Evil landlords making people live in deplorable conditions

Today I was up near the North Circular Road looking at a pre-63 building. These are properties which have been continuously let out since before the building regulations came in and for that reason they are often divided up into very small units or bedsits. From this year new legislation came in which means that many of them are illegal because you can’t have shared bathrooms and many other structural issues that make the old ‘bedsit’ a redundant property.

You can still let out a full house, somebody could sign the lease then let out rooms to get a similar end result but this isn’t commonplace as the various rooms are not ‘self contained’ in any way (no kitchen etc.).

Another lady was there to view the property and we got to chatting, I asked if she was interested in making it into one normal home as it had been originally, she answered by saying ‘what are you looking at it for?’, to which I answered ‘to let it out to people similar to how it is now’. I should disclose that firstly I was there for a client, but secondly that ‘similar’ means multi-unit and that this property was not up to code, something which would require massive renovation.

Her response surprised me though, she said ‘I could never profit from something like that’. Initially I thought she meant that she wouldn’t make a good landlord, and from what I have seen in my life not everybody is cut out for it, you can’t be a push-over, you can’t be a terror, it takes a lot of personal touch, attention, work, ethical dealings with people even when they frustrate you and compliance with both taxation and regulatory law.

That wasn’t what she meant, she meant that anybody who owns such a property is basically a bad person.

This came out as I told the estate agent the property was not up to scratch and my client probably wouldn’t make an offer, during that exchange she said that it was disgraceful that people are forced to live in those conditions and that they live there because they have nowhere else to go.

My normal response (and the one I gave) is that cheap housing has a market, a demand and a purpose, the alternative (if you believe in the pipe-dream that our state can provide all the housing needed don’t bother reading on) is homelessness, and that nobody is really ‘forced’ to live anywhere, many people in bedsits could go and rent out a full house in Longford for half the price they pay for a one room bedsit.

I even made a suggestion, she could buy the property, make it into just two units which would be nice and big and rehouse all some of the people there for the same rent for which they rent out a one bed, this idea was declined, because it had to be declined, moral outrage is free, actual solutions come with a cost, it’s far easier to decry something than fix it.

The implication is always that we have evil landlords making people live in deplorable conditions, and while that is true (once you have enough people in any sector there will be bad apples, the same as we have evil clowns, evil teachers, evil shopkeepers etc.), the solution is the regulations that we have, certain standards are required and they should be implemented and sanctions should apply when they are not met.

There is no ‘evil house’ unless it’s Amityville House’ and there are evil landlords but they might be evil anyway, they might be doing wrong elsewhere in their lives too but we don’t know about it. Again, is the answer to say small housing units are wrong or to say we need them to be up to a certain standard?

Small unit housing has a few things which make it an enduring aspect of the market, price is a big driver. After that you also have location, a place that has kept rental appeal for 50 years continuously normally has amenities which suit people who may not have cars or high means, this could be bus routes, public parks (within walking distance), rail lines, laundromats, shops, access to work or many other considerations. They are also an important part of housing for single middle aged people, and emigrants who want cheap housing so they can send money home.

The idea that people are forced into them is ridiculous. They could rent a room in a larger house and share with others, but some don’t want that, they might want their privacy, they might not like other peoples company or habits which don’t match theirs. A part of me wanted to invite the pleasant lady for a coffee and discuss these things but instead I just walked away, because it occurred to me, she never housed anybody and has no idea of what it involves or why the people living there are living there.

They might be marginalised, but what is the alternative? A full house for a single person? Hardly realistic when you have 100,000 on the waiting list and many of those are full families. The outrage is really a reflection of what the anointed one making the statement wants for themselves, not what the person living there wants. Of course if you ask somebody ‘would you like a bigger place’ they’ll say yes, people will say yes to all sorts of things like having more money, a nicer car, a better life, a better job… But then ask what they are willing to give up for those things and it will change.

Would you like more money? If yes then would you work an additional 30 hours a week? Maybe not, and if so and it was a salary increase that didn’t really make you better off would you do it then? Would you like a bigger house? If yes what if it’s in the arse of Mullingar far from friends family and amenities? Many things in life are about choices, choices in consumption and in what people want for themselves, if small units are so bad then why are they so popular?

And if they are bad what’s the alternative? And if the alternative is for the state to build special units then where and how given they might not have sites near the place people want to live. If they had the capacity to build these units would it be fair to the tens of thousands of families on the housing list to get skipped so that we, as unaffected third parties with an ideal world in mind, can sleep better at night?

It would be far better for every person who says something is wrong to go out and attempt to fix said problem in their own way than to crib about it. In my parting words when I mentioned making housing for people her response was ‘I want to house myself’, which to my way of thinking is interpreted as ‘I’m going to look after number one, and shame on the people who look after number 2, 3 and 4 if it isn’t done in the manner I see fit’.

Interesting world view really.


  1. Yes Karl if more people just chose not to be poor we could do away with all these social problems.

    • Karl Deeter

      @Henry I think you are confusing reality with the Paris Hilton meme.

