Credit: Gript

Is an eviction ban Labour’s worst idea ever?

I’m trying to think here of a dumber housing policy proposed by a relatively mainstream Irish political party with legitimate ambitions for Government, and honestly, nothing comes to mind:

Another phrase for an eviction ban, if you’re wondering, is “the abolition of rent”. While it’s true that most renters are good and decent people who will try to pay their rent in all circumstances, it is not a secret that there are those who, faced with the knowledge that their landlord cannot evict them, will simply stop paying rent altogether.

For some people, then, this is just a policy which compels private landlords to provide them indefinitely with free housing.

And by the way – policies are not just bad when they are introduced. One of the things about eviction bans, for example, is that they become almost impossible to repeal. Who wants to be, in the future, the Government that lifts the eviction ban, to scenes of hundreds and hundreds of people being forced from their homes? It’s a catastrophe, waiting to happen.

The victims of this policy, as ever, will not be the small number of rogue tenants. The victims instead will be those who would pay their rent, but may never get a chance. Were an eviction ban introduced, then the few remaining private Landlords would, one confidently assumes, run for the hills. The equation becomes very simple: Sell your house, and get paid. Or rent it, and risk never getting paid.

Consider, for a moment, how rental properties come on the market: There are a number of ways this might happen. An existing tenant moves out, and a landlord wants a replacement. A parent dies, and leaves a vacant home to a child, who decides to rent it. Or most controversially, someone with cash to spare buys a home for the purpose of renting it out.

In all three scenarios, an eviction ban makes new rental properties less likely to appear. In all three scenarios, selling the property – or not buying it to begin with – becomes more attractive to the prospective landlord than putting it on the rental market.

Ask yourself this: Can you think of a single market where making it optional for purchasers to pay for their goods would improve things? Imagine Labour made a law that banned prosecution for shoplifting, allowing people to simply walk into shops, load up their trollies, and emerge with the goods without paying if they could not afford to.

Would we have more, or fewer, shops?

This is not hard stuff. You do not need an economics degree to understand it.

What this is, though, is the logical endpoint of establishment Ireland’s extraordinarily successful campaign to blame landlords, rather that politicians, for the housing crisis. To the extent that we now have an allegedly serious political party proposing to make it legal to rob landlords.

Labour is not exactly near the top of the polls, but in any sort of normal country, one should rightly expect this proposal to result in what little support the party retains abandoning it. Unfortunately, the opposite is likely to happen.

We hear a lot in Ireland about the rise of the “far right”. When we have major parties proposing to legalise theft, perhaps we should hear a lot more about the rise of the far left. This is a proposal that should live in infamy.

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