The Expat’s Guide to Housing: Irish Landlords, Renting & Foreign Property Ownership

One of the first things that expats have to adjust to in their new home is the local outlook towards renting and property ownership.

In the U.S. if you don’t own, or aspire to own at some point, you are seen as “less than”. In Ireland, a country where many locals mistakenly claim that the Irish were not “allowed” legally to own property for long stretches of time when they were occupied by Britain (and the church), they claim to be gung ho about property ownership because it was denied them for so long. Bushwa.

In Ireland, property ownership is largely a status symbol. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty good and decent landowners and landlords (my good neighbor Des, for one) but the number of abysmal ones is far greater. The frequency with which Irish landlords look on their rental properties as an ATM rather than a long-term investment is appalling. They seem to think, “If I charge €1500 in rent, I can spend €1500 on a good time”.

And one need look no further than the recent plague of grossly overpriced unlivable squats that passes for the current rental market in Dublin to see that the Irish “landed classes” have lost all touch with the realistic “value” of their property, and seem (like the Irish Water Company) to have simply settled on a target price point in their head, and are determined to get that price regardless of those pesky bothersome details like hygiene, livable conditions, and actual usage.

And Ireland’s real estate sales market is no better. Recently word came down from on high that the Irish housing market has increased by 14% nationwide, and by 25% in Dublin. Great cries of joy were heard. But, I ask you, “increased” based on what? Have the owners done thing one to improve their property by even 1.4% or 2.5%? No. It’s all perceived value. It’s smoke and mirrors – a pipe dream.

And the Irish government keeps a calling for multi-thousand unit increases in building inventory. A July article in The Independent claims that housing demand calls for 10,000 new housing units per year in Dublin alone. Assuming that at least two people will live in each of those units, are there really 20,000 extra people moving to Dublin each year, over and above the thousands of properties NAMA (National Asset Management Agency – an Irish governmental body tasked with buying up abandoned, and financially plagued property – effectively nationalizing real estate defaults) already owns? I seriously doubt it. Does the Irish government merely want to prop up the construction industry in the hopes of kick starting another bubble? Bubbles always look good in the short term (coincidentally for just about the time between election cycles). Hmmm.

All of this begs the question, did Ireland learn nothing from its last boom/bust cycle, or are the Irish so desperate to own land, and be part of the wealthy landed classes, that Ireland will once again assume the binge/purge mannerisms of an alcoholic state, and fall prey to its bankers, again?

Fortunately, the Irish state is now making noises about instituting mortgage/lending restrictions in the new year (2015). That may help. And, at least Taoiseach Enda Kenny (the Irish version of a prime minister) and his pals are acting the responsible parent. But is it too little too late? And does it send mixed signals when coupled with official calls for massive property building?

From the people’s perspective, clearly more is simply better. The planned lending restrictions are expected drive a lemming-like parade of last minute outsized mortgage requests. Have the Irish people already gotten a taste for blood (uh, money, land, and the finer things)? Will they do whatever it takes to outflank realistic loan to income ratios, welcoming a return to 2008 as long as they are part of the landed/wealthy classes?

It’s frustrating to watch this happen again, just a few years after the first bust, but it’s very instructive, and should be a warning for all expats. Don’t just look at rental pricing. Take a hard look at your new home’s relationship to property overall. A historic overview of their relationship to land (as a dalliance or an investment) will give you some idea of whether you can expect your landlord to return your calls and fix things in a timely manner, or simply collect the rent.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

– The leading edge

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
This entry was posted in Dublin Life, Emigrant/Immigrant Life, International Moving, Irish Economy, Irish History, Irish Life & Society and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Expat’s Guide to Housing: Irish Landlords, Renting & Foreign Property Ownership

  1. Colm says:

    ” Many locals mistakenly claim that the Irish were not “allowed” legally to own property for long stretches of time when they were occupied by Britain”

    Hello Glenn.
    You might like to read up on “The penal laws” which were in force in this country for a considerable period of time before dismissing the views of the “locals” so curtly.
    “A “Papist” ( Irish Catholic ) could not be guardian to any child, nor hold land, nor possess arms. He could not hold a commission in the army or navy, or be a private soldier. No Catholic could hold any office of honour or emolument in the state, or be a member of any corporation, or vote for members of the Commons, or, if he were a peer, sit or vote in the Lords. ”

    sincerely
    Colm O’Connor.

    • Hi Colm,

      Thans for reading the blog, and especially for taking the time to comment.

      Your points are well made. But, actually what I was referring to is that we now know that regardless of those laws, if you were Irish and had enough money, none of those laws mattered. You could do whatever you wanted. So it’s not that the “Irish” weren’t allowed to own land. The poor Irish were not allowed to own land. Which, admittedly, explains much of the current Irish impulse to own land at any cost.

      Thanks again.

      GK

  2. Thomas says:

    To help give a sense of perspective 90% of the population weren’t allowed to own land/property. Interestingly home ownership today in Ireland is at 82% America 68%.

