Yes, the eviction ban should be ended – yesterday

Sinn Fein’s housing spokesman, Eoin O’Broin, was in the Irish Daily Mail yesterday, making the case for why the Government’s “emergency” ban on evictions should be extended:

“Three months into the winter ban on evictions”, he writes, “and homelessness has reached a new record high”.

This, presumably, is the record of success which Sinn Fein would like to keep going.

But this, writes O’Broin, is not the fault of the eviction ban. Indeed without it, he argues, things would be much worse. It should be extended, he says, until December, with a “covid style emergency response” which would include, amongst other things, the Government buying homes with vulnerable tenants already in situ, in order to protect them from eviction. How this would be accomplished legally is left unsaid, presumably because no such power exists, or would be constitutional.

If you want to see the three card trick in politics in action, this is it: First, you introduce regulations to stop the market from operating normally: You freeze rents. You ban evictions. You make it as unattractive as possible to offer properties out for rent.

Then you say: “See? The market is not working, the state must intervene.”

And finally, you say “well if the state had not intervened, things would be much, much, worse”.

But would they?

Tenants in almost every democracy outnumber landlords. For that reason, politicians tend to focus more on tenants interests than on the interests of those who supply property. From the perspective of a tenant, getting evicted or having one’s rent raised is scary. But from the perspective of a landlord, the inability to do those things is nearly fatal to your interests.

The first thing to note here, in terms of evictions, is that before the eviction ban, Ireland already had some of the longest notice periods for tenants in the anglophone world. Indeed, if you are a tenant who has been renting a property for only a single year, then the minimum notice period for eviction in the normal course is six months. In Australia, by comparison, the maximum notice period regardless of length of tenancy is two months. In Canada, four months.

Without the eviction ban, Ireland’s security of tenure is already a significant outlier, internationally. Rent controls, and rent pressure zones, meanwhile – along with the fact that at any moment, more restrictions on landlords could come in – makes renting properties out a huge risk.

It is established fact that in recent years, as Government regulation of landlords has increased, landlords are fleeing the rental sector. The victims of this exodus are not in fact landlords, but tenants. The benefactors are not tenants, but big corporations and pension funds, who snap up properties and then reserve them for the ideal tenants for their business model – multinational companies who wish to give their employees the perk of available property. In this way, Ireland’s regulation of the rental market leads to gentrification, to use a buzzword, and also to the exclusion of normal working class people from the market. We’ve broken the market, completely and thoroughly. And that’s before you add in the absolutely remarkable number of planning permissions that get rejected in Dublin – usually with the urging of the very politicians who say we need an eviction ban.

And what happens, in the long term, when you ban evictions? Well, in the first instance, renting a property out to new tenants becomes a much more risky proposition: You are potentially stuck with them indefinitely.

In the second instance, the overall quality of housing stock falls – because you effectively cannot refurbish or improve a property with tenants in situ. So, your investment, over time, loses value because you cannot have it occasionally vacant to improve it.

Third, the people who suffer most are the homeless, because the supply of new properties is interrupted. When bad tenants cannot be evicted, good new tenants cannot be brought in.

Fourth, other options for your property become more attractive: Making it available for refugees, for example, guarantees you a Government income, with no prospect of the rent not being paid. In addition, refugee accommodation is likely for a shorter term, fixed contract, with lower risk of being stuck with someone. Alternatively, the overall shortage of property makes selling a better option, and so the overall rental stock reduces.

These are all obvious and easily understood consequences of an Irish Housing policy which, to the Government’s disgrace, has largely been dictated by the opposition. We have a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael Government, and yet a Sinn Fein/PBP housing policy. For which the Government are copping the blame.

They deserve the hammering they are taking on this issue. And yet, if the likes of O’Broin get his way, the problems will get vastly worse, not better. This policy should have never been adopted, and it should be abandoned. Yesterday, if possible. 

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