You never know what somebody is really like until you live with them – wise words to keep in mind during your time on this earth.
It’s widely known that renting in Ireland, especially Dublin, is (a bit of) a nightmare. Firstly, the ratio of available houses to the demand is laughable. Prices are the highest they’ve been in years, and people can be very selective about who they let rooms to (for example women only and no students). When you are finally offered a room, the relief that lifts the weight off your shoulders can easily make you forget that not everyone possesses the qualities that make for pleasant cohabitation. In other words, the happiness of having a roof over your head can cloud your judgement, and you can end up regretting your decision.
This is exactly what happened to me, and I want my experience to help others avoid making the same mistake. Entering a house wearing rose tinted glasses can end up costing you more than time and money.
A bit of context…
I’ve been living in this house since the beginning of November last year, and during these months I have put up with verbal abuse, intimidation, passive aggressive behaviour, outright aggression, coercion, threats, one count of indecent exposure, invasion of privacy, and psychological manipulation. Without getting into too much detail, I will say that the intensity of the initial behaviour was low enough to ignore it and still live peacefully. But things have escalated and it is now an unlivable situation.
This article isn’t about me going on an emotional rant or mindlessly blowing off steam into the digital void (although it does help to write about it). This experience highlights something important that all citizens should be aware of – your legal rights as a tenant, and as a human being. Never feel like you do not have a voice.
My biggest mistake – not informing the letting agent about this from the outset, and allowing my housemates to control the terms of the ‘dispute’ (for lack of a better word). A combination of no legal cop on, and living in a culture of fear has been my downfall. I consider myself someone of strong will and thick skin, but this was just…there are no words.
Here are five nitty gritty legalities that could make life a hell of a lot easier for you and your mental health
1. If you sign a lease, read everything and take photos of everything. This bit of paper outlines your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, and the rights and responsibilities of your landlord/letting agency. First of all, ask “Do I have to sign this?”. As a tenant you have the right to live in an environment free from anti-social behaviour, and if any terms of the lease have been broken you have the right to address this issue. It’s best to nip these things in the bud before they spiral out of control, and you end up exhausted and eating your porridge out of a handbag.
2. Even if you are living in unsatisfactory conditions, you are not guaranteed to keep your deposit if you leave early. This includes antisocial behaviour. Here, things really are black and white; break the lease early and you forfeit the deposit. You can try to appeal to your landlord’s/letting agent’s better nature, but don’t get your hopes up.
3. If you feel that your deposit is being withheld illegally, you do have options. FLAC offer free legal advice in citizen information centres all over the country. They may advise you to appeal to the RTB (Residential Tenancies Board), a government body that aims to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants (for a small fee) without going to the courts. Take a look at previous cases and resolved disputes listed on their website, as they could help inform your own appeal.
4. If you do end up having to deal with antisocial behaviour in your house, always remain calm and reasonable. Being rational and reasonable in the face of aggression and unreasonable behaviour will always work in your favour when the time comes to bring the issue before your landlord or agency. It is a skill in itself, similar to having a conversation with a work colleague or boss you dislike but you remain civil and spit out the venom when they have left the room . Avoid situations where you can be provoked, and take a screen shot of Whatsapp conversations or texts they have lost the plot in. Don’t become irrational yourself – regardless of how appealing it seems at the time.
5. You are not obliged to find someone to fill your room when you leave. If you give the legal amount of notice based on the length of time you have been living in the house, you can leave and not worry about filling the room. It is the responsibility of the current occupier(s) to find someone else before the next months rent is due, don’t let them convince you otherwise.
These are just five things that I learned while renting. I wish that I hadn’t been put in a situation where I feel trapped by threatening housemates on one side and a housing crisis on the other. If I had taken a step back before accepting the room and asked my gut what it thought, I may have held off for somewhere more suitable. But the reality for renters in Dublin doesn’t allow you to hold off for something better. You take what you get when you get it, and if you don’t like it them remember what it felt like to not have it, and you’ll slap a smile on it and imagine it is something better. Not everyone is unlucky, but if you are then there isn’t much you can do.
We are aware that the lack of infrastructure and available houses are the reasons behind this crisis, and the prices that keep rising while the landlords that own several houses can ignore the mess we are in. Fine Gael has been nicknamed “the landlord party”, vulture funds are picking at the vulnerable, and all the while the health of the country is deteriorating with generations who cannot find a place to call home.
My outlook on things may have a rain cloud hanging over it because of the situation I’m in, but things are much clearer now that the rose tinted glasses are gone. What’s important is knowing your legal rights, and never settling for less. It may take longer to find a house, but you will save yourself huge amounts of mental distress and fatigue. And unfortunately that is the best advice I can offer.