Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A new home

Hi everyone!

This is the first story from my new house and it’s been a turbulent time for me, accomodation-wise.

A short history of what went before:

After living in Dublin5 for 4 years, I had had enough of it. It was too far from the city centre and every time I was out, I either had to get the last bus home, which was always too early, or pay for a taxi. I spent a 100 euros a month on the bloody things and got sick of it. On top of that, one of the other people living in the house was a complete and utter asshole, so I decided to call it quits. I started a search for a room in the city centre and took the second room I looked at, on the account of it being cheap and just a 5 minute walk from O’Connell street and 7 minutes from the Woolshed.

What I failed to see, blinded by low rent and the convenience of it being close to everything, was that it was effectively a shithole. My room was basically not too bad, it was the biggest room in the house, but it wasn’t brilliant either. It was draughty, and even with the electric heater on, it was hard to get it warm in the colder months of the year. I am still very happy that we had a mild winter this year, well,really, we have had no winter to speak of at all, so it was bareable. The rest of the house was cold and dark and everything was either dirty or broken or both.

I was already planning to move out again, and discussed this with my friend Renae. As it turned out, she was reconsidering her living arrangements as well, for various reasons. After giving it some thought, we put two and two together and decided to get a place together.

And so we set out in search of a place to live. It was an interesting journey, I must say with a sense of euphemism.

Let me explain. The rental market in Dublin is rather strange, especially if, like me, you are from Holland. In Holland, you see, there is only a small number of private lettings because some 75% of all rental accomodation is owned by semi state-controlled corporations. The corporations are forced by state supervisory boards to uphold a certain degree of maintenance, there are independent committees that control the amount of rent that can be charged and how much it can be increased by year-on-year and there are compliance rules that dictate how they must communicate with the tennants, how many new homes they must build each year and how many old ones they must take down. In short, it is all very well organised.

In Ireland, all this control is pretty much non-existent. The housing council supplies about 25% of the rental houses but, though cheap, these are generally badly maintained houses that are given to the poorest people. They are typically in rough areas where you will find yourself living amongst junkies, alcoholics and people who have never worked a day in their lives because they were too busy drinking cheap cider at 10 in the morning. Believe me, you’d rather not live there if you can in any way prevent this. So much for council housing. The rest of the market consists of privately owned houses and apartments and this is where the problem starts. While I am convinced that most landlords are honest and hardworking people who have bought a second house and are trying to make an honest buck out of their first house, there are a lot of scumbags around. Renae and me have visited some 20 different houses over the past 5 weeks and we have seen some very nice ones and some very bad ones.

One of the problems is that there is no real supervision on what the landlords put on offer. One of the places we viewed for example, was advertised as being a sizeable apartment with 2 double bedrooms. Upon inspection, though it looked nice and clean and well maintained, we found that sizeable was a bit of a stretch and that the second double bedroom was basically a single bedroom where they had squeezed a double bed in. The room basically was the bed and a 12 inch space where you could put your shoes and maybe a small chair in and that was it. The clothing cabinet was behind the bed, but you could only open the top half because the bottom half was blocked by the bed. Another place we had a look at was alright, with a lounge room/kitchen area that was not really big and 2 lovely bedrooms. The only problem was that there was only a small window in the living room and anyway, we didn’t think it was worth the asking price.

This was a common theme in our search, really. As there is no control on private rentals in Ireland, landlords can pretty much ask whatever they want. In Holland, there are strict rules as to how much you can ask for a place, based on the number of rooms and their size, whether or not it has central heating etc. etc. If a corporation asks 425 Euros in rent for a place that, going by the rent-rate checklist, should only cost 400, the corporation will be reprimanded by the compliance committee and, if this recurs, they get a fine. In Ireland, you can ask 1000 euros a month for a bedsit and if you find somebody foolish enough to cough up the money, you have a good deal. So, there were several places that we found acceptable as a place to live, but not for the 800 or 850 euro that they wanted for it on a monthly basis.

