Miriam Lord: It’s not eviction – it’s just psyching people out of their homes
Dáil Sketch: Tenants told ‘notice to quit’ is not the same as eviction – they’ll sleep easy, so
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett with Halima Usman and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith at a protest outside the offices of vulture fund Val Issuer Dac on Molesworth Street, Dublin. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins
For a while on Wednesday, continuing discussion about the dire circumstances of protesting beef farmers gave way to brief consideration of the suffering caused by vulture farmers.
These are the faceless investment companies dedicated to herding tenants from their homes so they can turn a handsome profit from the valuable real estate they leave behind.
“Ruthless, inhuman vulture funds,” as Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit described them during Leaders’ Questions.
He drew the Taoiseach’s attention to the public gallery, packed with people representing tenants from property blocks in three different parts of Dublin. They face eviction by commercial entities which “have absolutely no concern for the welfare of those tenants but seek to evict them in order to drive up the value of the property assets they have purchased”.
Leo Varadkar might have preferred not to look up and catch the gaze of any of the human liabilities who have to be managed from their homes before the all-important managing of the assets can begin.
But they were definitely looking down at him. With a fierce intensity.
Boyd Barrett, working the gallery as he upped the decibels and gesticulated angrily at Varadkar, said these vulture funds are exploiting loopholes in residential tenancies legislation to attempt and, in many cases, achieve evictions. The law is there for landlords who want to sell or substantially do up their properties.
But was it really intended to help major domestic and international investment companies sink their greedy claws into communities?
The TD for Dún Laoghaire pointed the Taoiseach in the direction of the group from his own constituency, good, paying tenants who are now resisting a fourth attempt in two years, involving two different firms, to move them out.
But you wouldn’t be up to the guile of these heartless vultures and their determination to have their way and take their profits.
It seems these human liabilities are now being turfed out by the asset managers in instalments.
This is their way of getting around the “Tyrellstown amendment” which was passed two years ago to stop mass evictions after residents of a scheme in west Dublin were simultaneously served with termination notices by a landlord who wanted to sell the entire development with vacant possession.
The law restricts evictions if more than 10 tenants are involved.
“So what do these vulture funds do?” Boyd Barrett wondered aloud. “They evict eight of the 11 tenants and then, in nine months’ time, they can evict the other three.”
Slowly, the vulture farmers cultivating the asset whittle down numbers “through insecurity, fear and anxiety”.
In the Dún Laoghaire complex, 10 of the 21 tenants have already thrown in the towel. People from the other apartments and terraces mentioned in the Dáil are in the same boat.
When real people with real problems visit the chamber it’s always a little awkward for Government TDs because they have to share their safe space with people who are genuinely angry or distressed and at their wits’ end and looking to them for help.
They usually can’t.
Wednesday’s intake went outside the gates later and held a protest on Kildare Street, but, in such a situation, TDs can always stay indoors or put their heads down and scuttle briskly past.
They don’t want to be landlords, they don’t care about the tenants, they don’t care about the kids; they just want to drive up the value of the asset
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, seated next to the Taoiseach, hastily wrote a few notes on a piece of paper and slid it in front of his boss.
Boyd Barrett had bearded him earlier about the situation during ministerial questions. He asked him what he intended to do to stop “these ruthless, inhuman vulture funds – because that is what they are”.
These funds exist to make profits. “They don’t want to be landlords, they don’t care about the tenants, they don’t care about the kids; they just want to drive up the value of the asset.”
Now he was putting the same question to the Taoiseach.
He jabbed a finger at Leo.
“What are you going to do about it?”
He said the Dáil passed People Before Profit’s anti-evictions Bill but the Government had done nothing about it. He thundered about former finance minister Michael Noonan “inviting” in the vulture funds in 2013 and holding a series of meetings with them.
“You have protected these vultures and given them tax breaks,” the TD roared, to approving nods in the gallery above.
“What, Taoiseach, are you going to do?”
Leo rose and began his reply by politely correcting the still-simmering Boyd-Barrett’s use of language.
“I think you may be conflating evictions with notices to quit and, of course, they are not the same thing and it is wrong to conflate the two.”
The people in the gallery, used to eviction notices landing on their mats, didn’t appear too cheered by this factual nugget
The deputy for Dún Laoghaire glowered.
“I said ‘attempted evictions’.”
In contrast to Richard’s passion, Leo spoke quietly and kept his tone level.
Eviction rates in Ireland are very low, he pointed out.
The people in the gallery, used to eviction notices landing on their mats, didn’t appear too cheered by this factual nugget.
The Taoiseach then outlined, in some length, the aspects of housing policy introduced by his Government to “strengthen and enhance the rights of tenants”.
He mentioned rent controls, longer notice-to-quit periods and the requirement for landlords to offer the property to the tenant first after refurbishments have taken place. There is also an important role for the Residential Tenancies Board, which he understands is involved in a number of cases related to the situations raised in the chamber.
But he steered clear of the loopholes.
The reason, countered Boyd Barrett, for “the failure of all the stuff you’ve cited to address the threat of vulture funds trying to evict people”, is there for all to see in the Dún Laoghaire case: two different funds, one flipping to the other, and four attempts to get people out.
“It has an attrition affect when they keep doing this . . . and they have succeeded.” Tenants have already bailed, leaving 10 units vacant.
“Sitting there. Sitting there!”
The council should slap a compulsory purchase order on the property.
Close the loopholes
And the Government should close the loopholes that continually allow vulture funds to throw out tenants.
More approving nods and smiles in the public gallery.
The Taoiseach reiterated the success of the rent caps before getting a little superior again with Boyd Barrett.
“You mentioned landlords attempting to evict tenants . . . By attempting to evict I assume they were unsuccessful and that would indicate the law was on the side of the tenants and was therefore successful.”
That went down like a lead balloon with the crowd in the visitor’s gallery.
Boyd Barrett reminded Varadkar that 10 tenants had left their homes.
But, as the Taoiseach earlier reminded the socialist politician and the people he brought to Leinster House, leaving in the face of notices to quit and neighbours moving out cannot be classed as an eviction.
This will have come as a comfort to the stressed tenants. Because when it comes to peace of mind, they now know there is a big difference between evicting somebody and psyching them out of the place.
No point in needlessly conflating, so might as well go home and stop worrying.
Thanks to the Taoiseach, their trip to the Dáil wasn’t entirely in vain.