Aubrey McCarthy, the chairman and founder of Tiglin Challenge, a homeless and rehabilitation charity, has been running – at least until earlier this week – a short-term-lets business through Airbnb.
He was connected to 14 listings on the platform either as the host or co-host, all in the Liberties area of Dublin 8, most of which are apartments. The listings had been taken down by Tuesday night.
Using homes year-round as short-term lets without planning permission is a breach of planning law.
Some city councillors have been raising the alarm since 2016, saying that an epidemic of conversions of homes to short-term lets has worsened the severe shortage of affordable housing in the city.
In August 2018, the website Inside Airbnb, which scrapes data from the Airbnb website, counted 4,422 homes in Dublin listed by hosts with multiple properties – one indicator of how widespread professional and semi-professional hosting has become.
“Tenants are being evicted and displaced” to make way for those in short-term lets, says a presentation made by Peter McVerry Trust to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in June 2017.
“It is perfectly feasible that some of these tenants will have ended up in homelessness as a result of the property moving to a short-term letting,” it says.
Aubrey McCarthy said on Monday that he didn’t think he was contributing to the housing crisis that his charity seeks to tackle when he took the homes out of residential use and converted them to short-term lets.
When he did it, he wasn’t aware it was a breach of planning law, he said. He said that he is now aware that there are “issues with planning”.
McCarthy says he used to let out the apartments he owns to people on the social-housing list through Dublin City Council’s Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS).
But he gave the council notice around four or five years ago, for several reasons. Rents weren’t enough to cover the mortgages on the properties, he says.
Someone filed a dispute with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) over a mattress too, he says. Other tenants didn’t pay their share of the rent to the council, and the council was already in the process of evicting them when he converted the apartments to short-term lets, he says.
He didn’t evict anybody to turn the flats into short-term lets, he says. He did tell Dublin City Council that he couldn’t keep renting to them at so far below market rates.
“They gave their tenants notice. They had already given some tenants notice at that stage because they weren’t paying, so I didn’t renew the contracts then, that is it. But I never asked anyone to leave,” he says.
He says he started to rent to nurses working in St James’s Hospital and also moved into short-term holiday lets. Workers stayed during the week, and tourists at the weekend, he says.
To this day he still does that and many of them are blocked on Airbnb during the week, so they are only available at the weekend, he says.
Last Thursday, weeknights were available to book on at least some of the listings linked to McCarthy. Many were priced at €39 a night for the current week, rising to around €99 a night for weeknights in coming weeks.
Were we mistaken? McCarthy then said most of the people booking Airbnbs during the week, in the winter, are people working in the city anyway – not tourists.
McCarthy said he planned to stop letting apartments through Airbnb soon. He says he thinks new regulations will ban it from June 2019.
It’s unclear exactly what Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has planned, but the rough idea seems to be that from then on, people will only be able to rent out their primary residence, the one they live in, on Airbnb and other platforms.
Dublin City Council has sought €400,000 to set up a special unit to enforce the expected rules, a recent council report said.
McCarthy says he is in advanced discussions with a charity, not connected to his own, about renting most of the properties to them. That charity also said it is in discussions with him.
Changes to Rent
In November 2015, Labour TD Alan Kelly, who was minister for housing, announced new rules freezing rent reviews for two years. Further rent controls were introduced in December 2016.
Aubrey McCarthy set up his current Airbnb profile in March 2016. He says, though, that he moved to short-term lets before that – giving notice to Dublin City Council in 2015.
The decision had nothing to do with the rent restrictions, he said. “I never knew anything about it, I wouldn’t have known that.”
In 2016, McCarthy appeared before the Dáil housing committee, saying that people in residential rehab should be entitled to claim rent subsidies.
The housing situation in Dublin “has reached beyond crisis point” and “the rising rental market has priced them [people with addictions] out of it and the supply has not met demand”, he said.
Many suffering from addiction find it hard to secure private-rental accommodation, even though they have an entitlement to rent allowance, he said.
“The obvious ravages of addiction and life on the streets are often clear to a landlord, so they are met with many excuses for not receiving the tenancy,” he said.
109 Cork Street and Long’s Place
Along with his business partner Darius Kazakevicius, McCarthy was connected to 14 listings on Airbnb – as either a host or co-host. They were all advertised as close to the Guinness Storehouse.
Some of those apartments are at 109 Cork Street, which is also the registered address of the Tiglin Challenge charity.
According to the company records, Kazakevicius and McCarthy are directors of a company called Harlowdale Ltd.
Kazakevicius’ profile on the website of the Lithuanian Chamber of Commerce in Ireland said that Harlowdale Ltd is “a property company that specialises in maximising rental income and property value”. (The page was taken down this week.)
Kazakevicius and McCarthy didn’t respond to queries about how they maximize rental income.
McCarthy said the apartments on Airbnb at 109 Cork Street are owned by Kazakevicius, but that he loaned Kazakevicius the money to buy them.
Land Registry records show Apartment 1 of 109 Cork Street is owned by both Kazakevicius and AMC Removals. Aubrey McCarthy and his brother Fergal McCarthy are directors of AMC Removals, company records show.
Together with his brother Fergal McCarthy, Aubrey McCarthy also owns a large building with eight apartments in Long’s Place in Dublin 8, said McCarthy. All of the grey doors have MasterLock key safes next to them, with combination locks to get keys out.
There is no change of use application for these apartments from residential to commercial letting on the Dublin City Council planning database.
They are all rented out on Airbnb, McCarthy said on Monday.
McCarthy founded the charity Tiglin. As well as running a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation service in Wicklow, the charity runs the No Bucks bus, an outreach homeless service in Dublin launched by RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy in 2014.
Tiglin is also an approved housing body. It runs transitional accommodation for people leaving rehab who still need support. McCarthy said he takes no salary or expenses from Tiglin and never has.
Talking about his business as a landlord, McCarthy said that as well as running the Airbnb business he has eight units of transitional housing and he doesn’t charge people anything to stay in those homes.