Cork tenants win right to buy out their council flats

 

A CIRCUIT Court judge ruled yesterday that Cork Corporation tenants who applied to purchase their flats under the 1989 Tenant Purchase Scheme, only to discover later they could not do so, had in fact a contract of purchase.

The ruling could have implications for other local authorities who implemented the scheme.

The decision in two of the 28 cases brought by tenants, many of them pensioners, has brought to an end an eight year battle against the corporation.

Ms Rose Moynihan, chairwoman of a tenants' association formed to fight for the right to buy the flats, greeted the judge's ruling with delight and relief. She urged the corporation to accept the decision and not to appeal because of the age of the plaintiffs and the trauma they had endured.

The tenants decided to take on the corporation in court after being informed that they could not buy their flats because of legal problems in implementing the purchase scheme. The scheme was discontinued by the Department of the Environment in 1994.

Michael and Mary O'Mahony, of Father Dominic Road, Ballyphehane, and Mary O'Brien, a widow of Farrancleary Place, Assumption Road, Blackpool, were each awarded damages of £3,500 plus costs against the corporation by Judge John Buckley. He also made an order compelling the corporation to sell the apartments to the plaintiffs.

The corporation extended the existing tenant purchase scheme to flats at the suggestion of the Minister for the Environment in 1989. The tenants were asked in writing if they were interested in buying the flats and a subsequent letter to those accepting the offer contained various options for repayments of mortgages, including a weekly service charge.

The tenants signed the acceptance forms and were informed that the final contracts were subject to a resolution by the Corporation members accepting the tenants applications to purchase.

In the case of the O'Mahonys and the O'Briens such resolutions were passed, and it was revealed in court that a further six such were passed by the local authority.

The judge said that because oft excessive delays between the applications in 1991 and the ending of the scheme in 1994, the corporation could not depend on the nonpassing of the resolutions by the council as a defence against the plaintiffs.

Judge Buckley said he was satisfied the documents exchanged between the parties in December 1991 made the contract operable. The letter outlining the terms of sale contained all the essential details of price, property and purchase to constitute a contract.

"The conditions were completed and the contract became enforceable. The corporation agreed to sell on specific terms which the plaintiffs accepted," he said.

The tenants acted on the agreement and many of them undertook considerable improvements to their properties, which they believed they were soon to own. It was clear they suffered loss as a result of the noncompletion of the deal.

"I am satisfied the corporation owed a duty to the tenants to sell them their flats under the tenant purchase scheme. The corporation should not have proceeded to make formal detailed offers to the tenants unless it was satisfied it could implement such a scheme. It was negligent in proceeding to issue offer letters," said Judge Buckley.

Mr Jim O'Mahony, counsel for the tenants, asked the judge not to grant a stay to the corporation on his order, pointing out that many of the tenants were elderly people who were concerned that their right to purchase their homes might be further delayed by an appeal.

Judge Buckley agreed not to complete his order until July 1st to give the corporation a chance to study his decision and decided what action they wished to pursue.

Mr David Guilfoyle, solicitor, said the decision came as a relief to his clients, who had been fighting the corporation for the past eight years.