Tanya Sweeney: It’s no cakewalk being an accidental landlord

Landlords have long been painted as having their own breed of cunning, but many tenants aren’t without sin

Photograph: Thinkstock

Photograph: Thinkstock

 

The first night I moved into my own apartment, I sat on the frayed pleather couch that came with the sale and listened as a neighbour played klezmer music at full pelt. “What have I done?” pinballed around in my head, and in the eight years since that night, the thought has followed me, as loyal and constant a companion as a dog. I’d heard of neither buyer’s remorse nor negative equity eight years ago. These days, I’m on intimate terms with both.

Now, into every life a millstone or two must fall, and I know I’m not the only person carrying around one shaped like a boom-time purchase. When I signed the paperwork and provided the obligatory firstborn, I was thrilled to be getting off the rental hamster wheel.

When it comes to landlords, I’ve come up against the good, the bad and the Del Boy down the years. I’ve done the field research and encountered dictionary-definition cute hoors: all leather patches on their elbows, glints in their eyes and a row of Bic pens in their shirt pockets.

If you’re of a certain age, you haven’t lived unless you’ve eked out a precarious and cramped existence in a three-bedroom house broken up into about 175 dwellings. My experiences as a renter run the gamut: the landlord habitually lurking in the back garden; the landlady who arrived into the house unbidden (I was doing a phone interview with a celebrity at the kitchen table in my underwear. It’s how I roll); and the agent who promised to fix the rotting wall and bare concrete floor and never bothered. Add to this the chap who, when I pointed the space where the cooker should have been during a viewing, feigned bewilderment (“Oh yes, you’re right. There should be one”).

The relationship between landlord and tenant in Ireland has long been adversarial, mired with mistrust, hostility and take-and-take. Those property listings of ridiculously overpriced bedsits go viral online with good reason. If I see another property where the Baby Belling can be effortlessly reached from the toilet bowl, I’ll weep. No one wants to cook their breakfast from the bathroom.

 

Landlord daisy chain

So you can imagine how amused I am to find myself in a neat daisy- chain with landlords every way I look. I now rent my apartment to a homeowner and rent a new apartment across town. My new landlords in turn rent their new abode from someone else. Once I started looking, I found dozens of people like me: folks who bought a modest place during the boom (not a crime, wanting to own your own home) and wanted out, but not out-out.

People want to move house for all kinds of reasons. In some cases, families have outgrown the original home. Some of us have split from the partners we bought with. Others can’t afford the mortgage alone, rising as it is at a rate of knots. Life backs you into a corner sometimes, and some of us are just doing what we can to get by. Some of us just fancy a change of scenery. Either way, they’re just like you and me. With the memories of landlord experiences of yore still fresh in the mind, we’re trying to play fair. Occasionally, we do so to our own detriment.

 

Tenants are no walk in the park

Landlords have long been painted as having their own breed of cunning, but make no mistake: tenants aren’t a walk in the park either. In my naivety, I was dumped in my first week as a landlord by a couple citing irreconcilable differences with the bathroom (read: found a better bargain, wanted the deposit back). While tenants can access free advice from Threshold, landlords must pay a sum to the Private Residential Tenancies Board for the same. Quite apart from the financial grenades coming down the line – a broken washing machine here, a leaky shower there – I found out the unpleasant way that it’s frightfully easy to break a lease.

Now, it’s very likely you’ve read the above and thought: oh, boo hoo. If you’re reading this online, you might have written as much in the comments section if you’ve sufficient time on your hands.

There’s often a barely concealed sense of Schadenfreude when one mentions you bought property during boom-time, as though we were all out to mindfully ruin the country with our unabashed greed. Maybe it has to do with our colonial past, but when it comes to the haves and have-nots, there’s a definite sense of us and them. If you bought more than one property, as an investment or nest egg, you really were asking for it. But wanting a place of our own does not make people crafty or gluttonous. Some people just want a home; a wall they can stick a painting on with impunity.

What way Ireland’s rental situation will play out in the coming months, between rent increases and calls for stabilisation, I am none the wiser. I’m doing my best to keep my own patch clean, fair and kosher. If that means hot-footing it to Kilmainham with a ladder and toolkit in hand every so often, so be it.

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