Despite Evictions Ban, Some Say They've Still Been Forced to Leave Their Homes

Simon Haslam became homeless when he was 17.

Last year, at the age of 39, Haslam got his own flat for the first time, he says. It is a small bedsit in an old Georgian house in Sandycove.

Before that he was staying in shared rooms in hostels. “It was a big upgrade,” he says.

Haslam says the private company that owns the flat has told him he will be evicted in the coming days – despite the evictions ban in place due to Covid-19. “I thought evictions were put on hold,” he says.

He contacted Dublin City Council, who had placed him there. Council staff there told him he was going to be moved on to a B&B in Swords.

On 27 March, emergency legislation banning evictions from all types of accommodation came into effect.

Dublin City Council says that protections don’t apply to Haslam. “There are no tenancy rights in emergency accommodation,” said a council spokesperson.

“If they are moving me on from here it is an eviction,” says Haslam.

Others in different rental set-ups across the city say they too have been forced to move during the Covid-19 crisis, despite the government’s ban on evictions.

Not an Eviction?

Haslam thinks he is being evicted because he complained too much, he says.

Dublin City Council staff told him that he was going to be evicted early last week, he says. Before that he had complained about several issues with the standard of the accommodation.

Those included exposed wiring, drafts due to gaps in the window frames, rats, and damage to his personal property, he says. Photos show exposed wires and gaps in the window frames.

Haslam thinks that the eviction notice is connected to his latest complaint, he says.

Painters worked on the building and afterward they washed their paintbrushes in the communal washing machines, he says. When Haslam used the machine afterwards his clothes were ruined, and he asked to be compensated.

He received compensation but shortly after that staff in Dublin City Council told him that he was being evicted he says. “There is no reason for them to move me.”

He has not yet received a reason in writing for his eviction, he says.

Torca Homes, a property development company based in Ballsbridge, said by email that it owns the property, but declined to answer any other questions about the eviction.

“The Stress I’m Under is Just Unreal”

Haslam says he should be entitled to a notice period if he is being moved on, just as a private rental tenant would be.

“They should give you the time, so at least you would have four weeks to organise yourself,” he says.

Dublin City Council staff told him that they would move him to a B&B in Swords, he says.

But that would breach the Covid-19 regulations and it’s more difficult to move at the moment, he says. “How can I get a man with a van to help me move my stuff with all this social distancing?”

He has bought cooking equipment since living in the bedsit, he says. A room in a B&B is a step backward.

He has been on the council housing list for 23 years, he says. “I’ve never been offered a place.”

The Dublin City Council spokesperson was unable to confirm the longest period of time a person on the housing list has waited to be permanently housed.

Haslam says that he can’t go out to exercise or buy groceries in case the owners of the building change the locks. “The stress I’m under is just unreal,” he says. “I can’t sleep, this is no way for anyone to be living.”

A spokesperson said Dublin City Council is not responsible for decisions to move people on and that they are made by “operators of homeless services”. The council, however, will offer the person alternative accommodation, they said.

“There is no tenancy in this case, but we understand that for any homeless person it is difficult to be asked to leave emergency accommodation,” said the council spokesperson.

“Nonetheless for the safe operation of services for all users, that is sometimes the only option,” they said.

“The ideal situation is that such residents move quickly from emergency accommodation into permanent housing,” says the council spokesperson. “But due to the housing crisis over recent years this has not been possible for many.”

Threatened with Immigration

Fiachra Ó Luain, an English language teacher based in Dublin, has carried out two surveys to find out how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted English language students in Ireland.

For the latest survey, 64 of the 777 respondents said they had been threatened with eviction during the Covid-19 crisis. Seven of those said they had been evicted or were in the process of being evicted.

Another two respondents said that they were not threatened with eviction themselves, but their flatmate had been.

Ana Luisa Lobo arrived in Ireland from Honduras in mid-January to study English. She planned to help finance herself by working part-time, she says, in Spanish through an interpreter.

She found a place to live in Dublin 9, sharing a house with 11 other people, she says. She had not yet found work when the Covid-19 emergency hit, so she wasn’t entitled to the Covid-19 payment.

