At around 4am on a Monday morning in mid-October, Ken Byrne was woken by a loud crash from an apartment below him. Seconds later, he heard it again.
It sounded as if people in the apartment below were lifting up a large piece of furniture, a sofa perhaps, and dropping it again. The sound was so loud, he wondered if they would break the floorboards, he says.
The loud noise wasn’t that much of a surprise. Loud noises in the night are regular in his complex, since so many were turned into illegal short-term lets.
Byrne went down to level four to investigate. A woman stood in the corridor pleading with a group of people in apartment 17 to stop the noise, he says.
She lived next door to number 17. She had to be up for work in the morning at 6am, she told the people staying in the apartment. The man at the door of number 17 was drunk, says Byrne. He didn’t seem to be taking the woman seriously. Byrne intervened.
As he tells it, he told the group they would lose their deposits if they didn’t quieten down. He has no control over deposits, but from months and months of living next door to an illegal holiday-let, he had learned that this threat sometimes works, he says.
The woman was grateful. The next day, Byrne dropped by to talk to her and her husband about the noisy night and the growing problems of anti-social behaviour in block 1 of Gloucester Square apartments near Gardiner Street.
Byrne, a former scaffolding worker from the inner city, and Stephane Lagarde, the woman’s husband, who is an IT professional from France, struck up a friendship.
Soon, they were tracking illegal short-term lettings in their building, which brought large stags and hens to stay, and kept them up nights – and sharing their frustration with their inability to get anyone at all to crack down on them.
Knocking on Doors
The two men say they worked out that at least five apartments in their block of 26 had been turned into short-term lets.
Each of the flats in their block, converted to holiday apartments, is owned by members of the same family. One is on the board of directors of the building’s management company.
Susannah Denardo (née Sexton) categorically denied last Thursday that apartments 4, 17, 21, 23 and 25 in Block 1 of Gloucester Square Apartments are being operated as short-term lets.
The most recent Registry of Deeds records show mortgages granted to different members of her family for each of the apartments in December 2014 and she confirmed that they are owned by her relatives.
Dublin City Council Press Office says it is issuing planning-enforcement notices on three out of the five apartments and still investigating one of the others. Its unclear what the status is for the fifth apartment.
Denardo said she had recently co-operated with a council inspection, which had found that all of the apartments were rented normally. “I’ve just been in to inspect the units you have told me about and they are all let,” she said.
She says students live in number 4. A man called “Daire” was leasing number 17, she said. In 25, there is a Spanish man on the lease, living there with two other professionals, she said.
Meanwhile, she said, 23 is vacant and 25 was a long-term lease, she said. “I am confident that none of those flats are being Airbnb’d,” she said.
However, on Friday 23 November 2018 there were holiday guests in numbers 4, 21, 23, and 25 when we knocked on those doors.
They were groups of young people visiting Dublin for the weekend from London, the United States, Paris, and the Netherlands.
Most said they booked through Airbnb. A young man in number 23 said he didn’t know which company his group had booked through.
Nobody answered the door to number 17. Later that night, though, Lagarde took a video that showed eight young people going into that flat.
A Kind of Cancer
“It’s like Ibiza here every weekend,” says Lagarde, who has bags under his eyes. “It causes anxiety and exhaustion you just cannot relax, because you never know what’s coming next.”
He says the number of short-term lets seems to have spread. “It is really like some kind of cancer here.”
There are the five apartments in Block 1 owned by the Sextons. A company called Key Collection is operating a holiday rental out of number 35, which is in another block, he says.
He has photos from June that show a key in the lock, with a Key Collection fob on the keyring, and a professional cleaner’s trolley in the doorway. Key Collection didn’t respond to a call for comment.
Lagarde collected links to Airbnb and booking.com adverts that make it clear that groups of 10 to 12 people can stay in some apartments.
That large groups can stay there is a double-whammy. It means stags and hen parties sometimes stay across two apartments in the same complex.
Lagarde says another problem is that some in the groups sometimes get locked out and shout up to their friends or try to break into the apartment, he says.
Since the short-term let opened in the next-door apartment, Lagarde says he worries every weekend whether or not he’ll be able to get a night’s sleep.
His work has been affected. Both he and his wife regularly go to work on a Monday morning after just an hour or two of sleep, he says.
Lagarde says his parents no longer stay in his apartment when they visit Dublin because of the noise.
Says Byrne: “The stress is constant. You never know what to expect, you are living on a knife edge.” He can’t have his 7-year-old daughter stay over at the weekends because of the noise, he says.
He quit a job at a scaffolding company, too. There were too many Mondays when he’d had no sleep the night before, he says. It became unsafe to climb high scaffoldings as he felt dizzy from tiredness and his eyes were blurry, he says.
Byrne says that as often as he can he goes to stay with friends at the weekends. But the partying can spill over into the weekdays, too. “You never know when it might kick off,” he says.
Catalogue of Complaints
Lagarde and his wife bought their apartment in late 2016. They had no clue idea that some of the flats in Block 1 had already been converted into holiday apartments, he says.
Not long after they moved in, they realised. They started to complain to Core Estate Management, the agency employed to manage the apartment block, emails show.
In April 2017, Lagarde complained about a booking.com letting that he says displayed photos clearly showing that it is in his complex. (There’s currently such a listing on the site.)
