A man who has lived all his life in a run-down house near Galway city centre is not entitled to claim squatters' rights over the property, the High Court has ruled.
Michael Flaherty junior (59), a Bus Éireann worker for the last 39 years, claimed the new owners of 25 Henry Street were not entitled to evict him because he was entitled to claim adverse possession of the house by virtue of living there uninterrupted for more than 12 years.
Cyril Dooley and Orla Cullinan, who bought the house in May 2012, claimed they were led to believe at auction the house was vacant although it was subject to a life tenancy in favour of someone who had since died.
They asked the court to order Mr Flaherty to vacate the property but were met with the defence of squatters’ rights on the basis he had occupied it since 1998, the last time he paid rent.
Mr Flaherty's uncle Paddy Flaherty, who died in 1995, was the life tenant of the house. Following his death, Paddy Flaherty's brother Michael senior took over the tenancy. Michael snr died in June 1998 and his son Michael junior then took it over.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan rejected Mr Flaherty junior's defence of squatters' rights.
The court was satisfied the previous owner, property developer Paul Fitzgerald, had carried out sufficient acts, including repairing the roof and paying insurance on the house, to arrest the running of time on the claim of squatters' rights.
Following the May 2012 sale by Mr Fitzgerald of the house, at a distressed property auction, to Mr Dooley and Ms Cullinan, they arranged for a locksmith to pick the lock. As they were touring the house with the locksmith, Ms Cullinan claimed Mr Flaherty junior came "out of nowhere" and told them he would leave the property for €5,000.
Eviction proceedings were initiated.
Mr Flaherty junior told the court he was asleep when Mr Dooley and Ms Cullinan came into the house and he challenged their right to be there. He denied seeking €5,000 for vacating and said he had no advance knowledge the house was to be sold.
Mr Justice Hogan said there was no doubt, from 1998 to 2010, the house was in “a total state of disrepair and virtual dereliction” lacking hot water, an internal flush toilet and having an external toilet that did not work properly.
However, its condition was largely irrelevant to the issue of squatters’ rights, the judge said.
Mr Flaherty junior was a man of modest and frugal tastes, content with his work and his own company, and one who “cares little for that which the modern world seems to regard as essential or necessary”, the judge said. The state of the house has no relevance to whether his possession was adverse to the true owner.
The judge rejected the plaintiffs’ argument, given its state, the house was not capable of enjoyment. Their use of the word “enjoyment” was in a slightly different sense from that which relates to land law generally and to the law of adverse possession in particular.
If their submission on the meaning of enjoyment was correct, it would mean the courts might be required to inquire into the subjective tastes and feelings of landowners for the purpose of assessing the law on adverse possession, he said.
This would add “needless complexity” to an area of law already beset with its own difficulties.
“The owner of an ugly office block in a desolate industrial estate is nonetheless entitled to have her legal entitlements safeguarded by the law even if she actually detested the place and derived no personal pleasure or satisfaction from that ownership”, the judge said.