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Rasel Hossain points towards the jury-rigged floral curtain in the apartment’s small entrance. Strung on a pole, it’s all that now conceals the toilet from the rest of the shared flat.
Further inside, between the lounge and the bedroom, there’s an empty doorway.
The front door is now makeshift too, second-hand with the top sawn off to make it fit the frame.
Last Tuesday, a property agent and representative from the landlord forced their way into the apartment, says Hossain, who with flatmates videoed the confrontation.
Men in high-vis strode through the top-floor apartment at 54 Richmond Street South with claw hammers and pried off the bathroom door, the bedroom door, and the front door.
They took the wardrobe door, too.
“They’re showing their power,” said Hossain, last Thursday afternoon. “To force us to leave, break the doors, make a mess.”
Hossain says he’s lived here for years, and he and his flatmates are up-to-date with their rent.
But in September last year, this building was sold to a company linked to a big international fund, as others in this strip have been. Since then, the property managers have been trying to get them to leave, saying they want to fix the buildings up.
This is a story that’s been repeated across the wider neighbourhood, as tenants complain of landlords running down properties, and if they don’t leave in frustration, taking stronger measures to push them out.
This, say some of the tenants on Richmond Street South, is what they face.
Ronan McCormack, who works with Belgrave Property to manage this building and others in the strip, didn’t respond to an email, and when called twice, hung up each time.
Nobody at Val Issuer DAC, the company which recently bought this building, could be reached for comment. Nobody at Lugus Capital, or Bain Capital Credit – which company documents show are linked to Val Issuer DAC, responded to queries, either.
On Richmond Street South
Behind the painted front doors of the four-storey Georgian terrace on Richmond Street South, across from the Bernard Shaw pub, are tens of apartments.
Some are already empty. Others are still homes.
Number 54, where Hossain lives in one of the flats with two flatmates, was sold in September last year to Val Issuer DAC, Registry of Deeds records show.
Numbers 55 and 56 on the street were sold in May last year to Val Issuer DAC, according to records from the Registry of Deeds. Number 53 was sold to another fund, Larea FA Fund II DAC, that same month.
In November 2017, residents of the Leeside Apartments in Cork protested after Larea FA Fund II Dac told them they had to leave for refurbishments. In March, the housing association Clúid bought the Leeside Apartments.
Tenants in several apartments on South Richmond Street say they got notices to quit last autumn. Some said that while they didn’t want to leave, they were unsure what to do. Others left, they say.
In his flat, Hossain grabs a stack of documents: the lease, a letter his flatmate wrote to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) in February, and a notice to terminate the tenancy from McCormack Property Consultants signed by “agent for the landlord” Ronan McCormack.
The landlord wants to “substantially refurbish and renovate the dwelling”, the letter says. It lists works such as installing insulation, plumbing and electrics, a new fire-alarm system, new kitchens, bathrooms, flooring and furniture – and repairing and replacing doors.
But this letter that came to them was invalid, says Hossain. It’s addressed to people they’ve never heard of – not to the leaseholder, their flatmate who’s away on holiday at the moment. “We don’t even know them.”
Two doors down at number 56, Eucilene Francisco got a notice to quit in October last year, not long after her husband had died, she said, on Thursday, sat in her cosy apartment. “I didn’t reply, I didn’t know.”
The room is bright and colourful. A washing machine hums in the kitchenette. There’s a guitar on the wall. Potted cactuses sit on dinky wooden shelves, and larger house plants pose by the window sill.
In the corner, a lamp casts a beam of light at piles of papers and books. As in other flats, Francisco is in exam mode.
She’s searched for a place to move on to, she says – even while juggling work at House of Fraser and a course in languages and business at TU Dublin.
But hasn’t had any luck. “I’ve tried everything. I’m getting to the end of the road,” she says.
She went to Focus Ireland for advice. But came away, thinking it had seemed as if they were getting her ready, psychologically, for homeless hostels, she says. “To scare you, so you are prepared.”
McCormack, of Belgrave Property, had knocked a few times, before last Tuesday, says Hossain.
There had been visits and phone calls asking whether they had left, or when they were leaving, he says, showing a log on his phone. Hossain says he told him they thought the notice wasn’t valid.
Under the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords have to issue a valid notice of termination to ask tenants to leave. Tenants can challenge the validity of a notice through the RTB.
Also, if tenants don’t leave when the notice expires, landlords have to put in a dispute-resolution application to the RTB, and follow that process through – so the RTB can rule.
If a landlord changes the locks, say, or removes belongings, that could be an illegal eviction or attempted illegal eviction, the RTB notes. It can attract penalties of up to €20,000.
A video from Tuesday 7 May shows Hossain and his housemates telling McCormack and another man, Derek Connolly – who McCormack doesn’t name but says “works for the landlord” – that they can’t come in. The tenants ask to see some ID or paperwork.
McCormack says they are “squatting” and demands to go inside.
Last Thursday, Hossain said he’s been living there for years, and his last landlord knew him well.
They’d greet each other every Friday, Hossain said, when he was there cleaning the stairwells and hall, and “when we had something like need to fix the shower. He knows me very well.”
Back on the video, McCormack moves towards the door, a bunch of keys in his hand, as he speaks to the tenants, who are telling him he can’t enter. “Who are you to stop me? I’m appointed here by the landlord,” McCormack says.