Lobo had €3,000 when she entered Ireland – as required by her visa. But by April, she was running out of money. So she paid part of her rent – but not all of it.

In an email exchange on 3 April, the landlady, Linda, said “You are in breach of your lease and it is possible you may be issued a NOTICE TO VACATE the building.”

Lobo wrote back to her landlady explaining that she was out of work and didn’t qualify for the Covid-19 payment: “As a gesture of goodwill, I have paid as much rent as I can possibly afford at this time of crisis.”

She was still looking for work and would pay her rent as soon as she found a job, she said. Lobo also pointed out that there is a ban on evictions in place.

On 7 April Linda wrote back again, this time threatening to report Lobo to the immigration authorities – for not paying her rent.

“We understand that you undertook to immigration that you had sufficient funds to pay your way for entry to the country,” she wrote. “You now state you cannot pay your rent.

“Solicitors will be communicating with the immigration office on your situation.”

Linda said the Irish courts would pursue Lobo for the rent owed plus legal costs.

Lobo says the situation was very stressful. She had little money left and needed to keep the last of her money for food but was afraid the landlady would physically evict her.

“I spent like three or four days in a row with headaches, as soon as I’d wake up,” she says. “I thought the noises from the door were her coming to get me.”

“It was horrible, that month was the worst ever,” she says.

Lobo has now found work as a healthcare worker although she is only employed “as and when” she says. She told the landlady to keep her deposit to cover the rent she owed and moved out.

She had to borrow money from friends for a new deposit, she says. “In my bank account right now I only have €2,” she said, on the phone on Saturday.

The landlady, Linda, didn’t respond to two emails sent on Monday and Tuesday.

Neither Lobo nor any of her housemates ever had a phone number for Linda, says Lobo.

Changing the Locks

Adepeju Alice Ayoade says her landlord threatened to change the locks to her room while she was doing her exams.

Ayoade is studying law and business at Trinity College Dublin.

Both parties agreed to forward a long thread of text messages showing the communication that took place between them this year.

According to the texts, in January, landlord Kevin Lynch gave Ayoade a notice of termination but she disputed the validity of that notice with him.

On the phone on Tuesday, Lynch said that he gave Ayoade notice because he wanted to transfer ownership of the house to his son, who was also living there, and his son did not like Ayoade.

According to Ayoade, in February, Lynch told her that she was not a tenant, but a licencee and so she had no rights.

That month, they agreed that she would move out once her exams were over in the middle of May, according to both parties.

(Ayoade had owed some rent to Lynch previously. He had been understanding about that and both parties said that rent owed was not the main issue.)

On 8 April, Ayoade wrote to Lynch saying that she had gone to stay with a friend. The shutdown meant “an end to house viewings”, but she hoped to resume searching for accommodation “as soon as the country is back up and running”, she told him.

On 1 May, Lynch wrote to Ayoade saying: “I will be taking back possession of my room on Saturday 16 May as per our agreement of 08 February.”

“I will be cleaning out the room and changing the locks on that date. I will not be entertaining any requests for extensions beyond that date,” his message read.

On the phone on Tuesday, Lynch said that he didn’t evict Ayoade because she was already gone. “She was gone,” he said. “Officially she hadn’t gone, but she wasn’t there.”

He gave her sufficient notice, he says, before the Covid-19 crisis began. “I went against my son’s request and I allowed her to stay until the middle of May,” he says.

His son’s girlfriend had moved in too at this stage. “So I gave her an ultimatum of the middle of May,” he says.

Ayoade said the incident was scary and upset her while she was doing her exams.

“Twenty-four minutes before a very crucial exam, I felt thrown and I was disappointed, but I also knew from the tone of his text that it was a real threat,” she says. “Even during the exam my mind kept going back to it.”

She had documents and valuable items among her belongings in the property, so she went further than the 3km to collect her belongings, she says.

Cathy Flanagan of housing charity Threshold says that its Dublin office has dealt with tenants who have received notices of termination and “threatening letters”. But these are fewer than usual, she says.

Interpreting for the interview with Ana Luisa Lobo from Spanish to English by Dara Neylon Marqués.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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