The Dublin landlord against whom the High Court issued an injunction before Christmas preventing him evicting tenants from an apartment on Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1, has been the subject of a number of negative findings by the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) including findings that he had not returned deposits.
As is the case with the six tenants facing eviction from the apartment in Mountjoy Square, the earlier cases involving the RTB also concerned foreign nationals renting from landlord Paul Howard.
Mr Howard and Una McClean, with an address in Larkfield Park, Harold's Cross, Dublin, are the owners of at least five apartments on Mountjoy Square. Mr Howard has also let properties in Kilnamanagh, Dublin 24, and Kimmage, Dublin 6W.
Notices on the website of the RTB show that in 2017 and 2016 Mr Howard was the subject of four orders to pay varying sums to former tenants arising from unjustifably retaining deposits, and unlawfully terminating tenancies. The total involved is €15,094.
Three former tenants who were granted an order for €5,300 against Mr Howard in July 2016, after successfully claiming that they had been unlawfully evicted and had not been repaid their deposits, have told The Irish Times that they have never been given the money by Mr Howard.
Thomas Hamann, Rafael Francischini and Cosme Blanco were tenants at 7 Parkhill Way, Kilnamanagh, Dublin 24, where they paid rent of €1,400 per month. They said they had to deliver the money at the end of each month in cash to the Clean City Launderette, Talbot Street, Dublin, which is operated by Ms McClean.
Mr Howard was not represented at the RTB hearing, where the tenants said that soon after taking up the tenancy they became aware that a relative of Mr Howard was living in an annex at the end of the garden which was connected to the dwelling and used its electricity and gas.
Later Mr Howard, without their permission, entered the house to install a coin meter which, he said, would ensure that the supply to the house and the annex were charged separately.
Mr Blanco told The Irish Times that this occurred after Mr Howard’s relative had left the annex and that a separate meter was being installed in the annex.
When Mr Howard and others turned up to install the meter, Mr Blanco, who was at home at the time, objected and, according to the RTB report, asked that the installation not go ahead.
“Mr Blanco, who was in the dwelling at the time of this incident, advised that he felt threatened by [Mr Howard] and that [Mr Howard] stated that he would get his family and friends around to make sure that the [tenants] would leave the dwelling,” according to a report of the RTB hearing.
The tenants were served with notices to quit within three days, with the reason given being that the dwelling was “potentially dangerous”. The tenants, according to the RTB report, submitted that they were extremely concerned about Mr Howard’s behaviour and elected to leave.
However the manner in which they had been treated, they told the hearing, meant that they were at a loss in relation to a number of matters. They also never got their deposits back.
The hearing was told that at one stage Mr Howard had admitted he had entered the house and taken the wifi code from their modem. According to their submission, the tenants had changed the password after they had moved in and found that someone else was using the service for which they were paying. They were later told by the landlord that it was being used by his relative in the annex.
After they left the property Mr Howard claimed the tenants owed him money because of the condition in which they left the property, his need to change locks, and outstanding utility bills. The tenants contested all these matters and went to the RTB.
“We had a lot of problems with him,”, Mr Blanco said from Spain, to which he has since returned. While in Ireland he worked for Microsoft in its offices in Sandyford, Dublin. “We were in Ireland to work, not to fight. I was afraid he would return with others when I was alone in the house.”
He said he later had discussions with other Spaniards working with Microsoft in Dublin who had also had bad experiences with Mr Howard as a landlord.
The RTB found that Mr Howard’s termination of the tenancy was invalid, that his behaviour had apparently caused the tenants to fear for their safety, that he had entered the property without their permission, and that he had permitted his relative to use the internet, gas and electricity without the tenants’ consent.
It also found he had failed to return €1,400 (€466 per tenant) given as a deposit, for reasons that were found not to be valid.
It also found that Mr Howard had kept the utility bills in his own name and did not show them to the tenants. It also found that the evidence was that the house was clean when vacated.
Mr Francischini said he and his fellow tenants felt they could not take the risk of taking Mr Howard to court to seek to have the RTB order enforced. They do not believe they will ever receive the money.
The Kilnamanagh house is now being rented out on a per-bed basis, at €350 per month per bed, according to a recent online advertisement. The house had seven beds, the advertisement said.
In his Mountjoy Square apartments Mr Howard has put up notices making certain claims about the nature of Irish law and his ability to make certain orders for obscure reasons.
A notice in one of his Mountjoy Square apartments states that any “implied right of access” is removed for any employee acting for the council, the Revenue Commissioners, banks, or debt collectors and that any “transgression” would be dealt with under common law.
Court records show that Mr Howard has initiated a number of High Court cases in recent years, acting as a litigant in person or without a legal representative.
In the case before the High Court, six tenants who have been sharing the same Mountjoy Square apartment say Mr Howard sought a rent increase that was more than twice the permissible rate in a designated rent pressure zone. The tenants, who are all in their 20s and from France, Germany, the US and Brazil, refused to pay the increased rent. Mr Howard then changed the locks and cut off electricity to the apartment.
Three of the tenants had taken cases to the RTB , which in turn went to the High Court and successfuly sought an injunction against Mr Howard entering the apartment pending the RTB hearing. Power was then restored to the apartment. The RTB hearings, which are not open to the public, began yesterday and the injunction remains in place until the process, including any appeal to a Residency Tribunal, is completed. A number of the tenants have since moved out.
The person who answered Mr Howard’s phone hung up when contacted by The Irish Times. Ms McClean has said she does not wish to comment. A spokesman for the RTB said it could not comment until the dispute-resolution proceedings have concluded.