A tenant who said her landlord became aggressive when she asked him to sign off on a housing assistance payment (HAP) and threatened her with eviction while she was pregnant has secured €13,000 in compensation.
The Workplace Relations Commission made the order against the landlord, John Corley, on foot of a complaint of discrimination under the Equal Status Act 2000 brought by Laura Keane.
After hearing that Mr Corley still refuses to complete the HAP application form, the tribunal ordered him to do so, and to accept HAP payments from the local council.
At an equality hearing last month, Ms Keane said she was pregnant with her second child when Mr Corley came to her door on February 26th, 2022, with an eviction notice.
He was “extremely aggressive in his interactions” towards her that day, she told the tribunal, adding that she believed the notice to have been a “direct consequence” of asking him to sign the HAP application form earlier that month.
Ms Keane had been Mr Corley’s tenant for five years with a “positive” and “uneventful” relationship until she asked him on February 13th last year for a written lease and told him she planned to apply for the payment, she said.
The following day, she said, Mr Corley phoned and told her that if she wanted a lease he would “have to increase the rent from €850 to €1,000 per month”.
After consulting with a local auctioneer and the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), she said phoned Mr Corley again a number of times over the following week.
Her evidence was that her landlord “reacted aggressively on these calls” and told her “repeatedly” that he “did not want HAP on [the] property”.
Mr Corley then told the complainant his solicitor had advised him to “get rid” of her and that she would get “something in relation to that soon”.
An advocate from housing charity Threshold, who appeared for Ms Keane, argued: “By his actions and refusals to comply with the tenant’s request, the landlord has clearly discriminated against the tenant and victimised her by seeking to punish her and her family with an eviction.
“The effect of the refusal to sign the HAP forms is to imperil the complainant’s tenancy and, in circumstances where HAP is the primary state support for tenants, is tantamount to refusal to continue to rent to the complainant,” the advocate said.
Ms Keane said the situation had put her and her family under “considerable financial pressure” as she was paying a sum in rent “which she should not have to pay”.
The tribunal heard that a legal opinion given to Ms Keane stated that the eviction notice from Mr Corley was invalid, and that it was withdrawn by the landlord at an RTB hearing on May 30th, 2022 – the day before the eviction notice had required vacant possession.
The RTB decision on other matters referred by Ms Keane is awaiting an appeal outcome, the WRC was told.
Ms Keane said Mr Corley failed to return her calls after the RTB hearing and failed to respond to a text inquiring about the completion of the HAP form in June.
“The uncontested evidence of the complainant is that the respondent continues to refuse to complete section B of the HAP application form and that this is having an adverse effect on the complainant both financially and emotionally. I am satisfied that this ongoing refusal to complete the HAP form and/or to accept HAP towards payment of rent amounts to less favourable treatment,” wrote adjudicating officer Bríd Deering.
Noting that Mr Corley “failed to proffer sufficiently evidenced reasons for non-attendance” in a failed application for adjournment, nor any communication indicating “any difficulty” attending the hearing as scheduled, Ms Deering had gone ahead and heard Ms Keane’s evidence without Mr Corley.
“As the respondent did not attend the hearing, the respondent has not availed of an opportunity to rebut the inference of discrimination,” she added.
Ruling in favour of Ms Keane, the adjudicator ordered the landlord to pay her €13,000 in compensation in view of “the seriousness of the discrimination and the effects of same, both financial and otherwise, on the complainant”.
She also made a direction to Mr Corley, ordering him to fill out the relevant sections of the HAP application form; to accept HAP payments from the relevant local council; and to comply with “any other necessary conditions to enable the complainant to apply for and to be in receipt of HAP”.