Recently, I was talking to a landlord. Not a faceless corporation or a cartoon capitalist stroking a cat while giggling maniacally at the suffering of others, but a nice human being who is in this position somewhat by accident.
To explain: back in the early part of this century, she, like many other people, bought an overpriced box apartment in the belief that it was better to get in now. That’s what everyone advised her. It was unthinkable that property prices would ever go down.
She got some second-hand furniture, and for a few years was delighted with herself for making such a financially shrewd decision at such a young age; even if it was a massive stretch.
Then, as young people tend to do, she met someone and fell in love. Because of life circumstances, she moved in with him, had kids and embarked on the sort of life that involved going to Aldi and hunting for nits in her children's hair. They were terrifically happy, and still are.
But just before the nit-hunting began, the crash happened. Suddenly the overpriced box was in negative equity. If it had still been a boom scenario, she probably would have sold it and used that money to invest in a family home. Now she had no option but to rent it out. She registered with the RTB and the Revenue and set a rental rate to cover the cost of her mortgage. She’s never made a profit from it.
Obviously, this isn’t a hard-luck story. Over time, the apartment has regained its value. She could sell it now for a small profit but has opted to hang on to it as an investment.
However, being in this position has given her a gruesomely close view of what the housing crisis really means. Every few years, tenants announce that they are moving on and she advertises it for rent on a website.
For 20 minutes.
That’s all it takes to receive hundreds of enquiries; and, as she described it to me, it’s a grotesque beauty show of misery and desperation. Single parents with kids, some of them disabled or with learning difficulties. People caring for elderly parents. Divorced men trying to maintain a relationship with their children. Women fleeing abusive relationships. People with addiction issues trying to get their lives back on track. All of them begging.
Ever since she started being a landlord, she hasn't increased the rent. In current market terms, it's a mad bargain. Virtually everyone she tells about this tells her she's a fool
It’s impossible to judge; it’s impossible to decide what set of needs are more worthy than others. She told me that even though she probably shouldn’t, she reads every email. And then she can’t sleep.
But she has to have some sort of criteria, so she’s always favoured couples trying to save for a place of their own; her logic being that if they manage to do that (and several of her past tenants have) then it eases the pressure on the rental market, if only in a minuscule way.
The tenants can save because ever since she started being a landlord, she hasn’t increased the rent. In current market terms, it’s a mad bargain.
And this is the second gruesome aspect; virtually everyone she tells about this tells her she’s a fool. Like the advice she received before she bought, people now keep pointing out to her that it’s a Landlords Market, so she should jack up the price as much as possible.
If she doesn’t like all the pleading emails, then she should hire an agent, whose job it will be to view the whole business as a cold financial transaction, where a home isn’t a physical and emotional refuge; just a thing with financial worth.
Because that is how our society works, isn’t it? Everything, and everyone, has a euro value. We get paid different amounts of money based on the ‘value’ of our jobs. Our homes are valued differently based on size and location. Both are indicators of our relative success and status. And in this system, some people are close to worthless.