In April 2021, Patrick Pluijgers needed to find a place to live quickly, he says.
He viewed a studio flat at 81 Furry Park Road in Killester for €850 per month. The house looked a bit rough around the edges but he didn’t notice anything that looked unsafe, he says.
The landlord seemed okay at first, he says. “I met him as John White,” says Pluijgers.
The shower mostly didn’t work though, says Pluijgers, who sent on a video taken in July last year of him trying and failing to make the water run.
He soon realised that there were other problems too, he says, in the house that held four studio flats.
“It was an absolute hazard,” he says. “Radiators not attached properly to the wall, wastewater pipes stuck together with sellotape.”
Across town in Smithfield at another property that a tenant says was also rented out to them by “John White”, a Dublin City Council environmental health officer issued a notice in May 2022 citing 17 breaches of rental standards including fire-safety issues.
After Pluijgers received an eviction notice in July 2021, a neighbour told him to Google the address, he says.
He discovered old newspaper reports with photos showing the landlord, giving his real name as Kevin Galvin, and saying he was a former garda who had been dismissed from An Garda Síochána in January 2010 and had been jailed for contempt of court after failing to comply with council instructions regarding fire safety in properties he owned.
In July 2013, a fire broke out at one of Galvin’s houses and six people, including a child, were treated for smoke inhalation, according to a report in the Irish Times. Another, from July 2014, in the Irish Examiner, said that the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) had secured two criminal convictions against him for failing to register tenancies.
Pluijgers was awarded damages after taking an RTB case and winning a court order against Galvin, but hasn’t got the money yet, he says. The Smithfield tenant has also won damages, but has struggled to pursue and enforce his claim because the RTB has cited difficulties verifying the landlord’s details.
The RTB is ill-equipped to deal with the most serious cases of landlords violating rental laws and standards, says the Social Democrats TD and housing spokesperson Cian O’Callaghan.
“For that small minority of landlords that make people’s lives hell and break multiple laws, there should be a mechanism for them to be barred from renting because they are just not suitable,” he says.
Galvin didn’t respond to attempts to contact him by email, phone, and text.
Finding a Name
“The whole house is a bad DIY project,” says Pluijgers, a tall man with a beard, wearing glasses and an NY baseball cap.
He is sitting in a booth in a cafe in The Square shopping centre in Tallaght, in the neighbourhood where he has since moved. Pop music blares in the background as he scrolls through his phone for documents.
The windows didn’t close fully, he says. There was a fire detector but its wires were attached to the ceiling with sellotape, show photos taken in July 2021.
The shower wasn’t working properly from the start, says Pluijgers. The water was always cold when it ran, he says.
Galvin told him to turn on the tap or flush the toilet first to get the pump going, says Pluijgers. He wrote him instructions too but Pluijgers says nothing worked.
“I had one proper shower in that place,” says Pluijgers, who lived there for more than three months.
He drove to Tallaght to take a shower in his girlfriend’s house almost every day, which was costing him a lot on petrol. At one point, his son was due to come and stay with him so he really needed to get the shower fixed, he says.
He had several disagreements with the landlord, he says, so in June 2021 Pluijgers withheld half the rent to compensate for what he was spending on petrol. Then, the following month, he got an eviction notice through his door signed by “John White”, the “agent”.
At that point, another tenant in 81 Furry Park Road told him that John White was not the landlord’s real name and that he should Google the address.
“Then I found all the news articles and then I confronted him with it,” says Pluijgers.
In 2010 Dublin City Council applied to the courts to force Galvin to move all the tenants out of houses he had rented out at the time, at 116 Cabra Park, 73 Cabra Park and in a unit to the rear of 41 Phibsboro Road.
According to a report at the time in the Irish Examiner, a fire officer inspected and found problems with the wiring in 116 Cabra Park, among other issues.
Later in 2010, Galvin was jailed for contempt of court for failing to vacate the houses following a court order.
In 2013, there was a fire at 116 Cabra Park, according to the Irish Times. “Six people, including one child, were treated for smoke inhalation following a fire yesterday at the house at 116 Cabra Park which is divided into multiple flats,” it says.
Pluijgers says his lease for the flat at 81 Furry Park Road said the landlord’s name was Joe Galvin.
Pluijgers contacted the Gardaí because he believed that his contract was fraudulent and that it contained a false name.
He also filed a dispute with the landlord at the RTB, reported the issues to the Revenue Commissioners and reported the conditions at the property to Dublin City Council, he says. “I tried everything in my power.”
In the RTB’s determination order, it names the “landlord respondent” as Kevin Galvin.
Pluijgers said he went to the authorities because he thought they should stop Galvin from acting as a landlord.