  3. Thomas says:

    These two websites I came across give a percentage of 95% in the year 1776. inhttp://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlker/penallaws.html
    http://www.irishidentity.com/stories/penal.htm

    Daniel O’Connell(think O’Connell Street Dublin 1) known as the ‘The Liberator’ achieved Catholic Emancipation in 1829 becoming the first Catholic since the reformation to sit in the House of Parliament in London. Interestingly it was the Duke of Wellington(think Battle of Waterloo, Waterloo Street Dublin 4) the Prime Minister of the UK and a Dubliner(Protestant of course) who threatened to resign if The King refused to sign the bill into law. Both the Penal laws and Catholic Emancipation periods of Irish history are worthy of a little study if your interested in understanding more about Ireland.

    Home ownership rates:
    This website gives a rate of 81.9% for Ireland 69% for America.
    http://www.nahb.org/generic.aspx?sectionID=734&genericContentID=57411&channelID=311

    • Thomas,

      Thanks for providing sources.

      GK

    • Scott says:

      The Central Statistics Office puts the Irish home ownership rate at 69.7%. That report you cited is from May, 2006, which should tell you all you need to know about the validity of your stats.

      • Thomas says:

        Scott your right I checked The Central Statistics Office stats 69.7% is the most up to date number for Ireland. The Census Bureau in America as of July 2014 gives a home ownership rate of 64.7%. Both have fallen several percentages over last number of years.

  4. Thomas says:

    The Panel laws also discriminated against Ulster Presbyterians(not to the same extent) in the North of Ireland. It was an attempt by the Episcopal English Church and it’s offshoot here i.e Church Of Ireland to convert Catholics and Presbyterians to the Episcopalian Church. The 1700’s emigration of Ulster Scots what you call Scotch Irish to America is directly attributed to this discrimination.

  5. Thomas says:

    All those nice Georgian Houses in Dublin 2 an 1 were exclusively owned and occupied by Anglo Irish Church of Ireland Ascendancy folks. The Catholic’s worked as servant’s lived in house or in a tenement across town. It was only mid to late 1800’s Victorian Dublin post Catholic Emancipation that a Catholic house owning middle class stated to emerge. My family tree has all it mostly Gaelic Catholic Irish, also Anglo Irish Protestant originally English 1650’s, Norman 1160’s and Scandinavian Viking 800’s.

  6. Thomas says:

    Those tenements I talked about existed as late as the 50’s and 60’s till the city planers moved them out to new working class housed suburbs like Tallaght, Crumlin, Artane, Ballymun etc. Interestingly they say that the Dublin accent especially the working class one from the inner city is based on the old Norse Dublin one. When the Old French speaking Normans arrived in Dublin in 1169 with their Welsh, English and Flemish foot soldiers they expelled the Norse Viking population outside the city walls to Oxmantown present day North Dublin. Gaelic would have been spoken within the city wall also. Ironically the Normans were originally Viking who settled in North West France present day Normandy, Norman as in men of the North, having been granted lands by the King of France. The Norman Viking were probably of mixed up with local French stock too i.e. Frankish and Gallo (French Celtic) – Roman. They invaded England in 1066 and came into Ireland in 1169. It took about two to three centuries for Old French Norman and Old English to merge into early modern English i.e Shakespearean English. So in a real sense Gaelic was never the administrative language of Dublin, most of Ireland it was, it co en-sided with Old Norse, Old French Norman, Old English, early modern English, modern English mixed up with Hibernian English or Irish English if you like.

  7. Jeremy says:

    A few comments today from foreign purchasers in the Times, http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/armed-with-cash-and-we-can-t-get-rid-of-it-home-truths-for-house-sellers-1.2014605

    Any one else having these estate agent difficulties? We can certainly empathise with them.

    • Rosie says:

      Absolutely agree with you and the article.I have been looking for a house for over three years,and will finally be a home owner next month but the process has left me with high blood pressure and a desire never to purchase anymore property in this country.The housing stock is a joke quality wise with homeowners here doing little to maintain their properties even at a superficial level.At least I will be spending money on my own house and not lining the pockets of the chronically lazy landlords here.Don’t get me started on the agents here! I have had to deal behaviour so unethical and I would like to make a formal complaint about an agent but my solicitor says nothing can be done.Typical Irish apathy! I asked about one property during my search and was told that the advertised entrance area had changed overnight because the vendor just decided so! Oh,and he couldn’t tell me if the actual details on title for the only car space were in existence.Suffice it to say the property is still for sale.I can not get over the stupidity of people here sometimes.They think foreigners are as dim as they are.It does nothing for my estimation of Ireland in general but as an australian married to an Irishman I will grit my teeth a little longer and plan to retire elsewhere!!

  8. Depressed says:

    Rental is a joke. To be honest, I am not as concerned with the Landlords because considering how even a verbal agreement can be in lieu of a written one, if the landlords are shady, it means you too, as a tenant, have many ways to be *just* as shady if they wish to get funny.

