Tenants feel high level of insecurity in rented properties, study shows

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Caroline O'Doherty

The pandemic eviction ban has made no difference to 80pc of renters, who feel it has not boosted their security.

A joint study by University College Dublin and Maynooth University found renters got little comfort from the safeguard because of its temporary nature.

They also did not trust landlords to comply with it, and said tensions would become so bad if a landlord wanted them out that it would be impossible to stay anyway.

The ban, introduced in April last year and extended four times since, has been presented as a key plank of the Government’s response to the difficulties many renters found themselves in because of Covid.

Dr Michael Byrne, of the UCD School of Social Policy, told a conference on the private rental sector that only 20pc of those surveyed felt the ban improved their sense of security.

Overall, feelings of insecurity were high. A quarter of tenants said they did not feel their accommodation was home, 40pc did not feel secure and 20pc had a bad relationship with their landlord.

Housing charity Threshold also presented a survey to the conference, which mirrored those findings, with only 47pc of renters saying they felt secure in their tenancy.

Threshold’s tenant sentiment survey found only a quarter of renters did so by choice, with the vast majority wishing they could buy.

Even among the youngest age group, the 18 to 24-year-olds, fewer than half said they were renting by choice.

The conference, hosted by Threshold and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), was told of the many difficulties facing renters at a time when the private rental sector was rapidly growing.

The sector has tripled in size in the past 20 years, and one in five of all households now lives in privately-rented accommodation.

ESRI chief executive Alan Barrett said the trend toward lower home ownership would cause problems when people retired as it was assumed they had paid off a mortgage, had no rent to pay and had a property they could downsize to, to release extra finances.

“That sort of rental model is fraying somewhat,” he added.

Mr Barrett said the climate action plan, which required hundreds of thousands of retrofits, was also based on the assumption of ownership.

Pat Farrell, chief executive of Irish Institutional Property, which represents major property investors, said challenges would increase with the overnight announcement of new rent controls.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is to legislate to remove the 4pc cap on rent hikes in designated rent pressure zones, replacing it with a limit aligned with inflation.

Mr Farrell said that with inflation currently running at 0.73pc, he did not know how a business case could be made to investors to pay for retrofits or invest in improving their properties.

Professor Christine Whitehead of the London School of Economics said experience showed rent controls did not always work because tenants could be reluctant to insist they be applied.

She also said the new rental properties being built in Ireland did not meet the needs of much of the renting public.

The financialisation of the rental market meant high-end, high-rent properties were being built to provide high returns to investors.

“It’s not something that is a significant help to the ordinary tenant,” Prof Whitehead said.

Mr Farrell said institutional investors had an important role in providing housing, but all sides would be better served by stability in the market. While he recognised the need to make changes in the current crisis, overnight announcements such as the change to rent pressure zones did not help.

“What is needed more than anything else is policy stability,” he said. “There seems to be a continuous drip-feed of policy initiatives.”

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