Landlords and tenants must talk (not shout)

The relationship between renter and owner is never easy. Communication is the key to making it all work, reports Larissa Nolan

There’s a house for rent on Dublin’s northside at €2,000 a month. It’s a plain-looking, four-bedroomed home in Glasnevin, but it is seen as such a hot bargain that hopeful tenants must provide the equivalent of an average car loan if they want to secure it.

Agents for the house, on Carlingford Road, want €5,000 upfront — €3,000 as a deposit, plus one month’s rent in advance. Throw a bit more onto that and you would have a deposit for a house in some counties.

Many house-seekers who saw the conditions in the ad were appalled by such a demand. On the surface, it looks like a perfect example of a greedy landlord taking advantage of the housing crisis, lambasted so colourfully last week by the minister for training and skills John Halligan.

Halligan accused “speculative landlords” of “driving people into homelessness”, adding: “I would jail the bastards.” The independent Waterford TD railed: “We have developers and speculators wrecking the f****** country upping rent, outrageously f****** upping rent. I would bring in legislation to jail them, the way they are treating people.”

Yet the agents behind the Glasnevin home, the Property Company, insist that it is only fair, on both the tenant and the landlord. Managing director Gary Wildman says it is a landlords’ market now, so they are asking for this figure and getting “a higher quality of tenant”.

He explains that many tenants do not pay the last month of rent and instead let the deposit cover it, leaving the landlord in an insecure position in the case of any damage to the property.

“We could have put this house on the market for more and asked for less of a deposit,” said Wildman. “But, this way, the tenant pays less in rent and gets the deposit back at the end of it, and they have invested more in the house.”

So instead of adding a few hundred onto the monthly rent, they want a month-and-a-half security deposit.

It shows the completely different perspectives of tenants and landlords — something that is at the root of many a debate before the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).

The Irish Property Owners Association said Halligan’s comments were “incitement to hatred” and suggested that his position as a minister be considered in the light of him making them. To which Halligan told them to “cop on”.

It’s a truism that you need a certain amount of steel to be a landlord, because it is a business after all. Yet it is equally important to be fair to the person renting your property as, once they have the keys, it is their home.

So with Ireland in the middle of the worst housing crisis in the history of the state, and with new legislation coming so thick and fast it’s hard to keep track, what’s the secret to being a good landlord — especially these days, with so many becoming accidental ones?

Wildman is so keen to foster a mutual respect between the two sides that he makes YouTube videos to advise landlords on their duties and tenants on how to best behave.

He says that the No 1 priority of landlords is to keep their tenant safe. “Safety of the person living there is paramount,” he says. “You must have the gas boiler serviced, a carbon monoxide alarm fitted and a fire blanket in the home. These things are the law.”

He says a good tenant, and not a huge rental income, is the way to ensure a maximum return on the property.

“Maximum return doesn’t mean maximum rent. The value comes in the peace of mind. You have a good tenant, they can stay in the property long term, and you can trust them.

“Prices are getting out of control and, if you go for the big money, it can backfire. People could be forced to [sublet and] bring in a secret tenant, and it is best when everything is transparent.”

He says tenants should treat the home as if it were their own. The best way to secure the property at a viewing is to come prepared with all necessary documentation, such as bank details for payments, PPS number, photographic ID and references from work and previous residences.

With new regulations, he advises landlords to hire the services of a property agent, to save them dealing with the house themselves.

Eileen Sheehy, of Sherry Fitzgerald lettings, believes that landlords have become a lot more efficient thanks to rules introduced to the market in the past year.

The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 brought in reforms, including longer notices of termination, new requirements in relation to rent reviews, and a rent freeze for two years.

The RTB website gives comprehensive details on rules on renting, and answers all questions for both landlords and tenants, such as, can we find out our rights without payng legal fees? (Yes.) And can the landlord enter the property without notice? (No.)

Focus on the market has forced those involved to up their game, according to Sheehy.

“The new legislation has put manners on everybody. It has brought a respectability to letting and property management. Now you have photos of the place before and after, and such like — proper evidence [to show any wear and tear] — and there are rarely issues with deposits.”

Property asset manager Hilary Clein, of REA O’Connor Murphy in Limerick, says it is easy to be a good landlord.

“You make sure the property is rented out in good condition and you have a full inventory of all its contents. Ensure a good lease is put in place and you are registered straight away with the RTB, which gives security for both tenant and landlord.”

Clein advises acting quickly if repairs need to be carried out, before they escalate into anything more costly. “They should be dealt with in a timely manner, where possible.”

As for tenants, she says 10pm calls because the iron is not working are not going to be popular. “Call when there is a real problem and, in the meantime, look after the property as if it were your own,” she advises.

“Be prompt with rent payments and then, if there ever is a problem, let the landlord know. In this relationship, keeping the lines of communication open is key.”

The pesky tenant ringing up for all kinds of nonsense is a top irritant for landlords, who really just want to be left alone.

One accidental landlord says: “I rented my house in Dublin 8 to a man and his wife recently, and they were lucky to get it considering the housing climate. They were ringing me every day with problems as minor as bulbs blowing in the hallway. Another one was a report of an insect infestation in the bathroom, and it turned out to be one silverfish which had appeared due to the humidity.

“Yet when there was a leak dripping down through the ceiling, they waited days before calling, and the delay caused significant further, costly damage.”

Up until the new regulations shone a light on the market, there was plenty of bullish behaviour from landlords, including anecdotal reports of massive rent hikes that were essentially evictions and fictitious tales of selling the property in order to get the old tenant out and a new one in on a much higher rate.

One first-time tenant cleaned the new house herself after the landlord rented it to her in a state and told her it was up to her to fix it.

Delays in attending to repairs in the house are a serious vexation to the long-term renter. Yet the ultimate rent-rage issue is the witholding of the deposit on leaving the property.

Stephen Large from Threshold, a housing advice service, says that the issue with landlords and tenants is that they have two contrasting needs. The tenant wants security and the sense that they have a home; while the landlord wants someone who is paying rent and not causing problems.

He says: “For some property owners, they just see the place as an ATM. Some still think it’s their own property, but you cede some of your ownership when you rent the property and this has to be respected.

“Also, this business is about people’s lives, and circumstances sometimes have to be taken into account.

“It is vital that communication is there right from the start. Make sure everything is covered and all paperwork is in place. The house should be in good condition and repair work carried out,” adds Large.

Yet that relationship between landlord and tenant will probably always be a little strained.