This, however, is child’s play compared to the bullshit that some landlords get up to. Last week, we went to view a house in the vincinity of Croke Park stadium. We made our way to the house and from the outside it looked promising. It was advertised as a ‘house with 2 double bedrooms’ so it looked like we might be in business. When the owner or agent, or whatever the guy called Shane’s role in this was, didn’t show up until about 15 minutes after the agreed time, we started to get suspicious. Just when we were about to call Shane, a blue sports car pulled up and a guy in a leather jacket came out. He introduced himself as ‘Hi I work for Shane’ and let us into the house. He asked us if we were interested in the two bedroom or the one bedroom apartment. I looked at him quizically until it dawned on me that they had cut the house up in two seperate apartments. We had a look at the two bedroom place and it was a joke. One of the bedrooms, again, wasn’t really a double, but a single room with a double bed stuffed in. Apart from that, it wasn’t very clean exactly, there was dust everywhere and when I asked where the living room was, the guy, who, judging from his accent and skin complexity, was from somewhere in the Middle East, pointed to the kitchen. I couldn’t believe my eyes. In their greed to make more money off the house, they had not only cut the house (that wasn’t too big to begin with) in two, but they had simply put a couch in the kitchen and called it the living room. It was absolutely ridiculous. We made a rapid exit.

This, however, was nothing compared to a place we viewed a couple of weeks earlier. We saw an ad for a ‘big apartment with 2 double bedrooms’ on Dorset Street. There were no pictures in the ad (this is ALWAYS a BAD sign, as are ads that only have a picture of the front door, or of the entire building- pay attention here if you are looking for a place in Dublin) but we decided to give it a go and called the phone number in the ad. We were told to go to a hardware store on Dorset Street and someone would pick us up (Cool, a treasure hunt!). When I saw the guy that came to pick us up, I already knew that we were wasting our time, but the apartment was next door so we had a look anyway.

What we saw next was beyond our worst nightmares. I would like to call it a dungeon, but that would be an insult to dungeons the world over. To be fair to whoever put up the ad, they either have a wild imagination or a dark sense of humor. Or maybe they are just bastards.

I don’t think this place was originally a house. I think it had been a storage room or something like that. We reached the place through a dark corridor and when we got there it was horrible. There were no windows. It smelled like a building that had been locked for years. There was mould everywhere and it stank. The carpet was worn and everything was covered in grime. The usual ‘double-bedroom-is-really-a-single’ routine was actually the least of the problems here. There should be a law that jails people who try to pass this off as fit for human occupation. I will not believe that anyone in their right mind would want to live here. Oh yeah, they asked 800 Euros per month for this filthy hole.

Our scariest experience, however, came when we went to view a place in Gardiner Street, off Dorset Street. It was, again, advertised as ‘a large 2 bedroom apartment with 2 large bedrooms’. We agreed to meet the letting agent at the house and have a viewing. The agent was waiting in the hallway and apologised immediately for the fact that the light in the hallway wasn’t working. He let us go up to the apartment on the second floor and have a look at it. To be fair to the ad- it was big. The living room/kitchen was a good 25m2 and the bedrooms where bigger than that. However, there was a strange look to it. There were cigarette buds on the floor, razors were laying around in every room and at least half a dozen pint glasses were spread around the place. We noted some other maintenance issues, like a loose light switch, a defective smoke detector, a missing tap in the bathroom and some other stuff. The agent had by now made his way to the apartment and asked us what we thought of it. We told him we liked the size, but were somewhat confused by all that stuff laying around (cigarette buds, glasses etc). The agent informed us that the previous tennants had been thrown out only days previous, because they illegally kept a dog and that was why all this stuff was still laying around. He assured us that this would all be cleaned up and when we told him our list of demands, maintenance wise, he said that this would be no problem and that he would get the building’s handy man to get working on it the next morning. He then went on to assure us that this was really a quiet building, with law abiding, hard working tennants in all the other apartments. This was on a Thursday evening and we agreed to drop by his office the next week to sign the lease.

