A handyman tenant, who put a woman and her family through “a living hell” after he cut away the rafters on her house in an effort to force her to sell him the property at a reduced price, has been given a week by a judge to come up with over €13,000 in compensation.
Denis O'Connor (67) pleaded guilty in February to causing criminal damage to a house belonging to Audrey O'Mahony at Duneen, Ballinvredig, Ballinspittle, Co Cork by removing roof rafters and damaging floors and various fittings 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, leaving the house without a functioning kitchen.
In February, Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin warned O’Connor that he was facing a jail term if he did not come up with the balance of €13,500 in compensation for Ms O’Mahony after hearing that he had only paid back €2,500 to cover the cost of the damage to the house which was put at €16,000.
O’Connor was remanded in custody by Judge Ó Donnabháin to appear in court on Tuesday when his barrister Donal O’Sullivan BL said that, while his client had no money himself after being declared bankrupt, he was confident of being able to come with the cash via a loan from a family friend.
Mr O’Sullivan said that O’Connor believed he would have the money to compensate Ms O’Mahony within a week and he asked for a week’s adjournment.
Judge Ó Donnabháin agreed to give him until April 22nd to come up with the money and remanded him in continuing custody until then.
Garda Cormac Dineen told in February how the O'Mahonys moved from the single-storey cottage in Ballinspittle to their new home in Clonakilty and put the house up for rent and O'Connor 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 do, including the removal of 27 roof rafters, to use on a V-shaped roof on a portacabin, and taking up a hall floor and other actions which left the O’Mahonys with a bill for damage totalling €16,000.
He said that O’Connor finally moved out of the property in January 2018 – over a year after he had stopped paying rent to the O’Mahonys. While he 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.
Gda Dineen confirmed O’Connor had no previous convictions and Mr O’Sullivan said his client was a discharged bankrupt who was remorseful for his actions but Judge Ó Donnabháin queried this as O’Connor shook his head as if in denial during the evidence.
Ms O’Mahony told the court that O’Connor had put her husband and herself and their three children through “a never-ending nightmare” by his actions after he began renting their house 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 told the court O’Connor stopped paying rent in April 2017 and told them things were going to get nasty. She said he knew they were under financial pressure and she believed he deliberately damaged the house so as they couldn’t sell it to anyone else but him at a reduced price.
They 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 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 O’Connor threatened that “things were going to get nasty” and in that time he had made their lives “a living hell” particularly before they got repossession of their house 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 never-ending nightmare.”