AS I SEE IT
There are certain nouns that can be used as accusations, like thief, liar or cheat, that tow negative judgements in their wake for good reason. Moral codes are involved and have been broken. Landlord has been among those words in Ireland for emotive historical reasons. But there is no reason for the dark sentiment surrounding them today.
We need landlords and we need a new word for them. These days they are neither lords nor are they landed, with the majority of those who own property and rent it out being people just like the rest of us, and they rent out for a variety of reasons. Among them are people who want a retirement nest egg, a gaff for when their children become students, because they have inherited a place or those who were encouraged into the market by tax breaks given for build-to-rent schemes in the past. The majority are private smalltimers.
And they are not to blame for of the housing crisis.
Demonising landlords — okay, let’s call them providers, hosts or letters; anything but landlords — and driving them out of the market only exacerbates the situation where there is a critical shortage of property to rent. At a time when Ireland is falling into line with the rest of Europe, where 30% rent rather than own homes and where the population has grown by 8% between the 2022 census and the previous one in 2016, we need more, not fewer, homes to rent.
With the lifting of the eviction ban and as providers will begin to follow through on stalled plans to sell up from the start of April, the cry has gone up from the Opposition about renters who will lose the roof over their heads and will have “nowhere to go”.
But how can they find somewhere else to rent when providers have been driven out of the market by Government policy, opprobrium and — let’s mention the elephant in the room — the fear that worse is to come if there is a change of Government?
The policy on the rental market doesn’t make sense and isn’t working.
There are options out there for renters, including first option to buy, the tenant-in-situ scheme and certainly these should have been properly prepared over the winter months before lifting the ban. Yet, providers are being castigated for the fate of tenants as they flee a dysfunctional market which is just one symptom of the housing crisis. No chance their critics might come up with some constructive suggestions about ways to mend the housing situation.
Instead, they are using the issue as a political football and implying that they have the solution. This is both opportunistic and unhelpful. Simply throwing money at the problem won’t resolve it — it’s more complicated than that. And it’s no use expecting the thousands of Airbnb hosts, who haven’t registered and should have done, to fall into line and if the are refused short term lets and become landlords/providers, they won’t want to put their necks in that noose.
Homes are too expensive with an ever-widening gap between earnings and prices. A decade ago homes were still affordable. Back in 2013 house prices were four times the median (mid-point) income. By 2020 they were seven times that and the climb continues.
We don’t have enough homes despite Government attempts to catch up after the big pause in home building following the financial crash and then Covid.
Granted there is progress. Since the launch of Housing for All, 41,456 new homes have been built, while first-time buyer numbers are at their highest since 2007. There is funding through the Affordable Housing Fund and the Cost Rental Equity Loan.
But going forward some common sense housekeeping might help ease the housing crisis. How about building less expensive starter homes, state funded, to allow folk to get started on the housing ladder? The cost of building materials has rocketed, so why not use different materials and building methods instead like the timber frame system and low rise high density developments? Why not lower the 10% deposit rate for first-time buyers (with the rents they are paying its obvious they can afford a mortgage) or unblock the log jams in the planning process?
The Opposition tactics of demanding an extension of the eviction ban and blaming landlords is like that definition of madness … doing the same thing and expecting a different result.