A woman has told a court how she and her family were put through “a living hell” by a tenant who refused to pay rent for 16 months and cut away the rafters on a rented property’s roof in an effort to make the property unsellable so the family would be forced to sell it to him at a reduced price.
Audrey O’Mahony told Cork Circuit Criminal Court how Denis O’Connor (67) had put her husband and herself and their three children through “a neverending nightmare” by his actions after he began renting their cottage from them in 2015.
“I believe that it was Denis O’Connor’s intention to get permanent possession of our house without paying us and that he is not the least bit sorry for what he has put us through. His actions against us are inexcusable, cruel and downright wrong,” she said.
Ms O'Mahony was speaking after Mr O'Connor pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage to the house by removing roof rafters and damaging floors and various fittings at the O'Mahonys' property at Duneen, Ballinvredig, Ballinspittle, Co Cork, between December 5th, 2015, and July 23rd, 2018.
O’Connor, from Hillside, Cappagh, Kinsale, Co Cork, also pleaded guilty to the theft of a fitted kitchen worth €1,000, which he removed from the property to replace with his own kitchen, which he in turn removed when he left the home, leaving the house without a functioning kitchen.
Garda Cormac Dineen told the court how the O'Mahonys moved from the single-storey cottage in Ballinspittle to their new home in Clonakilty and put the cottage up for rent, and Mr O'Connor, a handyman, then began renting the property in 2015 and agreed to carry out some minor repair works with their consent.
However, the O’Mahonys gave him no permission to carry out some of the works that he did, including the removal of 27 roof rafters and taking up a hall floor, as well as other actions, leaving the O’Mahonys with a bill for damage totalling €16,000.
The garda said that Mr O’Connor finally moved out of the property more than a year after he had stopped paying rent to the O’Mahonys, and that while Mr O’Connor had pleaded guilty to the offences, he had paid only €2,500 in compensation to the O’Mahonys for the damage and disruption he caused them.
Garda Dineen confirmed Mr O’Connor has no previous convictions, and defence barrister Donal O’Sullivan BL said his client was a discharged bankrupt who was remorseful for his actions. However, Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin queried this latter point, as Mr O’Connor shook his head as if in denial as evidence was given.
Ms O’Mahony told the court Mr O’Connor stopped paying rent in April 2017 and told the O’Mahonys things were going to get nasty. She said he knew they were under financial pressure and she believed he deliberately damaged the house so they couldn’t sell it to anyone else but him at a reduced price.
The O’Mahonys took him to the Residential Tenancies Board over his failure to pay rent and they got an adjudication order that he pay them the back rent, which amounted to €6,000 at the time, but he just ignored the order and ran up another €3,000 rent debt before they got him out of the house.
Ms O’Mahony said that it was almost four years since Mr O’Connor threatened that “things were going to get nasty” and in that time he had made their lives “a living hell”, particularly before the O’Mahonys got repossession of the cottage as they didn’t know what further damage he was doing to it.
“Our worst fear became a reality when we finally got our home back – on that morning, July 23rd, 2018, my world caved in on top of me – the discovery of the very serious and dangerous damage to the attic where he removed 27 rafters was the last draw,” she said.
“Homelessness was high on my mind at that time – we feared we would lose both the rental house and our own family home if we could not sell the rental and pay our escalating linked mortgages debt to the bank – our despair was overwhelming – we were trapped in a neverending nightmare.”
Ms O’Mahony told how the financial strain due to the lack of rental income while trying to meet their mortgage repayments forced the O’Mahonys to cut back on groceries, clothing and heating and the stress ultimately led to her collapsing one day and being rushed by ambulance to hospital.
Mr Justice Ó Donnabháin said he had huge sympathy for Ms O’Mahony, before he warned Mr O’Connor that he was facing a jail term if he could not come up with further compensation. The judge put the case back until April 16th and remanded Mr O’Connor in custody until that date.