The day before we went to sign the lease, thanks to Renae’s gut feeling that something was amiss, we had another look at the place and found that absolutely nothing had been done. Everything we had asked for was still broken, the cigarette buds were still there and it looked like the door had not been opened since our first visit. This sort of worried us, so we decided to have a drink in the pub across the street. This was the best thing we could have done. While we were sipping our drinks, we ran into one of the regulars, a guy called Mick, who we knew because a friend of ours had worked in a bookie around the corner and therefore drank in the pub on a semi-regular basis. He came over to our table, asking us what we were doing there and we told him we were moving in across the street. As he has lived on that street for his entire life, he obviously knew the neighbourhood very well. He had a look out the window and when we pointed out the black door, his face sank. Without us giving him any information, he named the owner of the building and said he was a crook, the estate agent and wrote him off as a con man, and the handy man, whom he described as ‘a useless alcoholic who has never fixed anything in his life’. He then went on to give a roll call of the other tennants in the building and, apart from a Romanian couple on the ground floor, they were all very nasty and noisy people with either a criminal record or a substance abuse problem or both. On top of all this, junkies often managed to make their way into the building to shoot up and then crash in the basement or the hallways.

This, you will appreciate, worried us greatly and we went to the letting agent’s office first thing the next morning and called off the deal. We will go to that pub soon and buy Mick a couple of pints for saving us a lot of trouble. To protect the innocent, I will mention the estate agent as GWD Lettings on Dorset Street, because that is their name.

So, there we were again, without a deal in place. By now, time started to be a bit of a factor in the whole thing, as my rent would run out in a week, and Renae’s in 12 days. This illustrates another problem with the Irish rental market- deals always have to be done there and then.

If I compare it to Holland again, the situation is really strange. In Holland, you rent a place from the first of the month to the last day of the month. If you want to move, you go looking for a new place and if you find one, you inform the corporation in charge of that place that you would like to move in on the first of the next month and the corporation you currently rent from that you will move out on the 1st of the next month. Quite easy. In Ireland, however, you have to cut a deal as soon as possible, so you will always have the issue of overlap. Rents are not necesarrily paid from the 1st to the 31st but from any day in the month to the same day the next month. So we effectively had about a week to get a place to live.

On Saturday, I moved all my stuff into Renae’s place where it would be safe for another week. Me myself, however, would have to be out of my place by Monday, which put me in a bit of a pickle. This is where the angel of this story, our friend Sandra, comes in. When I asked her if I could maybe sleep on her couch for a couple of nights, she insisted I come over and I could stay as long as I wanted. This, you will understand, took the pressure off a bit. I managed to persuade the guy who would take over the room I had been living in to postpone his move by a day, giving me the opportunity to sleep off my Superbowl hangover in my own bed. I woke up early in the morning, somehow, called the letting agent of a house that we were supposed to view on the Saturday, but had missed because we were delayed en route, when a Stingray in front of us killed a pedestrian, to ask for a new appointment and he agreed to meet us at 7 on Monday evening. I moved a couple of bags into Sandra’s place, hung around for a bit and then walked down to view the house. When we got there, we found a couple already waiting there. The agent drove up and informed us that the couple were first to watch. We hoped they would reject it, because that’s the way it works in Ireland- first come, first served. While we were waiting, several other people showed up, obviously to view the apartment too. When the first couple left, we were let in, together with some other people, so speed was of utmost importance.

We walked through the place and the moment I saw it, I knew this was it.

This was our house.

The agent was waiting in the hallway and I looked at Renae and asked her what she thought of it. ‘It’s lovely’ was her reply. We decided on the spot to take it, collared the agent and said that we wanted the house. The agent took us into the lounge room, pulled out some paperwork, and we paid him 100 euro to secure the place and to show that we meant business. While we were doing the paperwork, one of the other viewers came in with a question, but the agent told her that the place was no longer available and told the other people that they could leave. While he let them out, he also told some other people who were waiting outside that they could go home. Meanwhile, Renae and me were inside with beaming smiles on our faces, relieved that everything had come to a happy end.

The lease was signed on Wednesday morning, I stayed at Sandra’s place for another night and now, here we are. In a great house, with a cosy living room, 2 double bedrooms that really are double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a beautiful kitchen and a garden fit for barbecues.

I’m a happy man.

Before I leave you for today, I would like to thank two people:

First of all Sandra who, when the chips were down and I was technically homeless, helped me out by generously sharing her room with me. Thanks so much for that,you are great and I owe you more than a kebab.

And finally, ofcourse, Renae, who went to countless apartment viewings with me and kept her head up despite of all the disappointing things we saw and the pressure we were under.

Cheers mate ! I’m glad it all worked out in the end.

I’ll fire up the barbie.

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