Looking at Standards
On 12 May 2022 at 2 Wood Lane in Smithfield, where a tenant says he also believed the landlord’s name was John White, the wooden floor boards in the hall were stained with paint, the floor was covered in wood shavings, and some of the floorboards were coming up.
Inside the studio flat there was a fridge, a sink and draining board, a portable hob and a microwave, but nowhere to store groceries. Holes in the wall had been filled in but not painted over.
There was no extractor fan in the bathroom, the only heater was an electric blow heater, and in places dirt was visible through the joins in the floorboards.
During an inspection in April, the Dublin City Council environmental health officer found 17 breaches of rental standards in the flat.
Among the issues were fire-safety violations, mould, no permanent fixed heating appliances, doors that didn’t close, and ceilings and walls in a poor state of structural repair, a council report shows.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council wouldn’t give details about what the current situation is in relation to its investigations into conditions at Wood Lane.
“Dublin Fire Brigade is currently dealing with this building from a fire-safety perspective and we are engaging with the persons in control of the building,” she says. “We have no further comment at this time.”
What Is the State Doing?
Both Pluijgers and the tenant at Wood Lane filed cases with the RTB. Both have struggled, they say, in pursuing their cases.
The RTB won’t hear a case unless it knows the full name and address of the landlord.
The RTB does not record the number of disputes that do not proceed due to not having those details, says a spokesperson for the RTB.
The tenant who had been living in 2 Wood Lane in Smithfield for months was unable to bring a case to the RTB because he didn’t know the landlord’s real name, emails show.
Eventually, in June this year, he found out that it was Kevin Galvin, and was later awarded €20,000 in damages after a hearing at the RTB for multiple breaches of tenancy law, including the unlawful termination of the tenancy, breach of obligations in relation to the dwelling’s standards, and providing a false name.
More recently, the RTB has said that it won’t provide that tenant with legal assistance to get the determination order enforced through the courts – which would force Galvin to pay the damages – because it cannot be certain of the landlord’s address.
“We are still searching for a positive address for the respondent,” said an RTB staff member by email on 26 October.
A spokesperson for the RTB says that it doesn’t comment on individual cases.
In 2021, the RTB provided legal assistance to 90 percent of the tenants and landlords who applied for assistance with enforcing determination orders in the courts, the spokesperson said.
“Of the 365 cases that were processed in 2021, 327 cases were approved for RTB legal assistance,” says the spokesperson.
Some cases don’t proceed due to “insurmountable service difficulties”, he says. There were four such cases in 2020 and six in 2021, he says.
Pluijgers says at first he found the RTB was reluctant to accept that he knew Galvin’s address – even though he had lived next door, he says. “It took me a lot to convince them that it was his address.”
Pluijgers was awarded €1,500 for damages due to the unlawful termination of his tenancy, €1,000 for damages due the landlord’s failure to carry out necessary repairs and €300 for interfering with his right to peaceful occupation of his home.
Galvin didn’t pay the money within the 30 days stipulated by the order. The RTB provided Pluijgers with legal assistance and in October 2022 he got a court order for €2,800.
As of 28 November, Galvin had not paid Pluijgers the money, says Pluijgers. “The man thinks that basically, he is above the law.”
Pluijgers is from the Netherlands. The authorities there would pursue breaches like this more vigorously, he says.
“In Holland the place can be shut down if it’s not up to standard. And the stuff that he has been doing, going under a false name and everything, you can actually go to jail for that,” he says.
O’Callaghan, the Social Democrats TD, says the RTB is not equipped to deal with extreme cases.
It can only make findings in individual cases and it has no power to bar someone from acting as a landlord, no matter how severe the infringements are, he says.
There is a small minority of landlords who operate totally outside of the system, O’Callaghan says. “It is very difficult for renters to take action against them and it’s a real uphill battle.”
All the responsibility to gather evidence including tracking down the landlord shouldn’t fall solely on the tenant in instances where they are flagging safety concerns, he says.
In France, there is legislation that defines a slum landlord, says O’Callaghan and if the landlord won’t bring the property up to the standards, the local authority can take it over. “So that the tenants aren’t made homeless from bringing forward complaints.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that the council has sought additional powers to help it to enforce rental standards and environmental health standards.
If the landlord doesn’t comply with the requests of the environmental health officer the council will issue an improvement notice, said the spokesperson. If he still doesn’t comply, it can issue a prohibition notice or legal proceedings, they said.
The process is stipulated in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992. It can take time and there is no guarantee that the property will be brought into compliance with the standards, said the council spokesperson.
“This Department has sought enhanced powers under this legislation to allow the Court to direct a landlord to comply with the requirements of an Improvement Notice or Prohibition Notice within a specified time,” she says.
It wants the power to go to court for an order requiring the immediate repair of the property, or to prohibit the use of the house as a rented property if there is a risk to people because of the condition of the house or overcrowding, said the spokesperson for Dublin City Council.