Why are some TDs unwilling to call themselves landlords – when that’s exactly what they are
– 17 Sept 2022
WHAT IS WITH TDs and Senators being landlords?
Why are so many landlords? And why are they so unwilling to call themselves such?
I have been highlighting for a number of years the high proportion of TDs and Senators who are landlords and the problem this means for making housing policy – that policy has been overly focused on the ‘needs’ of landlords and investors in property in recent years, rather than the plight of a generation of renters.
Renters, are, as the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, said recently, just another person’s (i.e. landlord’s) income. Thankfully it is getting a focus now, and it is really really important that it is.
The latest investigative journalism by The Journal has highlighted just how many TDs could be landlords who may not be declaring rental income, or are who aren’t putting themselves down as landlords in the descriptions of the occupations held on the Dáil Register. (The TDs in the investigation had declared their ownership of the rental properties correctly.)
This raises a number of important questions that these elected representatives should answer.
Is it that they see these properties they own as just ‘investments’ rather than a source of income?
Is it that they realise that being identified as a property owner and landlord is not good politically in a housing crisis where a generation can’t get one home of their own, never mind the mind-boggling situation of multiple property ownership?
Are the TDs trying to hide it from the public? Are they trying to hide from the Residential Tenancies Board? Or do they just not give a hoot?
Or, even worse still, are they being left vacant? Are these homes part of the 35,000 vacant rental properties identified in Census 2022, Left vacant just because they can be? Because the property value their investment rises whether rented or not. Does that explain their stubborn refusal to bring in a vacant property tax?
In the investigation, The Journal found that the TDs correctly declared that they owned rental properties, but in the section that asks them to declare an occupation that earns them more than €2,600 – there was “nil” inputted.
Landlords leaving the market
There is a narrative that landlords are being vilified.
But earning income as a landlord is the inverse of working. It is, as mainstream economics describe, a position of ‘rentier’.
You make your money, not from producing anything, but from being in the privileged position of having more wealth than others, which enables you to buy property, and then rent that to others, who are less wealthy and unable to buy a property.
And their income – has to be paid to you – as rent. So their wealth and income is reduced while your wealth grows.
It is the very essence of inequality – it directly produces inequality.
For whatever reason, a disproportionate number of TDs and Senators are landlords and owners of multiple properties.
They are part of a privileged generation and social class that has benefitted hugely from the unprecedented rise in rents and from housing policy that has shifted from building social housing to getting it from the private rental sector through HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) and RAS (Rental Accommodation Scheme).
Landlords are leaving the market because it is not viable for them, supposedly.
Yet the state is paying the rent of 100,000 landlords. Putting €1 billion a year – a quarter of the entire housing Budget into the pockets of private landlords.
Landlords’ rents are being propped up by the failure of governments to build social housing.
And TDs as landlords have benefitted.
But I believe that it is more than direct self-interest that has fuelled this pro-landlord policy: it is an ideology, a culture, a belief system that it is ok to treat housing as an investment – where you can put your money and make it back off renters and social housing tenants.
It was a cultural ideology during the Celtic Tiger that saw housing as a commodity – and most of these TDs bought their properties then, as did many small-time landlords.
They often didn’t consider those who pay the rent – the tenants – as people with rights. And sometimes didn’t see this property as that person’s home.
They were just the income for their investments.
And this is the attitude that pervades the culture amongst TDs, Senators, and other landlords who don’t bother to register with the Residential Tenancies Board; who don’t bother to declare their income.
Because you don’t see tenants as deserving the (limited) protection of the RTB. If you really believed in that, you would register with the board.
We have to wonder now, how many landlords aren’t registering with the RTB? What horrendous leadership from our TDs and Ministers that essentially tells landlords, don’t worry ‘we don’t do it– so why should you?’ And the lack of enforcement of the penalties is another story.
The seriousness of this offence is actually acknowledged in legislation by the penalty for failure to register with the RTB.
“A person who does not comply with their responsibility to register their tenancy/ tenancies faces a criminal conviction and a fine of up to €4000 and/ or 6 months imprisonment, if convicted.”
Has even one landlord been convicted and imprisoned? Why has this not happened? It is because the state, from Government to the RTB, does not take the lived experience of renters and their exploitation, their stress, their anxiety, their worry, their risk and reality of homelessness seriously.
If they did, then why hasn’t a landlord been imprisoned for failing to register with the RTB?
We are having another watershed moment in my view.
It is similar to the investor fund purchase of housing in Maynooth last year.
It is a moment when the reality of how the housing system and policy is rigged against a generation has been revealed as stark ugly and downright unfair.
But, as I have said before, the public outcry shows that people are no longer accepting this. They are demanding a fundamental change in how we treat and view housing. And this needs to be driven forward by a referendum to insert the right to housing in the Constitution.
So housing can be treated and delivered as a secure affordable home.
The Budget is coming up in a few weeks. Will there be tax breaks for landlords? If there are, it will just add further to the despondency of Generation Rent, and it will do nothing to stop landlords leaving.
Many are leaving because they are selling up to benefit from crazy house prices.
There is something the Government could do straightaway that would deal with this.
Scotland has just introduced a ban on evictions and a rent freeze.
The Irish Government should immediately do the same.
Ban evictions for a three-year period and freeze rents for three years. Landlords can sell away, but their tenants will remain in place.
The budget should see real relief (on tax and rent freeze) for the ones suffering most in the cost of living crisis – renters.
There should be a new budget allocation to enable local authorities and AHBs purchase properties from landlords selling up.
And of course we need to see the real solution – a major increase in the building of social and affordable housing.
Renters are broken. More people are starting to emigrate – or thinking about it – because they see no hope.
Let the landlords go (and stop the investor fund takeover – we don’t need new corporate landlords to replace the mom-and-pop ones), we need to save Generation Rent, enable them to get a home of their own.
Rory Hearne is author of forthcoming Gaffs: Why no one can get a home and what you can do about it