    However, the housing quality is terrible, even if you pay prices relatively higher than expected for a particular location/housing type.

    Where I am 600-850 will get you a crappy apartment with carpets that haven’t been cleaned in years (which are disguising broken and rotting wood underneath, insulation leaks all over and walls that are 80% dividers/false walls because the entire building has just been divvied up to milk the cow till she’s dead (not to mention the two tap thing which very few locals actually know the history of and cannot understand why a mixer is better). Very, very stressful to know you are going to be paying for extra heating due to air leaks and god forbid you should exercise indoors with the filthy carpeting. As an American you might be used to carpeting, but if you consider how mould is already a problem here with the high humidity, carpets seem like something that should never have taken off here.

    I thought it would be cheaper to live here, but when I factor in the lack of quality, the fact that I have to invest proper carpet cleaning services because of the insensible carpets everywhere, it all adds up and the only thing this city has going for it really are the Big Companies providing jobs.

    However, this means there is a constant supply of tenants and their greed will not be choked by lack of demand.

    Worst of all, they use rent allowances as a method of ‘filtering’ and choosing their ‘ideal’ tenants. As if they themselves are so angelic.

    • Dear depressed,

      I couldn’t agree with you more about the lack of quality housing stock, I think Dublin has a lot going for it culturally. Granted there are manyt factors that make it quite expensive, not least among them is the unwarranted cost of real estate.

      Thanks for reading the blog, and for taking the time to contribute such a constructive comment.

      Please keep reading and commenting.

      Best,
      Glenn

  9. Edwin says:

    Yes the standard of housing is terrible. Be careful though Glen with your leaps of logic. The housing market here is more complex than you make out here. Simply stating that high rents = greedy landlords is far too simplistic to explain the realities. Unfortunately, the renters market here is abysmal for a myriad of reasons. While, I’m enjoying your take on things here, I’m starting to see that you don’t see the whole picture. I hope you are open to. Below are some of my responses to your blog above, perhaps you have changed your opinion since as things have changed.

    1. Most landlords are accidental in Ireland. Be they those who inherited property or simply bought and then the bottom fell out of the market. This when compared to say a renters market in Germany, where there have been rent controls, and businesses set up to solely make money from renting properties, their rental accommodation is of a far higher standard. The Irish landlord in comparison is a. swimming under a sea of death form the original purchase of the porperty and is hard pushed to even cover their mortgage on it through the rent (hardly the misery capitalist you paint in your piece above) or b. not curtailed by any governmental involvment and so takes advantage of an unregulated market ( most definitely, who you mentioned above)

    2. There is a real shortage of homes. Your poor understanding of NAMA is allowing you to make some of the same illogical arguments that many of my friends make. Not all of the properties taken by NAMA were in Dublin. Dublin has a housing crises, as does Cork and Galway. NAMA took over a lot of ghost estates in Longford, Sligo, Mayo, Kerry and County areas. They don’t have the properties in the cities to solve the housing situation in the cities. So, yes, Dublin does need to build more homes.

    3. You can hardly blame people for having a sigh of relieve when their houses have increased in value considering the majority are living in high negative equity. The reasons for this is hardy the fault of them. I’m sure you know the disastrous political decision made in the previous 20 years by collective governments. I understand that you want to focus on the here and now but a lot of the issues we have today have historical reasons, and i don’t mean penal laws, I mean the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s

    4. I too was fearful that we were going straight into another boom based on property prices. Having done some research, I no longer have that fear. The current economic growth is based on a far more varied indicators than the previous 15 years and is in no way reliant on the construction boom. The controls you mentioned have been brought in and the musings of removing them again is worrying.

    5. ‘From the Irish perspective more is simply better’ ‘desire to be part of the landed wealthy class’, this is beyond condescending and I expected more from someone clearly as intelligent as yourself. Most people in the boom, wanted a simple house, that is not greedy considering the rental market is so abysmal and no one I knew were ecstatic about having to take out such huge mortgages but had young families that they needed to house and support, hardly the actions of a money grabbing consumerist you so casually painted them to be.

    Do blame the our lack of involvement and calling to task our politicians who through our apathy allowed such a messed up a situation to occur, do not however, so casually whitewash the realities of a very complex issue into simple black and white.

    FYI, to use the independent as a source of any credible information is laughable, you do it is owned by our very own version of Rupert Mordoch. Doubt you would use FOX as a source of anything.

  10. Edwin says:

    Furthermore, did it occur to you that people were rushing to get a mortgage before the new regulations kicked because they had been saving for 5 or more years in spite of lower wages and higher rents and so, realised that the new regulations would make it impossible for them to finally have a home to call their own. Faced with the proposition of being stuck in a renters hell or take a higher mortgage than they intended, they probably made the right choice. Short term they were the ones hit hardest by these new regulations, long term it makes sense for the country to have them.

    Lol. I think I may have too much time on my hands.

    Cheers

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