Ashling Murphy and her boyfriend Albert Okolo arrived home last Wednesday to find their belongings stuffed into black bags and dumped outside in the rain, beside the communal bins.
Okolo recorded the scene on his phone.
“Oh my god, that is all our stuff,” says Murphy, in the video. “By the bins.”
“Is that all our stuff?” says Okolo. He sounds shocked and angry. “Oh my god. Oh, Jesus Christ.”
The shutters of the converted warehouse at Slaney Road in Glasnevin where they live are pulled down. Another tenant shouts from an upstairs window. He can’t get in and out with his keys, he says.
Earlier that afternoon, their landlord Christopher Noone had phoned to say he was packing up their belongings, said Murphy, later.
A week earlier, he had issued them with a seven-day notice of termination. They’re disputing the notice through the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), she says.
In the video, Okolo approaches the window to speak to Noone.
“Christopher, you are finished man,” he says. “You need to go and learn your rules and regulations. This is illegal.”
“You got your seven days notice and you chose to ignore it,” says Noone.
Turfing out Murphy and Okolo – and locking others inside – marks the latest round of conflict between tenants and those letting out the refurbished building on an industrial estate at 131C Slaney Road, coming just months after a round of mass evictions in March.
On Thursday on the phone, Christopher Noone said he thought at the time last week that he was within his rights to physically evict the young couple from the room.
Now, he accepts that that was not legal, he says. “Afterwards someone said to me you can’t do that.”
Last Wednesday, Noone had gathered 14 friends to help him with the eviction.
Ben Gilroy arrived later that day – the “anti-eviction activist” and political hopeful who during his campaign for a European Parliament seat last year made a video of himself smashing “unlawful evictions” with a hurley.
Noone says he is a close personal friend. Gilroy says Noone only called him hours after the eviction began. “I went down and told him he couldn’t do that and he let them back in,” Gilroy said.
Around 30 housing activists protested outside the premises for several hours in support of Okolo and Murphy. Eventually, the couple got back into their room.
Patrick Nelis of Ireland Housing Action (32) was at the eviction in an orange hi-vis jacket, he says that the activists successfully negotiated to get the tenants back in. Illegal evictions and threats of illegal eviction are becoming more common since the eviction ban was lifted, he says.
In March 2020, 42 people were also evicted from 131C Slaney Road, after just 24 hours notice that they had to leave.
Noone says he is not the owner but is the main leaseholder on the property at 131C Slaney Road.
He says he organised the refurbishment to convert the warehouse into a place for people to live. He finished the work in November 2019, he says.
But he had nothing to do with March eviction, he says. Rather, he had sublet the property to Joe Somerville, said Noone.
Renato Passos, who was managing the property back in March before the eviction , also said that Somerville was the landlord.
A solicitor on behalf of Somerville said by text message: “Joe Somerville has nothing to do with Slaney Road property. In addition, he has nothing to do with Chris Noone.”
The solicitor wouldn’t answer questions about the previous eviction and whether Somerville had a role in it.
Noone says he had refurbished the warehouse intending to apply, in the future, to Dublin City Council for a change of use to turn it into residential accommodation.
The ultimate aim was to turn it into emergency accommodation, a joint venture between himself and Somerville, he says. In other words, a homeless hostel.
Somerville already has contracts with the council to provide emergency accommodation, says Noone.
According to a spokesperson for Dublin City Council, Somerville runs two homeless hostels in the city already.
The emergency accommodation plan didn’t work out due to planning issues, says Noone. So he rented the property to Somerville, who sublet it to another person, he says. Noone thought the building was being used for an English language school, he says.
He says he first heard about the eviction of 42 students when he was contacted by Dublin InQuirer. “I was incredulous.”
“That is the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard,” says Noone. “He is getting a contract to put in homeless and he is making people homeless overnight.” (Passos said that they were moved to other properties.)
Those tenants should have got 28 days’ notice, says Noone.
Later, he says that recently he gave all his current tenants seven-days notice and only extended that to 28 days when they objected.
Tenants like Murphy and Okolo, who have been in a place less than six months are owed 28 days notice, under current rules.
If tenants don’t leave at deadline, landlords can’t just send in heavies to throw them out. They have to file a dispute with the RTB, where members rule on what should happen.
On 20 March, a Dublin City Council spokesperson said by email that it was planning to take over the premises at 131 Slaney Road.
“Dublin City Council is currently finalising an agreement to lease this property on a short term basis as contingency (emergency accommodation) during the Covid 19 crisis,” said the spokesperson.
This week, a spokesperson said the council never planned to take on the building.
“Dublin City Council were contacted by the landlord in March at the onset of Covid 19 to see if we had any interest in using his property for accommodation,” says the council spokesperson.
“However we had no interest at the time, and there has been no contact since,” they said.
Dublin City Council refused a freedom of information request for correspondence relating to 131 Slaney Road. There is none , the response says.
Noone says he didn’t know that there was a plan to turn the building into emergency accommodation in March 2020, although he and Somerville had originally intended to do that.
He got a planning enforcement notice from Dublin City Council in July, he says, as he didn’t have planning permission to turn the warehouse into housing.
Back for Now
“Ya, ya we got back in,” said Ashling Murphy, happily to another housemate outside the premises last Wednesday at around 6.30pm.
The hood of her black jumper is pulled up past the collar of a red camouflage jacket.
Beside her, Okolo is in shorts and a baseball cap. He shivers in the cold and rain. He’s surprised at Noone’s lack of knowledge of the law, he says.
