Tenuous tenancy rents homes in two

Owning your own home is as integral to the Irish Dream as drinking a pint of Guinness at a hurling match. Unlike extortionate New York, or even other parts of Europe where home ownership is unthinkable, putting down permanent roots is something most Irish kids grow up thinking they’ll achieve.

Unfortunately these dreams of the future are becoming increasingly fantastical for young people as Ireland’s housing crisis rages on. As house prices continue to rise, more people face a life of permanent renting – in a marketplace where long-term renting was never before considered a lifestyle choice. As a result, this generation of perpetual tenants is beset with a multitude of new issues that mean – although inevitable for many – renting is in no way the easy option.

This dreary outlook has not been improved by recent reports that rent prices in Dublin are now higher than they were at the peak of the Celtic Tiger. According to Daft.ie’s Q4 Rental Report 2015, rents in Dublin city have risen 46 per cent since 2010, with the average rent in the city centre a wallet-thinning €1,433. This high price is arguably symptomatic of the dearth of available property to rent as property numbers are currently at their lowest since 2006. However having spoken to both a Dublin tenant and a property expert, it appears the lack of available housing is not considered the main issue in the Irish rental sector.

Dr Lorcan Sirr is a lecturer in housing studies at DIT and a Sunday Times columnist, when speaking about issues surrounding private renting in Ireland he explained, “the problem isn’t necessarily a lack of supply – but people staying in their rentals for longer. . . The Irish rental market is immature, it’s not set up for permanent renting.”

This was a sentiment echoed by a member of the Dublin Tenants Association (DTA) – who as a tenant herself chose to remain anonymous. She explained that many tenants feel that renting is still being treated as “a residual category in Ireland, something you do as a student or young professional, but if you don’t own a house by your mid-forties you’re a failure.” The result of this attitude, it would seem, is that the issues surrounding private renting are largely ignored – with official bodies focusing more on building social housing or enabling people to buy their own homes.

These aren’t solutions because, in large part, most people will never be able to buy their own homes regardless. According to Dr Sirr, “people aren’t buying because one, they can’t afford to – especially with the Central Bank’s 20 per cent deposit requirement – and two, because people are increasingly becoming ‘precariats’. They have contract jobs for maybe six months or so – they are highly educated and well paid –  but they don’t have a steady income. So when they go to the bank to get a mortgage, they’re just told ‘no’.”

As for social housing, this is seen by many as resolving a symptom of the problem opposed to the problem itself. According to the DTA member, “many of those presenting as homeless now are coming from the private rental sector.” The problem being that it is currently easier for landlords to increase rent prices and evict people than it is for tenants to access decent and affordable accommodation. Meaning that people are being squeezed out the private rental sector and into unacceptable living situations.

In fact insecurity of tenure was cited by both interviewees as one of the major issues with Ireland’s private rental sector. Dr Sirr said, “There’s little security with regard to tenure – you can’t live there forever. If a landlord wants his property back for himself or a family member, he can just take it, and landlords are using this to push old tenants out, and bring higher paying tenants in.” Despite the previous government’s attempts to improve this situation with the introduction of various provisions – a move that the DTA member called “woefully inadequate” – it is clear these are not enough.

The inadequacy of these provisions is compounded by the recent Tyrrelstown controversy. Although the residents who have been forced to leave Cruise Park Estate were given the ‘appropriate’ notice periods for the termination of their leases, the fact of the matter is that they now have to find new homes in a marketplace where prices are high and property increasingly scarce.

Speaking to RTE, Senator Aideen Hayden – the chairman of the charity Threshold  –  said, “given the scale of the current homelessness crisis, the recklessness of ending large numbers of tenancies in this way cannot be overstated.” In light of the situation in Tyrrelstown there have been increased calls for the government to protect private tenants from vulture funds, with Mick Byrne of the DTA saying “the recent spate of mass evictions by vulture funds is not the result of a natural disaster, but a direct consequence of government policy”.

According to Dr Sirr, “property should be traded with tenants in it, like commercial property – but at the moment a building is worth more vacant.” This is why tenants in a situation like Tyrrelstown are evicted when their property developer’s debts are sold – by moving old tenants out, the new developers have scope to either sell the properties or get higher paying tenants in.

Speaking to the DTA member, she explained that despite the recent amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act, “ the government needs to stop leaning on an unregulated, out of control housing sector and start putting in provisions to ensure people are able to secure homes.”

These desired provisions include better rent controls, increased rent supplements, abolishing the 6 month ‘probation’ window that occurs at the start of rental contracts and recurs every 4 years and – in the wake of what has happened in Tyrrelstown – the removal of ‘sale of property’ as grounds for lease termination.

Private renting is here to stay, and the aim of increased provisions is to enable the Irish private rental sector to provide a “modality of affordable housing with security of tenure” – a platform upon which people can put down roots and form communities, regardless of whether they are homeowners or not.

By IONA SHEARER

(Photo: Erik Jaeger)

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