Sinead Ryan: Time to grasp the nettle and change the face of renting
FORTY-three per cent of Germans don't own their own home.
Does that surprise you, for a country that's supposed to be the poster boy of Europe? The ones not battling austerity, who tell the rest of us what we should and shouldn't be doing with our money?
It's not that housing is any more expensive there or that their banks aren't lending. It's because Germans, along with many other Europeans, don't see renting as something you have to do while saving a deposit for a house - it's a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice.
In Ireland this week, once again, we've seen rent rises, with Dublin tenants under the most pressure. That's understandable - the capital is where most people want to live and where most of the jobs are. People, not unreasonably, want to be where they can cut down on commuting costs and time.
So while the average national rent payment is €950 a month, in north Dublin for example it's €1,283 a month, while in South County Dublin, our most expensive postcode, it's a shocking €1,521.
Daft.ie's report, which compiles this research, says the rate of increase is slowing. Tell that to those coming up to the end of their lease with no promise they'll be able to stay where they are.
My daughter is in this predicament. A college student, she shares €1,200 a month rent with a flatmate, for a small apartment in the city.
It's expensive but doable and they cut back where possible on heating, food and socialising. She's already made the decision that if her rent goes up by more than 5pc they'll have to move elsewhere or, worse, back home (perish the thought).
The problem is that she can't know what the landlord is thinking, or when he might let her know, or have any certainty around the decision at all - it's wait and see.
For a college student it's not the end of the world but what if it's a family-of-three with another on the way, desperately hoping they don't have to take their child out of the school she's settled in, or lose their friends by having to move miles away?
What if it's a retired person, just about getting by, whose pension will be swallowed completely with even the smallest increase?
It's precisely this uncertainty which families, students and pensioners in Germany and other countries don't have to worry about.
They live, as renters, under strict rules laid down by law and which, if Environment Minister Alan Kelly has his way, may well become part of life here.
Landlords may not like it, but if we are serious about tackling housing in this country (and with 98,000 families on the housing list, we need to be), then this is one measure which will go a long way toward it.
'Rent Certainty' is not the same as rent control, which we had here in the 1980s and was found to be unconstitutional, although it operates elsewhere.
You cannot decree that a landlord should only charge X for his service or product, any more than you can for a green-grocer selling apples.
What you can do, however, is acknowledge that housing is a right and therefore can be monitored, regulated and managed. This is how Europeans do it.
The German system is a rent index based on things like location, size, condition and local circumstances.
In most countries, the landlord is not a bloke who got credit-happy during a boom and bought his next door neighbour's house to let; they're companies, pension funds and Investment trusts who aim to make a steady, modest profit over a very long time.
The profit and rent is tied to the condition of the property, the length of the lease and a raft of measures designed to put the tenant first.
For their part the tenant has strict responsibilities about behaviour and meeting payments - but they won't get evicted for putting up a picture or painting their son's room blue.
They can live there securely for 15 years and immerse themselves in the neighbourhood. The landlord makes a profit but not an arbitrary one. The tenant has security of tenure and any State benefit like rent supplement can be specifically geared toward this index.
I'm only surprised we haven't grasped this nettle before now.
The face of renting has to change.