Housing officials and politicians have expressed concern that the practice known as “cuckooing”, where individuals take over a vulnerable person’s home to use or sell drugs, has become increasingly prevalent.
Cuckooing most often occurs where a group or criminal organisation exploit vulnerable people and take over their homes to store or sell drugs.
Rob Lowth, the Housing Agency’s national director for the Housing First policy, which moves people from homelessness into supported tenancies, said cuckooing had become a “constant issue”.
Homes were more commonly taken over by a group of drug users, rather than an organised criminal gang, he said. “It does happen in the private market as well, it’s not exclusive to social housing … Sometimes the [tenant] ends up being evicted as a result,” he said.
Mr Lowth, former head of homeless services in Limerick City and County Council, said the problem had always “been there under the radar”, but had now become more recognised.
He was speaking as investigations continued on Tuesday into a fatal stabbing at an apartment at Claddagh Court, Ballyfermot, Dublin, that was said to have been taken over by drug users who had moved in on a vulnerable, older tenant.
Daithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor in the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh area of Dublin, said cuckooing was “more common than people think”.
Often women, single parents and people with addiction or mental health issues were targeted to have their properties exploited, he said. “It’s more prevalent now, because drug-related intimidation is more prevalent … They come into your home, they threaten you, they take it over,” he said.
Mr Doolan said he had seen cases where Dublin City Council (DCC) tenants were forced to “abandon” their home as it had been taken over for drug use by others, or as a location to store drugs and weapons.
Gary Gannon, Social Democrats TD, said the problem was “prevalent all over Dublin”, with gardaí and housing associations often too slow to respond.
“Grandparents or a grandparent have had their houses invaded by a grandson and their friends who do not leave,” he said.
“It might be the case where they get them out for a day or two, but then they’re back by the weekend. Or they arrived on a Friday and are not gone until the next Tuesday,” he said.
The Dublin Central TD said the group made the elderly person’s life “complete and utter living hell”. In such instances, the tenant was reluctant to report the problem as they were being exploited by a member of their family, he said.