With the ban on evictions due to be lifted by the end of March, Joe Duffy spoke to three private landlords who are planning to exit the rental market. They talk about the representation of small landlords in the media, the relatively small returns they get on their investment and the regulations they say are driving them out of the business.
Speaking on Liveline, Mick, Geraldine and Mary all say that they have great tenants in place at the moment, but they have given notice and are planning to sell their properties as soon as regulations allow. Each of them expressed sadness at leaving the market, as well as compassion for the fate of their tenants, but they feel they have no choice. Their fears include increased costs, future legislation to restrict how they dispose of their assets and the feeling that private landlords are being blamed for the current housing crisis.
Mick says that budget after budget, the financial toll on landlords increases, which fails to take into account the people and circumstances behind the word "landlord":
"Come budget time, a landlord is looked at like cigarettes, or something like that. Fair game, as if they're an abstract concept."
Mick hasn’t raised the rent on his property in 6 years. He says that with the cost of property maintenance and rising mortgage interest rates, he has just broken even. He has already given his tenant 2 years' notice and will be selling the house as soon as he can.
Mary bought her house back in 2006, almost at the height of the boom. She says she has never looked for top rent for the sake of it, preferring to have a good relationship with a tenant who is not paying as much. Mary says that the financial returns are lower than people think. She says rental income is like doing overtime: it’s taxed on top of your existing wages and you see very little of it. Joe asks her about the cartoon villain image of a landlord – is this fair? Mary says she can see both sides, but not all landlords are terrible:
"I have a daughter in college in Dublin and she would have gone through all the pressures of trying to get a place. It’s like in every business, there are some unscrupulous people, you know, whether they are landlords or car dealers or whatever. I suppose it’s like anything, a few bad ones give a bad name to a larger cohort. I don’t think landlords are unscrupulous. Well, there’s probably a cohort of them. But I don’t think it’s the general thing."
Geraldine rents out the house that was her first ever home. She says that over the years, her tenants have been "lovely". She is very happy with the current tenant, but has given them notice that she plans to sell. She says the property is her pension plan and she wants to realise the asset before future legislation narrows her options. Geraldine also feels personally affected by the way people talk about private landlords:
"It’s my pension and I paid for it. And I just can’t get over the fact that we are suddenly public property. It reminds me of when I was pregnant, when people feel they had the right to touch your belly, to talk about what you should eat, what you should plan for your life. I chose to buy a house, I paid for it. It was hard earned."
Geraldine says that landlord is not a "four-letter word". She feels that private landlords are being vilified and people are judging them without knowing the constraints they are operating under:
"People don’t know the journey we had to becoming home owners. And yet they feel justified in saying who I can sell it to, who I can rent it to, the regulations are unbelievable, Joe."
In the past, Geraldine says she has worked with her tenants to keep them in a home, even when things got really tight financially both parties:
"I feel terrible for people. The reality is, I went through this with previous tenants during the recession, when I lost my job, they lost their job, and we worked together so that we took a huge reduction in rent, but they had a home and I had a bit of an income. That worked really well. We’re prepared to do that. They were there for 14 years. It’s not that we want people out. But now it seems like we’re not being given a choice."
All three landlords say that they have had HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) tenants in their houses at some point. She says there is a false impression created that taxpayer money going into this scheme all ends up in the landlord’s pocket. This is far from true, she says, when you take taxation and expenses into account.
Mary, Mick and Geraldine say they would have no problem giving their tenants 'first dibs’ on buying the property, with the proviso that they achieve a fair market price. Mick says he is worried that a time will come when they could be obliged to sell under more restrictive conditions:
"If they say I can only sell at a certain price, we are heading down that road with more legislation. It’s as if my property is no longer mine. The government will dictate to me what I can do with it. I want to sell before we get to that stage."
You can hear Joe’s full conversations with Mick, Mary and Geraldine on Liveline here.
The conversation with landlords continued the following day on Liveline and you can hear it here.