Court orders ‘firetrap’ properties in Dublin must be vacated

Judge says he has ‘huge sympathy’ for residents now homeless ‘through no fault of their own’

Numbers 100 and 101 Seville Place in Dublin 1. Dublin City Council said its latest inspection had shown that the two buildings and 104 Seville Place need to be vacated immediately.  Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times.

Numbers 100 and 101 Seville Place in Dublin 1. Dublin City Council said its latest inspection had shown that the two buildings and 104 Seville Place need to be vacated immediately. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times.

 

A High Court judge has said he has “no option” but to order that three Dublin properties which he described as “firetraps” be vacated over fire safety concerns.

Dublin City Council secured the orders on Tuesday from Mr Justice Seamus Noonan who was told efforts are being made to find alternative accommodation for those affected.

The judge said he must make the orders and also criticised the handling by a bank appointed receiver of fire safety notices issued in respect of the properties, located at 100, 101 and 104 Seville Place. Last month, the Council had obtained temporary injunctions requiring the residents of the properties, each divided into several flats or bedsits, to immediately vacate the buildings.

Inspections carried out by senior fire safety officials at DCC had revealed the three properties are in very poor repair and, if a fire started in any of the buildings, it would spread very quickly.

The risk to persons living in four storey 190-year-old buildings is so serious their continued use for residential purposes should be prohibited until several serious fire safety deficiencies are addressed, the Council said. DCC, represented by Conleth Bradley SC with Karen Denning BL, sought the orders against the owners of the properties, Vincent and Catherine, otherwise known as Kathleen, Donoghue and against Stephen Tennant of Grant Thornton, who was appointed by AIB and AIB Mortgages Banks in October 2016 as receiver over the three properties.

The Donoghues did not participate in the proceedings and the court was told they have not had control over the properties since the receiver’s appointment.

The court previously heard the buildings were to be sold but those sales have fallen through. On Tuesday, Mr Justice Noonan made final the injunctions, sought under section 23 of the 1981 Fire Services Act.

The properties must be vacated until the properties are compliant with fire safety regulations, he said.

It had been estimated up to 40 persons had been living in the properties and there were no objections to the orders from persons living at 100 and 104 Seville Place. Lawyers representing several residents at 101, who claim they have valid tenancies for the property, had initially argued they should be allowed stay in their homes while works were done to remedy DCC’s fire safety concerns.

Those residents, represented by Joe Jackson BL, instructed by solicitor Herbert Kilcline, said their clients application was undermined by the fact persons had forcibly entered and are now living in the basement at 101. That part of the building requires extensive fire safety repairs, counsel said. Their expert’s report stated his six clients could remain in the building while fire safety works could be carried out as long as the basement was not used, Mr Jackson said.

Residents made homeless

DCC accepted some improvements had been made to 101 in recent weeks but said its latest inspection had shown that all three buildings need to be vacated immediately.

Mr Bradley said efforts were being made to find alternative accommodation for all of the residents. The judge said he had “huge sympathy for” the residents represented by Mr Jackson, who the court accepted now found themselves homeless “through no fault of their own”. Given the evidence before the court about the buildings, he had no option but to grant the orders and could not allow a situation to develop where the residents “could be burnt in their beds in the middle of the night.”

The reason why the residents, whose claim to tenancies in 101 are fully contested by the receiver, were in this situation was due to “a failure by the receiver” to address the fire safety concerns, he said. The buildings had been subject of fire safety notices requiring certain works to be done in 2017, two years before DCC had come to court seeking the orders to vacate the buildings, he said.

Very little was done in terms of fire safety improvements to the buildings during that period of almost two and a half years, which was “quite astonishing”, he said.

The judge said the receiver had said that the works were not done because the receiver was waiting to see if the loans which the buildings had been provided as security were to be transferred to a fund and a new receiver appointed.

That was not a good reason, the judge said, adding that nothing was done with buildings that were potential fire hazards and “a risk of life and limb” for those living there.

In the circumstances, the judge said he was also granting DCC and Mr Jackson’s clients their legal costs against the receiver.