Irina Lapshina’s apartment is a trove.
She has gold-framed paintings, tens of dinky china bells and figurines, shelves of books, pressed and folded embroidered sheets, painted vases, and big rolls of sellotape – piles of knick-knacks and necessaries, collected over the 15 years that she has lived in her small one-room studio in Grove Park in Rathmines.
Much of the rest of the building, though, is now empty.
In June last year, the terrace with eight apartments was sold to Val Issuer DAC, a company landlord that has snapped up old Georgian homes elsewhere on the fast-changing street and in the wider neighbourhood.
Lapshina and her neighbour Jurij Pučkov have stayed, though – despite a time without heat, a period with sewage leaking into the basement, and, on two occasions, water dripping through the ceiling into Pučkov’s studio.
If they’re going to move out, they want more concrete and binding assurances that they’ll still have a home after the refurbishment, said Lapshina, on Monday. “We want to stay and live here.”
Nobody at landlord Val Issuer DAC or estate agent Lansdowne Partnership replied to queries about maintenance, the planned refurbishment, or what their responses were to three proposals put forward by the tenants.
When they met last month, Lapshina says she – with the help of a friend translating – put three ideas to a representative of Lansdowne Partnership, Kerry O’Brien, and Derek Connolly of Lugus Capital, a company which is linked to the landlord, Val Issuer DAC.
Perhaps the landlord could renovate and they could stay and move between apartments, she says. “The answer was no.”
Perhaps, they could move out for a time, but leave their belongings there in other apartments in the building, ready for them to return, she says. That wasn’t a runner either.
On the notice to quit, dated last August, it lists the need for works to improve both fire safety and thermal insulation: to lift floorboards to put in insulation, replace plumbing and electricity, doors and frames, kitchens, bathrooms, and furniture. Common areas would be renovated too, it says.
The third proposal was that they get more of a concrete legal guarantee that they would be allowed back, says Lapshina – and what rent they’d be paying.
Under newish rules since June, if a tenant leaves their home so it can be refurbished, the landlord has to offer it back to them when it’s done.
But under old rules, that is time-bound. In the notice to quit, which falls under the old rules, it says that the landlord would offer the flat back then “at market rate” if it is available within six months.
Lapshina says she wants more assurance than that, though. A “legal guarantee”, she says.
Lapshina pays €450 a month in rent at the moment. Newly refurbished studios on Grove Park – a neighbourhood undergoing rapid change – have been advertised recently for nearly three times that: €1,300 a month.
She, via a translator, and Lansdowne Partnership went back and forth over text about how much she might get on the Housing Assistance Payment scheme, and whether she could afford to top up the €792 that would cover, and whether there were other places to move to – but that discussion broke down, texts show.
Disputes and Tribunals
Helped by Dublin Renters’ Union, Lapshina, and Pučkov, have both had hearings at the Residential Tenancies Board, the body that handles disputes between tenants and landlords. They’re waiting to see how adjudicators’ rule.
Lapshina has been through different tribunals before, she says.
She moved to Ireland almost two decades back, paying $1,750 to an agent who lured her and others from the seaside town of Sevastopol in Crimea to the fields of Co. Mayo.
She’d been promised a good job, she says.
When they arrived, she and others were put to work packing, picking and weighing mushrooms. “Until midnight, 1am, sometimes 2am. And up at 6am,” she says.
They were underpaid and exploited, she says. “I didn’t get overtime, no bank holidays, no holidays, no weekends, absolutely nothing.”
With the help of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, she took on her employer – and won, she says. She later took another case against her next employer, a cleaning company – and won again, she says.
All the manual labour and heavy-lifting took its toll, though. In 2009, she had surgery for a back injury, she says – and is still in pain today, and on disability benefits.
“Now this,” she says, as she leans her hand on the kitchenette, stood on one of the few patches of free floor space in the small apartment.
While they hold out, they’ve also had to cope with a series of maintenance problems – leaks, electricity outages, sewage surges.
“Take a look,” says Pučkov, his keys jingling as he opens the door to his apartment, where he has lived for 16 years.
In mid-May, builders were upstairs working on the already-empty apartments when he came home to find water pouring through the ceiling, he says – backed up by emails sent at the time to Lansdowne Partnership.
He waves a hand towards the shelves that cover one of the walls, stuffed with belongings. “It all flooded down to here,” he says, “It was everywhere, all over.”
On the ceiling are damp orange stains. Many of his belongings are ruined, he says. The DVD player no longer switches on.
He pulls a pair trainers out from under the table. The body is peeling away from the sole. “I’ve just got to throw them out, they’re done,” he says.
After a while, the room dried a bit, he says. “The light worked again. I hadn’t had light and I was afraid to test it in case I was electrocuted.”
Pučkov says water started to leak into his room a second time, too. “How much can I take?”
There’s a letter from a plumber in the RTB case files, saying they called to the house on 21 May and found a “small leak” down to a “fault in a radiator valve” because it was old – and that they’d “recommend a replacement of the whole system”.
The plumber’s letter says they called a second time on 11 June, and found a “block in the water line feeding the water tank” which they fixed.
Pučkov has bad health, and dangerously high blood pressure, and it has worsened, he says. “From breathing in the damp, I got flu, my blood pressure went up, I ended up in hospital.”
On the coffee table in the middle of the room, is a packet of tablets, and a blood-pressure monitor.
Lapshina says she’s had problems with hot water, and no heat, too.
She has a letter from Threshold, the housing charity, saying she went to them in November last year, to say she had been without heat since the summer.
Lansdowne Partnership had told Threshold they would start work on the heating the following day, the letter says.
Meanwhile, a photo in June this year showing puddles of sewage that leaked and spread in the basement.
A job log in the RTB case file notes that a workman called to fix that on 11 June, clearing a blockage which had led to “foul material” flooding the basement, before disinfecting the area.
Lapshina says that if they got a legal guarantee that she would still have a home, then they would leave for a while for the repairs and refurbishment. “No problem,” she says.
But she wants to move back to the neighbourhood where she’s know people for years, where some are so tight that they’ve swapped spare keys.
“I’ve friends living around here. They can come running if something happens to me,” she says.
Nobody at Val Issuer DAC, Lansdowne Partnership, or Lugus Capital, responded to queries about how many people have moved back into other properties that they’ve refurbished on Grove Park.