When the couple moved in on 8 June, Noone told them they could stay for a year and they’d get contracts the following day, says Murphy.
They kept pushing to get a lease, says Murphy. The couple were were paying €200 per week to rent an ensuite room
They recently moved back to Dublin from England and are looking for work, says Okolo. Both are on social welfare and they need a proof of address.
Okolo said he would print the contract himself and all Noone had to do was sign it, says Murphy. Shortly after that, Noone told them they had three days to leave, she says, while Noone says he gave them seven days.
“We spoke to everyone else and no one was accepting it,” says Murphy. She opened a case with the RTB.
While they were out last Wednesday, Noone and his helpers packed up their belongings and left them outside in the rain.
Murphy says that as a woman she feels her privacy has been breached. Noone and his friends had no right to go through her personal stuff, she says.
“I do everything by paperwork,” says Noone. He couldn’t give the couple a lease because he couldn’t get insurance for the building, he says.
His landlord, the owner of the building, wants the residents to move out because they are not insured, he says.
Noone wouldn’t say who the landlord is. Land records don’t show it clearly.
He didn’t want to evict the tenants, he says, but had no choice because there is no insurance.
Noone initially gave all the tenants seven-days’ notice, he says. But some of them “kicked up about it”.
He says he rang the RTB who told him that he could issue a 28-day notice. But when he did that “everyone went mad obviously you know”, he says. “This lad that I evicted yesterday he went particularly mad.”
Noone says that Okolo and Murphy were verbally abusive after he gave them 28 days notice. So he then issued them with seven-days’ notice for what he said was anti-social behaviour.
Okolo says that Noone first gave them three days, then later came back with a notice for 28 days – which Okolo says he believed was invalid.
Noone says he misinterpreted what the RTB told him about the seven-day notice for anti-social behaviour. “I thought I could just fuck them out at the end of that,” he says. “Apparently not so.”
His friends came to help him do the eviction but they all behaved professionally, he says.
Noone now realises that his actions were not lawful, he says.
He was under a lot of stress, he says. He had no insurance, faced enforcement by the council, and was also in a row with the tenants, he says.
“I was under a lot of pressure and stress from them so maybe I did act inappropriately,” says Noone.
Dublin City Council has given him until November to stop housing people in the commercial building, he says.
Noone says he altered a document he showed to tenants from Dublin City Council.
“I just took out the dates because I didn’t want them all digging their heels in over the dates,” he says. “The date is November but that is between me and the council.”
While Okolo and Murphy were locked outside on Wednesday, their housemates say that, – with the shutters pulled down – they were locked in while this was happening.
Noone says this is not true, that the tenants could come and go but he had to lift the shutters each time for them to do so.
Stood in the large shared kitchen, with grey countertops and wooden flooring, on Wednesday evening is Sean Maher, another tenant.
Having 14 strangers and the landlord traipse through their home for the eviction amounts to intimidation too, says Maher. “It’s plain and obvious.”
Noone refused to lift the shutters and said he’d have to go out through the window if he wanted to exit, says Maher.
Maher got angry and raised his voice and a garda cautioned him for anti-social behaviour, he says.
He complained to gardaí who were present on Wednesday about the shutters being down and told them this was illegal, he says.
Gardaí didn’t seem concerned that the tenants were trapped inside, he says, which he argued was a criminal issue.
“What happened if something happened in the building, that is what we were very concerned about,” he says. “I didn’t see any support from the Guards.”
A Garda spokesperson says: “Gardaí spoke with both parties at the scene and advised that this was a civil matter and that a resolution should be sought through the appropriate channels.”
Domnick Komorcec, another tenant, said it was pure luck that he wasn’t at his day job at the airport that Wednesday.
If everyone had been out, there would have been nobody to raise the alarm, he says.
Now, he’s worried about going out. “You go to work and he can throw your stuff out of the building,” says Komorcec. “What can you do?”
It’s difficult to find other accommodation given the pandemic, says Kormorcec. Landlords aren’t taking new tenants.
Tourist hostels are closed too, says Maher.
Both men say they’re worried that they won’t be able to find other accommodation before 5 September, when their notice periods are up. They fear more illegal evictions, then.
Komorcec says he’s worried that the RTB might not hear their case since the property is zoned as commercial.
Gavin Elliot, a legal officer at housing charity Threshold, said it would be down to the RTB to decide if they are covered. (Elliot said he couldn’t comment on individual cases, just generally.)
People might have fewer rights if they are licensees rather than tenants, but it again would be down to the RTB to decide which they are, he says.
“The RTB often finds that most renters are tenants – except in cases where the landlord is living in the property,” says Elliot.
Noone says that he is only renting rooms so he can enter the property without the tenants’ permission.
“It is not their home, I rent rooms,” he says. “I can sleep there, I can do anything I like there. That is my building.”
“They just rent rooms off me. I stay there unbeknownst to them. I sleep there, they wouldn’t even know I’m in and out,” he says.
Once a renter issues a dispute with the RTB “that freezes the eviction process”, says Elliot. “The landlord is then forbidden from evicting for all intents and purposes.”
If renters fear an illegal eviction, they can push the RTB to apply for a court injunction to stop the landlord from doing that.
A tenant can also lodge a dispute for illegal eviction and they may get compensation,
According to the RTB website, the maximum compensation for an illegal eviction is €20,000.
But tenants usually get around €2,000, says Elliot.
That is not a lot compared to losing your home, he says. “Once you have lost your house the damage is done.”
Additional reporting by Sean Finnan
UPDATE: The article was updated at 12:58pm on 26 August 2020 to include comments from Ben Gilroy.