Natalia Szwedo has been through this before. Not that long ago, either, she says.
Three months ago, the Residential Tenancies Board ruled that a notice to quit that Szwedo had received was invalid. It breached rules brought in to prevent mass evictions. Eight of her neighbours had also been served with notices.
Last month, though, she got a second notice to quit – and so did at least four of her neighbours, she says. Fewer than last time.
Szwedo had suspected her landlord would move again to evict her because her rent is well below market rate, she says. “I knew it was coming but I didn’t expect it to be so soon.”
Szwedo is gearing up to fight it again. “I’m tired after the first round,” she said, last Thursday, at Costa Coffee at The Square in Tallaght, just a few streets away from her home in Exchange Hall.
But “I have nothing to lose,” she says.
Elsewhere in the city, at 40, 42 and 44 Rathmines Road Lower, in a strip of three three-storey buildings, several tenants – it’s unclear how many – have been given notices to leave recently too.
Those helping Szwedo and the Rathmines tenants say that the law known as “the Tyrrelstown amendment”, which is there to stop professional landlords from evicting too many households at once, should be tightened up.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that the Tyrrelstown amendment, as it is, provides a “proportionate and justifiable limit to the legal right of landlords to use the ‘intention to sell’ ground to terminate a tenancy”.
In 2016, after 40 households were told all at once that they had to leave their homes at Cruise Park Drive in Tyrrelstown to the north-west of the city, the Department of Housing brought in a new rule.
Dubbed the Tyrrelstown amendment, it means that if a landlord intends to sell 10 or more “units” inhabited by tenants, within a single development, within a certain period, the tenants have the right to remain in their homes even though they’re sold.
There are exceptions, though.
If the landlord can show that the homes would sell for an extra 20 percent or more if they were vacant and that the loss they incurred would be “unduly onerous” on them or cause them “undue hardship” they are exempt – and can use the sale as grounds to evict.
At Szwedo’s adjudication hearing on 29 May, about her first notice to quit, the landlord’s agents told the RTB that landlord Maureen Rennicks owned 25 apartments in Exchange Hall, while her son owned one more, and Joseph McPeake and his deceased parents’ estate together owned another four, according to the adjudicator’s report.
While Maureen Rennicks planned to sell all 25 of the apartments she owned, she had served only nine notices of termination, which was allowed under the Residential Tenancies Act, they argued, according to the report.
In July, the RTB ruled that Szwedo’s first notice to quit was invalid, and so she didn’t have to leave. While only nine termination notices had been issued, the landlord might sell more than 10 apartments, the adjudicator said.
The ruling mentioned an advert which offered the apartments for sale in three lots – either all together, or the 13 apartments on one floor in a bundle, or the 17 apartments on another floor in a bundle. They could also be sold one by one, the advert also said.
“There must be absolute clarity in relation to how many dwellings are being sold during a relevant period of time to comply with statutory obligations following the introduction of the ‘Tyrrelstown Amendment’”, the adjudicator’s report said. If the landlord intended to sell only nine apartments, the advert should have reflected that, they said.
When Szwedo received her second notice to quit – and until at least late last week – McPeake Auctioneers were still advertising 30 properties for sale at Exchange Hall.
By 15 October, the advert had been taken down. It’s unclear if the landlord’s plans have changed.
Szwedo says she doesn’t know what’s going on – why she wouldn’t still be protected this time under the Tyrrelstown amendment, if it applied last time.
“If they are selling that is grand, but why can’t they sell with us in them?” she says.
Nine households got the notices the first time and this time around five of those nine – as far as she knows – got them again, she says. “I’m guessing it is because we are paying the lowest rent,” she says.
She has been living in her apartment for about eight years. Her rent is €1,040 for a two-bed apartment. The going rate for something similar in Tallaght these days is about €1,600, she says.
Gerard Farrelly, the landlord’s agent at McPeake Auctioneers, said that the second notice to quit does not breach the Tyrrelstown amendment. “We suggest you study the legislation carefully.”
