Perhaps, little fixes here and there are needed, says Tomasz Morawski. But not major works, he says.
A broken fridge door. Toilet seats. “That doesn’t take six months,” he says.
Repainting the walls – something they do now and then – takes him and his wife Marta a day and a half, he says, sat at his living room table on Monday late morning.
Professional decorators, therefore, would be faster, he says. “In one day.”
In early April, Morawski and other tenants – 42 of them, including 19 children, they say – were served notices to terminate their tenancies in the apartment block at 5 and 6 Rosedale Terrace, off Clanbrassil Street Lower.
The notice from property manager Belgrave Property says that Val Issuer DAC – which bought the block not long back – wants to carry out substantial refurbishments, with a long list of works relating to fire safety, improving insulation, and replacing kitchens and bathrooms.
As on South Richmond Street, where the same landlord is in a stand-off with tenants refusing to leave their older Georgian homes, tenants in this newer block say they’re worried about what the rents could jump to, if big works go ahead.
Elsewhere, two-bed apartments let by the same property manager are going for upwards of €2,200 a month.
“But I can’t afford €2,000,” says Morawski, who chefs, sometimes late into the night, at a restaurant in Portobello. “This is useless to work, just to pay rent.”
Nobody from Val Issuer DAC or Belgrave Property, which manages the complex, replied to emailed queries about the notices to quit, the need for refurbishment, or how they would plan to set future rents.
In December last year, Val Issuer DAC – which is connected to the global private investment firm Bain Capital – applied for permission to build two extra storeys onto the apartment block. Dublin City Council refused permission.
“I thought, okay, I think we are safe,” says Marta Morawska, sat the table next to her husband. Days later, they, and others in the building, got the notice that they’d be expected by November, to leave.
The notice looks by the book, says Ramon Cernuda, another tenant, last week. “The only thing is the works that they want to carry out. It’s very vague.”
On top of the table, he has a pile of letters and documents. He also has laminated “Stop Eviction Now” signs, which he’s been encouraging tenants to plaster in windows, and in the laneway, to broadcast what’s going on.
The notice says works are expected to take between eight and nine months, with upgrades to the fire-detection system, and fire-stopping works.
It lists ventilation works, and dry-lining the external walls to increase the BER rating, replacing windows and heating devices, replacing bathrooms and kitchens, and full refurbishment of all finishes.
If it’s available to let within six months of the expiry of the notice period, or of the resolution of any dispute, the landlord will offer them the opportunity to reoccupy at market rent, the notice says.
Cernuda, Morawski, and others have filed cases with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), aided by the housing charity Threshold, to challenge the notices.
“You just have to clean and maintain the building and the units,” says Cernuda. “Not throwing people out and then do whatever fully refurbished apartments, and get them back, and pay double the rent.”
Broadly, there are two main questions at play in cases such as these, RTB guidance says. One is about ending the tenancy based on refurbishment works – and whether the works are substantial enough to justify moving people out.
The other is about whether or not any changes would be so substantial – and above and beyond general maintenance and landlord obligations – that the accommodation is drastically changed so as to justify a rent hike.
Changes to tenancy law, some of which come into effect from 4 June, the RTB website says, have tightened what counts as a substantial refurbishment, and when landlords can justify rent hikes above the standard 4 percent a year.
For terminations for substantial renovations, landlords need a certificate from an architect or surveyor to say the proposed substantial refurbishment or renovation works would pose a health and safety risk so tenants need to leave, and that the works would take take at least three weeks, the new rules say.
To justify larger rent hikes, landlords also have to tick specific boxes.
They have to increase the floor area of a home by at least 25 percent, or go up at least seven building energy ratings (BER), an RTB explainer says.
Alternatively, they have to tick three of the following: permanently altering the internal layout, adapting the home for somebody with a disability, increasing the number of rooms in a home, improving homes with BER of D1 or lower by at least three energy ratings, or if it is C3 or higher, by not less than two ratings, it says.
Because these new rules are just being rolled out, though, the dispute between tenants and landlord at Rosedale Terrace falls under the old guidelines.
Trying to Negotiate
On 12 April, Cernuda wrote on behalf of all tenants to Ronan McCormack, the property manager at Belgrave Property, asking him to reconsider and to let them stay there while works are carried out – saying they’re willing to put up with any inconvenience.
“Whilst we do appreciate vacant possession may be more desirable, we feel it is not necessary,” Cernuda says.
There’s an extreme shortage of housing, wrote Cernuda. “There is a strong probability that many of us will become homeless if our tenancies are terminated.”
He said they were willing to discuss a slight increase in rents, as he is aware that may be justified by law.
McCormack wrote back that the landlord was open to discussing whether the tenants could remain there during works.
But the main concern, backed up by professional advice, is “the health and safety issue this would pose to all residents”, he wrote.
He asked Cernuda to consult with tenants and let him know what might work with the refurbishment – and what level of rent residents proposed to pay for the refurbished homes.
Other tenants say they’d struggle to cover large rent increases.
Abu Saleh Chy says his rent has gone up 30 percent since 2010. “My wages have only gone up one or two percent since 2010.”
In the middle of the living-room ceiling in Chy’s family apartment, where you might expect a giant light shade, is a mechanical solar system, with plants and rockets shooting off in a swirl.
Many of the apartments house families with kids.
Chy says he was looking to move to Harold’s Cross a few years back. But his son objected – he’s settled and happy.
“He didn’t want to, because he has friends here,” he says, waving towards his son, sat at a computer in the corner, chomping on a pot of Pringles.
Ending up homeless, possibly in hotels and living on fast food and takeaways, would aggravate the health problems Chy’s already struggling with, he says. “I’m controlling diabetes and heart issues through food and diet.”
Later, in their apartment, Morawski says they’ve everything set up in the neighbourhood: schools, creche, it’s walking distance for the babysitter who comes by a couple of days a week to cover when he and his wife are at work.
In another flat, Zanda Mugina’s two children are watching television, one sat legs tucked up at the end of the sofa, the other stretched out on a green and black rug on the floor.
If one of her kids is sick, but there are others in the building who can drop the other child at school, says Mugina, who’s lived in the block for four years, and pays €1,300 a month in rent right now.
She’s a short walk to work over the road, or the kids’ school in Blackpitts. “I love it here. I would do anything to not move out,” she says.
Mugina said she’d be willing to have a neighbour move in with them, so the landlord could rotate people around the complex, if there’s work that needs to be done. “It’s of course hard to live with somebody, but I can handle it,” she says.
It’s not that she hasn’t looked for another place. She’s in the process of moving onto Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), she says, but homes within the rent limits set by the scheme are snapped up fast.
“It’s very hard to find,” she says. “I sent 100 emails, I got 2 replies.”