At that time, he had identified several apartments that were permanently advertised as holiday lets, and those included apartments 21 and 25.
Core Estate Management issued warnings and put up notices, says Lagarde. Some who were doing Airbnb from their own homes stopped, he says. But they weren’t the biggest disturbance – the commercial operators were, and they kept going.
The management agency told Lagarde that tenants were doing the short-term letting. The landlord was chasing it up to get it stopped, they said in emails. The agency would inform Dublin City Council if the landlord was not successful, they said.
When number 17 next door to Lagarde was also converted into a holiday apartment, Lagarde escalated his complaints to Core Estate Management and also complained to Dublin City Council.
The council told Lagarde to keep a log of the activity, which he did. He recorded the short-term-let business in operation on his phone, with videos between April 2018 and November 2018 showing groups going into the apartments 4, 17, 23 and 25.
He took videos of large groups causing a disturbance in the building, kicking bikes in the courtyard, drinking in communal areas, shouting and generally partying. One group broke the lights in the communal area, another set off the fire alarm and a third broke the glass in a door, he says.
Don’t Do Nights
The most recent Registry of Deeds records available show that mortgages were granted in December 2014 to Stephen Sexton for 4 Gloucester Square, to Paul and Aine Sexton for 17, 21, and 23 Gloucester Square, and to Senan Sexton for 25 Gloucester Square.
Susannah Denardo (née Sexton) said that she manages all of those.
There is a man called “Daire” who hosts nine apartments on Airbnb, some of which are in Gloucester Square. We tried to contact him on a phone number Byrne provided, but didn’t hear back before this was published.
In a telephone conversation last Thursday, Denardo said at first that she wasn’t related to Paul Sexton. “No, my name is Denardo, no,” she said.
Later, she said Denardo is her married name and Aine and Paul Sexton – who own three of the holiday-let apartments – are her parents.
She said she runs many long-term lease apartments on behalf of her clients, but operates through Daft.ie and doesn’t do short-term lets. “I don’t do Airbnb, I don’t do nights,” she said.
“My clients just don’t do any of that, they wouldn’t entertain it.”
She said she is out of the country a lot so could not be an Airbnb host. Denardo said she is not familiar with the Airbnb website. “I’ve never been on Airbnb, I don’t even have an account,” she said.
Daire is not employed by her, she says, but she has a tenant in number 17 called Daire. The only person she employs is a maintenance man who works on contract, she said.
Denardo said her relatives’ apartments were investigated by the council for having been converted into holiday apartments without permission – which is a breach of planning law.
However she reiterated several times her understanding that the council had closed the cases. “Planning have closed the book on this,” she said. “They have been in and inspected, so I’d be very careful before you go any further.”
In May, Lagarde provided links to short-term let adverts, some of which were clearly apartments in his complex as well as photos to Dublin City Council, that showed a breach of planning was occurring in his building.
He says the council was slow to respond, especially as he had gone to the trouble of working out which apartments in his complex were featured in the Airbnb and booking.com listings.
He filmed several videos of hosts guiding large groups of guests into each of the apartments, anti-social behaviour, big groups arriving in his courtyard – as well as links to ads on Airbnb.
He contacted Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe as well, who said he had also asked the council to take action on planning breaches in Gloucester Square three months ago. “I’m concerned at the long delays in taking enforcement action,” Cuffe said.
Denardo said she manages 11 apartments in Gloucester Square and when the council inspected some of them, they found that they were all leased, she said.
Only number 23 was vacant and that was because she had evicted someone who was renting it out on Airbnb, and she had to go through the Residential Tenancies Board to evict him, she said.
“Planning have closed the book on this,” she said. “They have been in and inspected, so I’d be very careful before you go any further.”
But a council spokesperson said that it is issuing planning-enforcement notices on three out of the five apartments and still investigating one of the others. Its unclear what the status is for the fifth apartment.
And Lagarde says he has now received letters from the council stating that they are issuing enforcement notices for numbers 4, 17 and 25.
Short-term lets popping up within apartment complexes still appears to be widespread across the city. Apartment complexes have their own structures for managing what goes on within, and penalising those who break house rules.
Each apartment complex has a management company that is comprised of all the apartment owners, said David Rouse, director of the Apartment Owners’ Network.
Owners are all effectively shareholders, he said. They elect the board of directors who run the complex in the interest of all owners, he said. The more apartments an owner has, the more votes they have.
Big landlords have considerable influence, therefore. But as they don’t live in the complexes themselves, this seems unfair to some owner-occupiers like Lagarde.
Housing association tenants like Byrne, who rents from Túath Housing, have no vote and rely on the housing association to intervene. Tuath didn’t respond to questions about what they have done to support their tenants in the complex.
David Ward, the property manager with Core Estate Management, said he couldn’t answer questions as to why they were not tackling the holiday-let issue more effectively, whether they had noticed that several of the short-term lets were owned by the same family, or whether these breaches were ever reported to Dublin City Council.
“Unfortunately I’m not the appropriate person to answer the questions detailed in your email,” said Ward.
[UPDATE: This article was updated on 28 November at 9.40am to correct that there are 26 apartments in Block 1, not 25. Apologies for this error.]