The eviction of over 20 families from an apartment block in Cork to allow refurbishment work has been condemned by a local TD who accused the owners of exploiting a legislation loophole to try and up rents.
Solidarity Cork North Central TD Mick Barry raised the plight of the residents of Leeside Apartments on Bachelor's Quay in Cork in the Dáil on Wednesday night. On Thursday he strongly condemned the decision to serve notice of termination of tenancy to residents in the block.
"Profiteering landlords must not be allowed to vandalise people's lives in this way in 2017. The Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy must remove as a matter of urgency the legal loophole which allows evictions of this sort," he said.
“And I am confident that if these residents in Cork fight the evictions that they will have the support of ordinary people right across the country,” said Mr Barry, adding that many of the families living at the apartment block are now facing a real threat of homelessness.
“We have young families - they have kids who go to school in the vicinity of the apartment block. One family I spoke to pays €700 per month rent and has gone out and started to look for alternative accommodation but the prices being asked are €1000, €1100, €1200, €1300.”
Mr Barry’s comments were echoed by local Cork North Central Solidarity Cllr Fiona Ryan who said that having visited some of the tenants in their apartments over the past few days, she did not believe the owner’s claim that they were forced to close the block for refurbishment work stood up.
"Lugus Capital has advised that this issue is a matter of fire safety. However the only reference to fire safety in the list of refurbishments provided to tenants on their notices of tenancy termination was the requirement to replace fire doors.
“This is not, in my opinion, a refurbishment that is in large enough scale to necessitate the residents to have to leave. To my mind, this is merely a mechanism to exploit the long standing loopholes in existing legislation in order to get around the rent pressure zone restrictions,” she said.
In a statement issued to the media, Lugus Capital said that it acquired the 70 unit apartment block in October and it was planning to carry out a €3 million refurbishment of the property with the works due to commence in December.
“Leeside Apartments are currently not in compliance with their fire certificates, so the refurbishment is necessary not only to bring the building up to modern standards but also to maintain the safety of the residents,” the company said.
Lugus Capital said that as part of its acquisition process, it carried out a full structural survey and fire safety inspection and advised all residential tenants of its planned refurbishment with some 23 residential tenancies each being given full notice periods corresponding to the length of the tenancy.
The controversy has prompted the Green Party to renew its call for a referendum on the right to housing with Cork South Central Green Party representative Lorna Bogue saying that some of the Leeside Apartments residents will "unquestionably become homeless" as a result of the evictions.
Ms Bogue said it was “incredible” that landlords were allowed to create the desperate position people are in and were able to get around the rent freeze rules by evicting people under the guise of carrying out renovations and then raising rents.
Her comments were supported by the party's spokesperson on political reform and representative in Cork North Central, Oliver Moran who said that until the right to housing is enshrined in the Constitution, the rights of tenants will always take second place to the rights of landlords.
"It's incredible to believe that nearly 140 years after the Land League we are still fighting landlordism in Ireland, " said Mr Moran who was highly critical of comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that Ireland's levels of homelessness were below international levels
“The comments made this week by the heads of State housing and homelessness agencies as well as by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing demonstrate there is a chasm in Ireland. On one side you have those who are committed to the private market, no matter the human cost.
“On the other you have those who recognise to the dignity of the human above private greed. Unfortunately, power currently lies with those on the side of greed. It will take an enormous effort to unstick them, but it has to be done.”