Later videos show McCormack, and Connolly, standing around as men in yellow high-vis pry the doors from their hinges, and carry them away.
There’s a pile of big plastic bags. “Pack up your stuff guys,” says a voice off-camera.
Two days later, Hossain says that the day the video was taken, he and his flatmates had called the guards and the RTB, but that hadn’t helped. “I was very scared. They were bashing around the house. It was a big mess.”
When Hossain called Peter Dooley, who works with the Dublin Renters’ Union and People Before Profit, on speakerphone, McCormack and the rest moved and left, Hossain says.
Clearing the Block
Dooley, who is running as a local-election candidate in Kimmage-Rathmines, says that funds that own property in this part of the city are forcing more and more people from the area – aided by legislation that permits the termination of tenancies to allow for substantial refurbishments.
It’s hard for tenants to enforce their rights, partly because of rules, the way enforcement is handled through the Residential Tenancies Board, and the speed of intervention, he says.
But also because it’s often hard for tenants to work out who their landlords are. “It’s owned by faceless people behind it,” Dooley said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that “a number of measures have been introduced in recent years with the objective of improving security of tenure for tenants”.
If a landlord gives a notice to quit based on needing to substantially refurbish the dwelling, they have to provide a lot of details around what they intend to do, they said.
The RTB takes unlawful terminations of tenancy “very seriously”, said the spokesperson. “Decision makers have discretion to award up to and including €20,000 in damages.”
Dooley says those penalties aren’t strict enough. “Very little is enforced by the RTB. Tenants get evicted, and the landlord puts it back on the market. Where’s the sanction for landlords?” he says.
Md Hasan says he’s lived in one of the flats at 53 Richmond Street South for 13 years. He doesn’t want to leave, he says – and can’t find anywhere affordable to move.
Conditions have been tough sometimes, though. Over the winter, the heating didn’t go on as usual, he says. “After plenty of fight, they turned on the heat.”
He’s been trying to get the washing machine fixed for two months, too, he says. “Water comes, but it doesn’t spin.”
Hasan says he’s been approached in the street – asked when he’s going to leave. Finding a new place in Dublin, on a budget, is near impossible though, he says.
He sees poor living conditions as a strategy. “That’s one kind of push,” he says.
Next door in 54 South Richmond Street, Hossain and his flatmates say the heating didn’t work there over the winter, either.
In February this year, their flatmate Md Alamgir Hosen wrote to the RTB complaining that there had been no central heating from October to the end of March, and that nothing is ever fixed. The “toilet [seat], tap, are broken,” he writes.
The common areas of the house are never cleaned, he wrote. It’s full of insects and mice.
They’re paying rent into an account, but not sure who it’s going to, he wrote. We do not know “who is [the] owner”.
Who Is the Owner
Dealing with a company landlord has made it hard, some tenants say.
Last year, tenants got letters saying the homes were now being managed by McCormack Properties Consultants.
In February this year, they got another letter, saying rent would be collected from March by Belgrave Property Management – and giving new bank details.
But they were unsure who the ultimate owner was, says Hossain. “We are still confused.”
In his flat in number 56 Richmond Street South, Fergus Chapman has boxed up some of his belongings already. He’s unsure what’s going to happen, he says.
A while back, he needed proof of the building’s new ownership to give to Dublin City Council, so they’d keep paying their chunk of his rent supplement, so he wouldn’t fall into arrears, he says.
He went down to McCormack’s office and got one form signed, but needed another letter stating ownership, he says. “I haven’t heard anything.”
Val Issuer DAC was set up in December 2017, company records show. In February this year, one share was allotted to Lugus Rentals Limited. Lugus Rentals Limited is owned by Lugus Capital Advisors Limited.
A LinkedIn page which isn’t up anymore listed Derek Connolly, the man in the video who McCormack says “works for the landlord”, as asset manager for Lugus Capital Advisors.
Also in February this year, roughly 47,000 Val Issuer DAC shares were also transferred to BCC DSS 2017 (Ireland) Investments DAC, the records show.
Broadhaven Credit Investments II DAC changed its name to BCC DSS 2017 in 2017. The company entered into an investment advisory agreement with Bain Capital Credit LP, who serve as investment manager, a company auditors’ report from 2018 says.
Larea FA fund has also been linked to Bain Capital, a private investment firm based in Boston, which says it has over $105 billion in assets under management around the world.
Dooley, of the Dublin Renters Union, says the tenants in the row of buildings on South Richmond Street are organising with a reasonable demand: that their landlords, Val Issuer DAC and Larea FA Fund, refurbish the apartments bit by bit, and move tenants between them as they go.
After refurbishing, landlords have to offer the tenants the property once its back on the market, if it’s available within six months. But still, tenants don’t know how much the rents may be.
Belgrave Property Management has studios in the general area to rent on Daft.ie, among them one sized at 18sqm and another at 20sqm, the listings say, that cost between €1,150 and €1,399 a month – much more than the tenants on South Richmond Street are paying now.
Right now, like others, Hossain and his flatmates are staying put. He says they’re all nervous if they’re home alone. “We are insecure now, and at the same time, stress, anxiety.”
As soon as their neighbour Francisco heard what had happened to Hossain and his flatmates, she called a friend.
“I was freaking out,” she says, knowing the date she’s been told to leave was drawing close, but she had nowhere to go. “What do I do now?”