A short history of renting in Ireland
From 19th-century tenements to the crisis of 2015 – 200 years of landlord v tenant
Mothers chatting at the entrance to a tenement building in Dublin, circa 1945. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Tenement housing (1800 - 1900s)
Following the1801 Act of Union – when Dublin lost its status as a capital and power was transferred to London – the city fell into gradual decline. By the end of the century, about a third of the population lived in one-room tenement slums.
Landlords had little incentive to improve conditions and had the power to serve a notice to quit on tenants at any time. In rural areas, many estates were divided into a system of subdivided leases.
When the potato crop failed in the 1840s, starvation and emigration resulted in the population halving from eight to four million.
Deasy’s Act (1860)Ireland
In practice, the odds remained tilted in favour of landlords who had financial muscle and who were given the legal protection to “eject” tenants for breach of contract.
Local authority housing (1930s-1960s)
After Independence, major local authority housing schemes got under way. By 1940, some 41 percent of housing stock had been built by the State, benefiting a cross-section of the population with affordable rents.
By the 1960s this critical mass of housing provided a foundation for the promotion by the State of a market in housing, with supports for mortgage lending, but with minimal regulatory systems.
Between the 1940s and the 1970s, the size of the private rental sector shrank from about 25 per cent of all homes to just over 10 per cent.
Rent Restrictions Act (1960)
After the first World War, temporary rent controls were introduced to limit rent increases caused by a major shortage in housing. They were intended to last for six months until after the end of the war. A series of temporary acts kept the limits in place until 1960, when the Rent Restrictions Act lifted controls on the vast majority of rented homes.
As a result, most who rented after the 1960s were not protected.
The remaining tenants most likely to benefit from rent control were older and poorer renters. While they had low rents, landlords had little incentive to upgrade rent-controlled properties.
Rent control ‘unconstitutional’ (1981-82)
Following a legal challenge by a number of landlords, the Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that rent control was unconstitutional.
Subsequent legislation drafted to protect tenants was also found by the Supreme Court a year later to violate the Constitution and was described as an “unjust attack on the property rights of landlords”.
Economic boom and tenants’ rights (2004)
The boom years of the 1990s and 2000s led to escalating house prices, a surge in construction and increases in rent for private accommodation. Tenants’ rights were still seen to be relatively weak. The Residential Tenancies Act (2004) sought to modernise and professionalise the sector, introducing longer security of tenure and a dispute resolution mechanism as an alternative to court.