Monday 30 June 2014


I turn on the radio...

“This is a story that needs to be told. People aren’t talking about this and they should be. It’s a national scandal that everyone knows about and nobody wants to talk about which could bring us all down together. So why is nobody talking about it?”

One of the more fascinating and less amusing things about living in Ireland is that upon hearing her broadcast those words, my mind floods with a torrent of possibilities to which she might be referring.

Is it GSOC? Patients on trolleys? Gerry Adams and Jean McConville? Young male suicide? The Bank Enquiry? The Tuam Babies? The discretional Medical Cards fiasco? The Justice Department Spokesperson? Church Sex Abuse (‘clerical abuse’ sounds like a number in the wrong column: these were crimes worthy of stronger description)? Phone tapping by an Garda Siochana? Quinn? Lowry? Patients on trolleys? Shatter?

I’m nowhere near running out of Irish scandals when the radio show host reveals the topic.

“So if you’ve any queries on mortgage arrears give us a call now.”

Mortgage arrears? He cannot be serious.

Yes of course it’s a national scandal, something which could bring us all down together. The situation is catastrophic, but we hear about it all the time, so what’s all this “nobody talking about it” stuff?

Don’t get me wrong, I feel for you. If your house is now worth less than you paid for it and you’re six months behind in the payments, life must be a pretty scary place. All swept up in the excitement of Ireland’s first flush of independent wealth, you bought a house during the Tiger years and then discovered the wealth wasn’t independent: it was European and American, reliant on a world situation.

Now you’ve got negative equity and I can think of little worse. So if I’m the caring compassionate human I aspire to be, why do I feel more angry than sympathetic?
Maybe it’s because I didn't buy a house back then, because I wasn’t sure I could afford it. In 2007 I was earning about three times as much as I do today, but I’d seen the same shallow explosive boom years before, in Thatcher’s Britain, where everyone's eyes glazed over with power and glory, just as they did here in Ireland.

So I stayed a renter and am still one to this day. Of course I’d love nothing better than to feel the master of my own home. Six years off sixty, I’d love to feel safe and secure in my house, knowing that I’ll never have to move again. I want to see the apple saplings I’ve planted grow to maturity, but life as a tenant can be volatile.

While the government is supporting the plight of mortgage holders, by encouraging their banks and building societies to award support, time and patience to their customers in financial difficulty, there is no such laxity in the world of the tenant.

If a tenant falls behind on the rent, they’re out, end of story.

With the housing market only starting to revive in Dublin, there’s a massive shortage of rental accommodation around Ireland right now, at the same time that many tenants are finding they no longer qualify for Rent Allowance.

Landlords are facing new household charges and property taxes that might make rent rises look very attractive. Homelessness is going through the roof, as those caught in various poverty traps end up on the streets.

We hear a lot about mortgage arrears and only very little about homelessness, but I cannot remember ever hearing a discussion about tenants. We find a rent we can realistically afford to pay and then just plug away, paying our rent every month, never entertaining the slightest notion of somehow getting away with falling behind in our payments. If we did, there’d be no support from the government, no recourse, no chance of hanging on to our home.

So here’s a great big cheer for tenants.

To be fair, I’ve been fantastically lucky with the Landlords I’ve had since moving to this country. In the finding of my last two homes an estate agent acted as intermediary, but before that, living in six different homes, I’d only ever paid one security deposit.

After years of standing in queues with other prospective tenants outside San Francisco apartments, all of us clutching our Credit Checks to prove we were financially sound, it felt fantastically civilised upon my return to sit and drink tea with my new Irish Landlady, who explained that no, there was no need for any deposit.

She hoped I’d like the place.
I did.

Two years later, in Co. Mayo, I drank tea with a farmer and his wife and shook hands again. Three years after that I had a chat with my new landlord in Salthill. He, like the previous two, was old school: if a man appeared to be sound, that was good enough for him.

I remember the day he came to tell me he was going to sell the place. He lived in the big house to which my one bedroom housheen was attached.

“Sorry, Charlie. I know this is your home and I’d offer you first refusal on it, of course I  would. Trouble is, you’d have to buy both homes and I somehow suspect you don't have a spare €460,000!”

A part of me loved him for that. Even though he was both a home owner and a landlord, he was completely aware that my home meant as much to me as his own did to him. To him the fact that he owned his home and I did not was immaterial.

If that little one bedroom in Salthill had been detached from his half million euro house, he’d have offered me first refusal and I’d have begged and borrowed to buy it.

I’d own my home at last and if I ever found myself in mortgage arrears, I might find a sympathetic ear and an extended payments plan.

©Charlie Adley

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