      @ConorE All you have done is make a swathe of judgement calls, offered no alternative solution, said ‘it should be this way as I have said so’ and not realised that in other countries the property dynamics and laws are different. The standards are quite onerous and failing doesn’t mean it isn’t fit for human habitation, it means it isn’t up to code. Do you know what the codes are and what they require? Or is it enough just to make a giant judgement call?

      The majority of private houses built before the mid 90’s would also fail, are they all unfit for human habitation too? Set the whole world to rights, go out and provide the type of housing that you think people should be living in, then show me how you did, I’ll offer to replicate it elsewhere.

      • Evan Joost

        “go out and provide the type of housing that you think people should be living in”

        How about if you just start by emulating Sweden or Germany in encouraging landlords to adhere to codes or in the provision of property? Compliance with local norms evidently entails ignoring codes. “To hell or to Longford” Cromwellianism is not an effective way of managing urban housing needs for those disadvantaged by exploitationists.

        • Karl Deeter

          How about we start emulating Sweden is right, where if you wreak a rental property you are blacklisted and it goes on your credit records, people there don’t even have to pay a deposit because the system weeds out all sorts of stupidity. In Ireland though we don’t seem to want that. A guy in our office lived in Sweden for a good many years, and the flip-side of why things work so well there is that there are deep repercussions for not paying bills. If you didn’t pay your electricity one month you might not ever get a bill mobile phone again, it has a two fold effect and personally I think your idea is spot on, go the way of the Swedes, punish bad standards in property and punish people who abuse other people’s property.

  2. ConorE

    There is a growing myth that slumlords are great fellas altogether, doing a public service by looking after the poorest in society.


    The problem is very very simple – the standard of accommodation at the lowest price levels are not fit for human habitation, according to modern standards. this is by no means universal – you can find proper accommodation for €100 per week in the vast majority of places in the world. Even in countries that are not bankrupt and insolvent, and with thousands of apartments lying empty

    Shame on you Karl, for supporting this immoral behaviour.

  3. Jimmy Connors

    weLL said Karl,i would be vely intersted in this plase.where is it and how Mucch is it on at,thanks I am holledaying in west Cork in inchydoney at my luxury retreet here,just heding down from dublin from the idsater that was the allstrop auctiins.

  4. Anon

    If “moral outrage is free” it’s a wonder that you don’t have any. It seems to me that you, and many others, could learn a lot from this lady, if you were willing, or able, to understand what she could teach you. We need more people like her.

    • Karl Deeter

      Hi Anon,

      More people like her? To do what? Sit around angry doing nothing about the problems they identify? That is the classic disassociation of moral responsibility, where being upset is enough, but then lacking the will, fortitude or courage to go make any change yourself. Symptom of a country in decline if you ask me.

  5. Moss

    Well Said Karl.

  6. françois tessier

    Hi Karl, the lady has the desire to house herself, and it is enough for me as it means she’s not asking to someone else to provide her a home. Now you could maybe face reality and the fact that particularly in Ireland there is a real problem with standard of housing, quality of buildings, size of rooms – how many apartments qualified as 3 bed flats when 2 of the so-called bedrooms wouldn’ t reach the minimum requirements elsewhere in europe? also the regulation here in absolutely appaling and the slumlords thrive as there’s no one to check what they put on the market. Lack of reaction / interest from useless politicians clowns and deep lobbying from vested interest putting pressure to prop up prices on both houses prices and rents mean there is little change to expect on this narrow thinking island and people, even benefiting from a correct level of salary, will still have to fork out a fortune for sub standard accomodation. Get a grip.

    • Karl Deeter

      A few comments ago Sweden was mentioned, in Sweden (remember that’s where Ikea comes from!) small housing is more common than Ireland, in fact, average rental units there are often half the size of the smallest apartments here (not including bedsits which are more in line with much of their housing stock for young renters). And as for ‘lack of standards’ look at the actual Dublin City statistics, for all of the ‘failed’ properties there are not much in the way of prohibition orders, that’s the thing they do when a property isn’t fit to live in as opposed to failing on a technicality. Vested interests are an issue, on both sides. The comment that slumlords thrive is simply unfounded, I have yet to find any statistical study on slumlords and their thriving or not, what I do know is they offer crap housing which is very cheap and that people seem to live there of their own free will and accord.

  7. James Kenny

    My experience of renting in Ireland is one of Landlords who are either too thick, too inexperienced or simply too unethical to really be allowed the responsibilities that being a Landlord entails. Some of the properties that are offered have to be seen it be believed, I remember seeing one flat where I ended up telling the agent that it would be an ideal place to kill yourself in.
    We also went to look at a property (we are looking to buy), now for sale, though previously for rent, this weekend which was a absolute disgrace, It was now in the hands of the Bank and according to the agent the landlord, who had all of his 20 properties repossessed, hadn’t made any effort to maintain any of the aforesaid properties. Personally, my experience would be that such characters are pretty much par for the course.
    The rental market, like the property and banking market is in dire need of some hard faced regulation, though I am not in any way confident that this is really going to happen, or that any regulations will be actually enforced in any meaningful way.

    • Karl Deeter

      I agree that there is a generally low standard both in landlords knowledge of the law, building code and rental standards. I think part of the reason is that there is not a large marginal reward in having higher standards of knowledge in this area.

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