - of property prices.

Located in the property hotspots of Dublin, they are on course to become valuable assets which one day may even help fund a house purchase in Sligo.

A happy ending could finally be in sight.

Irish Independent