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It’s funny how ‘unintended consequences’ always benefit landlords

Why isn’t the price of rental accommodation linked to the size of a property?

Studio apartment rents should be capped at €500 a month in cities, and at €300-€400 where they exist in towns and villages. This is still expensive for a lot of people who need basic accommodation, but it’s also fair, and much less than the mad amounts currently being charged.

I’ve been keeping track of “studio apartment” – the nouveau name for a bedsit – rents for a good few years now, have written about them before, and they’re still rising. I’ve focused mostly on bedsits on the North Circular Road in the capital, which runs from the Phoenix Park gates in Dublin 7, all the way to North Wall in Dublin 1. Much like the South Circular Road, the housing on this stretch is especially relevant because traditionally it’s been full of bedsits in large houses subdivided into flats.

In 2023, some bedsits here rose to €1,500 a month. That record has been smashed. One North Circular Road studio, with a fold-out bed from a wall that doubles as a ledge-like “desk”, is for rent at €1,899 a month. This property (essentially a kitchen with a fold-out bed), according to the ad, “enjoys a strategic location” while also “promising a rich and fulfilling living experience”. “Perks” include “a designated bicycle rack”. Spoilt, so we are.

The thing is, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with bedsits or studio flats when they’re priced logically. But they’re not. This is meant to be cheap stock, but in terms of size, facilities and quality, it offers far less value than other accommodation in the private rental market, which is nonsensical.

Co-living developments, one of Eoghan Murphy’s legacies from the menu of short-term-thinking failures he left, also benefit from the bedsit profit boom in Dublin. Try €1,895 per month for a studio in Dún Laoghaire, or €1,850 for a studio in a Rathmines co-living block, where renters are encouraged to “Soak up the buzzing atmosphere and curate a new lifestyle”. Or how about €2,125 for a studio in the docklands, where the price of rent has about the same logic as a horoscope? Or €2,050 for a studio in Stillorgan? Maybe you’d prefer to pay €2,100 for a studio in Dublin 1, or €1,950 for one in Sandyford? Or would you rather the PowerCity-style pricing of €1,999 for a studio in Harold’s Cross?

That €1,899 studio on the North Circular? The same company has another studio for rent in a completely different part of the city, Rathmines, with the exact same fold-out bed, magically set at that price of €1,899.

I’m going to propose something wild here, and suggest that the price of rental accommodation be linked to the size of a property. The measurements of rental properties are rarely even listed in Ireland, which must leave our European friends scratching their heads. How big is the place? Sorry, that doesn’t matter in Ireland when it comes to the cost. Where is it located? Not applicable. How old is the building? Irrelevant. Of reasonable quality? You’re boring me now, crack open the wallet.

We need more public housing. Everyone knows this. Build it, buy it, cap it. That’s common sense

By 2013, many bedsits were substandard. Instead of improving them and capping the price, the bedsit ban removed an entire layer of accommodation perceived as “cheap” in the private rental market, flipping to expensive “studios” – sometimes in the very same buildings. This served to increase the wealth of corporate and multi-property-owning landlords. It did nothing for renters, young couples, someone suddenly evicted and scrambling for a place to live, students, single people on low incomes, or any type of person who actually needs to live in a small place they could afford.

It would be forgiving to label this myopia, and not yet another intervention that made landlords more money. Isn’t it funny how the “unintended consequences” of interventions in the “market” always end up benefiting landlords? How about renters gaining something from “unintended consequences”?

We have no affordable rent in Ireland by any metric. Government has poured billions into rent assistance payments to plug the gap between affordability and landlord greed. Zoom out, and such waste looks like a scam. Why should the taxpayer be bolstering the wealth of private and corporate landlords? Why isn’t the rate for a specific standard of accommodation set? This requires intervention, which would be simple. Cap studio rent.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil politicians love pointing to the supposed constitutional blocks to rent control. Guess what, they’re in Government, and they can put constitutional change to the electorate. Thirsty for a referendum win? How about one on the right to housing?

The reason “the market” doesn’t “want” rent control is because it hinders runaway profit. Long-term tenancies may be attractive to individual landlords who desire a decent tenant who pays their rent on time and never calls them asking for a light bulb to be changed, but the broader market needs churn, because it presents the opportunity to increase rents when tenancy gaps open up (or are forced open). Tenancy insecurity is no accident; it is designed.

We’re constantly told rent control would “drive landlords out of the market”, but the State could actually purchase any properties they want, transferring them to local authorities to alleviate housing lists. Too much property is privately owned. We need more public housing. Everyone knows this. Build it, buy it, cap it. That’s common sense.

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