To say the rental crisis shows no signs of abating would be an understatement. The latest figures, released by the Rental Tenancies Board (RTB) to Sinn Féin spokesman Eoin Ó Broin, show that the number of termination notices served on tenants rose to 2,913 in the first half of this year, 58 per cent up on the previous six months. To an extent this is a bounceback after restrictions on evictions during Covid-19, but the context is troubling.
The problem is the chronic lack of supply in the market, which means that those being evicted join long queues of others seeking a place to rent. Finding a property at an affordable price has been a challenge for some years, but now it can be impossible to find one at all. In turn this adds to a host of other social and economic problems from homelessness to a student accommodation crisis to the wider impact on incomes and lives of a deeply dysfunctional market.
The problem, in policy terms, is that there is a whole knot of interlinking problems here, many of which go back to a chronic undersupply of building over many years and a general neglect of rental policy in a society which has been based on home ownership. Among the latest trends, evident for some time now, is an exit of private landlords from the rental market. This is driven in part by attractive sale prices on the market.
This exit of private landlords in intensifying a longer-term problem: investment funds developing and buying apartments may serve the upper end of the market, but there is a widening gap at the middle and lower end as more and more private landlords pull out. Previous RTB analysis has shown a dearth of development and growth among the private landlord sector, which is typically ageing and, in many cases, selling up.
That this should happen at a time when rents are at a record high, offering a strong return on investment which can be hard to find elsewhere, suggests that the problem is wider than just a desire to cash in on high house prices. Private landlords complain about their tax treatment and the burden of regulation. There should be policy moves available here which would help, without weakening necessary protection for tenants.
On a wider level, the development of cost rental tenancies is a clear way forward, offering opportunities for those in the middle ground who do not qualify for social housing, but cannot afford prices in the private market. Plans to deliver more social housing remain vital. A key issue is speed of delivery, with proposals for development still delayed by seemingly-endless appeals. Plans for planning reform must be a priority.
And there is one other issue. To what extent, as a society, are we committed to the rental model as a longer-term option? As more and more people go this route – through choice or necessity – the implications for policy are truly far-reaching.