He didn’t want to comment further, he said. “We are instructed that your story will be checked and if inaccurate in any way, under advice, action will be taken.”
Numbers 40,42 and 44 Rathmines Road Lower are three-storey, terraced Georgian houses, with front yards concreted with car-parking spaces.
Each house is broken up into apartments. Multiple households in each house with the same owner are facing eviction – and some of them are filing disputes with the RTB this week, says Peter Dooley of Dublin Renters Union.
One document given to tenants shows that, in this case, the landlord says that the market value would be more than 20 percent lower if he sold with the tenants in place. Hence the notices to quit.
Attempts to contact the landlord via the estate agent before this was published were unsuccessful.
Dooley says that measures introduced to improve security of tenure aren’t working. There are still too many ways that landlords can evict tenants, he says.
“They just keep coming back at you,” he says. “If they are intent on getting people out they will find a way to do it.”
A spokesperson for the Irish Property Owners Association said that landlords have not raised any problems with the Tyrrelstown amendment with her.
But she wonders if sometimes the reason for multiple evictions could be that the landlord is in trouble financially, she said.
Again and Again
“The Tyrrelstown Amendment is deeply flawed,” says Cathy Flanagan, communications executive with the housing advice charity Threshold.
It says that a tenancy can’t be terminated on the grounds of an intention to sell where the landlord is seeking to sell 10 or more dwellings within a development, she says – but it caveats that as “during the relevant time”.
The “relevant time” clause is a problem, she says. Landlords can still carry out mass evictions if they sell properties off in lots of nine homes at a time, says Flanagan.
The only brake is those small-group sales have to be at least six months apart from each other, says Flanagan.
Threshold says it has dealt with several cases recently where landlords issued eviction notices and when the RTB decided in favour of the tenant, the landlord then issued notice of termination under different grounds.
In one case in Ballsbridge, the landlord issued notice to 30 households on the grounds of refurbishment, says Flanagan of Threshold. Some tenants moved out.
Others contested it – successfully. But by the time they got the decision, only five households were left, says Flanagan.
The landlord issued them with new notices of termination – this time on the grounds that he was selling, she says.
Said Patrick Nelis, a housing activist with Dublin South West Housing Action: “We are looking for the Tyrrelstown amendment to be made more precise.”
He too says he worries that landlords may circumvent the spirit of rules by evicting tenants nine at a time, and that tenants might not always know how many others are also being evicted.
Also, the number of households that can be evicted at one time should be reduced from nine to three or four, says Nelis, who has been helping Szwedo with her case.
Dooley, of the Dublin Renters Union, who is also a member of People Before Profit, says it shouldn’t matter whether it is one household or 10.
He says the solution lies in the anti-eviction bill that Solidarity-People Before Profit introduced in the Dáil last November – which, among other things, would remove the sale of a property as a ground for terminating a tenancy. The bill is in committee stage.
Szwedo says she was worn down by the time she got the second notice to quit. She started going to viewings, she says.
She attended two. There were around 20 people at one of them. “At the other one it was so crowded I couldn’t get out of the lift,” she said.
She and her family rely on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme – which makes the search for somewhere else even harder, she says. “Landlords don’t like HAP,” she says.
She won’t put her family, including two young children, in homeless accommodation, she says. Moving further from the city is tough too.
She is a part-time receptionist. Her husband Rafal is a night janitor at Tallaght Hospital. “I would have to leave my job, I would have to change the schools for my kids,” says Szwedo.
She’s been here for 12 years building a life. But they might have to give up those jobs and move back to Poland if they can’t find accommodation, she says.
Jobs are scarce in the small city where she’s from, she says. “That is really not ideal.”
She might score office work back in Poland, as her English is good, but her husband would have to try and get into a factory.
“They work with aluminium and he doesn’t want to work in those conditions again,” she says. “He really doesn’t want to go back.”