Una Mullally: Time for renters to make themselves heard

Renters’ stories on Twitter make sobering reading but they need to speak with one voice

‘The Dublin Tenants’ Association began an online campaign to highlight the difficulties renters face.’ Above, one of the images posted on Twitter.

‘The Dublin Tenants’ Association began an online campaign to highlight the difficulties renters face.’ Above, one of the images posted on Twitter.

 

The tweets posted in the past week under the hashtag #RentRipoff, which document stories of renting in Dublin, make for sobering reading. The Dublin Tenants’ Association began an online campaign to highlight the difficulties renters face. “I spend 40% of my income on rent. It buys me one single room with no natural light and a landlord who thinks he can come in any time he wants,” one said. “Not given control of electricity meter so went days without any electricity, hot water, heating cos [sic] landlord was away,” another tweeted. “Rent €700 (studio). Landlord wanted €900. Poor conditions. More than half of my wages went on it. Went hungry in order to pay rent,” was another, and the stories kept coming.

“Renting 3 bed in Dublin. Paying 73% of my income on rent! . . . This is an old and draughty house, central heating is expensive so I often leave it off. I am a lone parent of a 3-year-old boy. I am not in receipt of rent allowance since I am in full-time education. I cannot sustain these costs. I fear I and my son face homelessness when this house is sold in the coming months.”

“2 bed in D2, landlord asked for €500, agreed to €200 . . . now paying €2,600 [a month].” “Landlord hurled abuse when negotiating new rent increase. Broken shower, broken cooker, 3 people sharing 2 bedroom house. Freezing cold.” “Evicted from my home of 2 years so that the landlord’s teenage son could move in.” “45% of our income goes for rent and it may be 65% next year. I’m afraid we’ll be homeless.”

Rocketing rent

In an excellent post on the Dublin Tenants’ Association blog, they wrote, “The problems in the PRS [private rented sector] stem in part from structural and systemic problems in the Irish housing system. These include issues around supply, the difficulties in the banking sector and so on. However, they also stem from the fact that tenants in the private rented sector have been treated as second-class citizens and denied the basic rights to security of tenure enjoyed by social housing tenants and home owners. The recent sharp increase in the numbers of people seeking rental accommodation has starkly exposed these shortcomings.” They’re certainly right about how those shortcomings have been exposed. The minute pressure is put on Ireland’s rental sector, the thing starts to fall apart.

The two-year rent freeze of sorts, which prevented landlords from raising rents within 24 months of a new lease being signed, simply allowed landlords an opportunity to put up rent before that kicked in. Isn’t it funny how tenants are afforded “protection” only when there’s an opportunity to profit from it?

The only people I know who can buy houses do so with financial help from their parents. Owning a property for my generation is an upper middle-class luxury. Some people were able to get their lot together in that small window of opportunity after the financial collapse of the country. But that period of vaguely affordable housing was short-lived.

Renting is still seen as a transitionary or short-term activity by our Government. The ideal peddled is still to “settle down” once you’re done with your crazy freewheeling renting days, and buy a “family home” or even better, build one of your own. The private rental sector in Ireland has always been viewed as something to get out of, making Ireland a global anomaly. But renting is practical, convenient, and necessary for lots of people. What’s not convenient is how one-sided it is.

Protection

Renters and communities with lots of renters in them need to organise. Threshold exists but, in the midst of a rental and housing crisis, does not seem to possess the resources or advocacy power to make a lot of noise. Renters, unlike landlords, builders, developers, mortgage brokers, bankers and even homeowners, have little lobbying power. Hundreds of thousands of people rent in this country – so how much stronger would their voices be if they got together and shouted in unison?

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