We can't just blame the landlords for housing crisis

Michael Pattwell had been a landlord on a few occasions, and says he wasn’t suited to it. However he asks should the public really be seeing landlords as ‘public enemy number one’.
We can't just blame the landlords for housing crisis

NUMBERS GAME: Michael Pattwell had been a landlord on a few occasions, and says he wasn’t suited to it.

A GOOD many years ago — probably coming up to 40 years now — I got the notion that I would put the money together by whatever means I could to buy a house near to where I lived. Then I would do it up, convert it into ‘flats’ (they were ‘bedsits’ really) and let them.

I was big into D.I.Y. at the time. I bought the house alright and got to work on the conversion and I had a great time. As long as the conversion work went on I was as happy as a child in a sweet shop.

Then the work was finished and it was time to advertise and find tenants. The house was well located on the Douglas Road and consequently was easy to let. I soon found out that I HATED being a landlord. For some reason it didn’t suit me at all.

In fairness to the tenants I had, they never caused any problems; I wasn’t getting phone calls to fix this or that and they paid the rent on time.

However, I disliked intensely calling around collecting rent and I felt somewhat responsible for the welfare of the tenants. In due course I disposed of the property, paid off my borrowings for it and had a small nest-egg left.

A few years later a friend had a property to sell on the western side of the city. It had a small business attached to it that was well equipped and the house was ideal for letting to students as it wasn’t too far from UCC and the Regional Hospital (now CUH). I decided to buy it.

My attitude, however, to being a landlord hadn’t changed and I hated it all over again. I decided again that it wasn’t for me but not before the tenant in the business part of the premises suddenly closed up and headed off to England whilst owing me more than £600 — which was a good bit of money in the 1970s. It was never paid.

Clearly, not only did I dislike being a landlord but I wasn’t a very good one either, as evidenced by the amount of unpaid rent I left mount up.

Many years later, my wife inherited a small house — again not far from UCC — and decided to let it. When we were discussing it, we agreed that I would be available to help in any way I could for repairs and maintenance but she was to be the landlord; she was to deal with the lettings, interact with the tenants and deal with rent collection. She agreed and it all worked out perfectly. When, unfortunately, she died, nearly six years ago now, I disposed of the property.

Being a landlord is not easy and from what I read in the newspapers and hear on the radio, landlords are now close to being regarded as ‘public enemy number one’. The headline on this newspaper one day last week ran ‘Pleas to Protect Tenants’. In the accompanying article it appeared that one lady, a tenant in a block of apartments in Cork city, felt she was in danger of losing her home because the landlord wanted vacant possession in order to do some work on the premises. She was calling on the Government to change the law so that landlords could not evict tenants. Fortunately for her, the block of apartments has been acquired now for social housing and she is no longer under threat of eviction.

Although, as I have said, I have no wish to be a landlord and I find it hard to understand why anybody should wish to be one, I have to have some sympathy for those who borrow large sums of money or use their savings in order to invest in a house or apartment for the letting market.

It would appear from what one reads and hears that the blame for homelessness lies firmly at the feet of people who happen to own property that is surplus to their own requirements and is let to tenants. That cannot be right. The responsibility for the high level of homelessness that is evident at the moment must surely rest with the Government, or indeed with a succession of governments.

When I say ‘government’ I include local authorities. They took their eye off the ball several years ago with the result that the provision of homes for the less-well-off was left to private landlords and the powers-that-be stopped building social housing.

There are now about 10,000 people homeless across Ireland. Broken down, that is about 6,500 adults and 3,500 children. The number of homeless families has increased by 83% since January, 2016, with more than one in three people in emergency accommodation being a child.

For women and their children in particular, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness. According to one report I have seen, the top causes of homelessness among families are identified as:

(1) lack of affordable housing,

(2) unemployment,

(3) poverty,

and (4) low wages, in that order.

None of those can be attributed to private investors who own property for letting. Each one, however, can be linked back to the inactivity of the government, most especially in the lack of affordable housing.

One TD has gone on record calling for better protections for people living in the private rental market as a means of easing the number of people coming into homelessness. To me that is another politician kicking the can on down the road.

The fact of the matter is that without private landlords the problem would be far worse. Yet, politicians and commentators want to remove what can only be fundamental rights from citizens who happen to be landlords.

Is a landlord not entitled to recover his property from a tenant who isn’t paying rent? Is he not entitled to recover his unpaid rent by whatever lawful means available to him? If the property that is let is being damaged or misused, is the landlord not entitled to protect his interests by whatever lawful means that are available to him.

If the rent hasn’t been paid because of genuine poverty — a downturn in the tenant’s circumstances — then it appears to me the government, through the Department of Social Protection, should step in.

The main legislation governing the rights and obligations in private rented accommodation consists of a number of Acts, namely, the Landlord and Tenant Acts 1967 to 1994, the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 and the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016.

On top of that, there is the matter of contract. Whether there is a written lease agreement or not (and there usually is), there is still a contract in existence. Perhaps tenancy agreements are being provided but being signed without being properly read or without independent legal advice being taken. To do so is very foolish and a party who fails to ensure that what is required by the contract is possible to achieve is very foolish to enter that contract in the first place.

Leases or other tenancy agreements cannot take away from one’s rights under the legislation, but landlords and tenants can agree on matters that are not dealt with in them.

The 2016 act, mentioned above, provides for several protections a tenant has. The provisions that are now in effect include:

Measures to prevent the simultaneous serving of termination notices on large numbers of residents in a single development.

Increased security of tenure for tenancies created from December 24, 2016.

Designation of Rent Pressure Zones, in which rent increases will be capped - with effect from December 24, 2016.

Simplified procedures for dispute resolution.

Extending the tenancy cycle for certain tenancies from 4 to 6 years.

Requiring a landlord to give a reason when terminating certain tenancies in the first 6 months.

On top off those new rights, tenants also enjoy the following:

Quiet and exclusive enjoyment of your home.

Certain minimum standards of accommodation.

A rent book.

The right to contact the landlord or his/her agent at any reasonable times and to have appropriate contact information.

Your landlord is only allowed to enter your home with your permission.

Entitlement to reimbursement for any repairs that are carried out by the tenant that are the landlord’s responsibility.

Tenants are entitled to have visitors to stay overnight or for short periods, unless specifically forbidden in the tenancy agreement.

A certain amount of notice of the termination of the tenancy.

A tenant is entitled to refer any disputes to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) without being penalised for doing so.

A tenant has the right to a copy of any register entry held by the RTB dealing with his/her tenancy.

All homes for rent must have a Building Energy Rating (BER), stating how energy-efficient the home is.

I don’t know what other protections can be provided without interfering with landlords’ rights.

Contact Michael at pattwellsverdict@eircom.net

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