A landlord has been ordered to pay a couple a year’s rent in compensation after their request to avail of a housing assistance payment sparked an “egregious” campaign of harassment against them.
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) was told that gardaí were called to “move on” a group of “black-clad masked men” carrying “large tools” – alleged to be members of the landlord’s family – who came to the house on October 27th 2021, two days after an eviction notice came into force.
The call-out involving gardaí followed other incidents which included an agricultural trailer being “parked against the front door” and a large bag of sand being placed in the driveway, the tribunal was told.
The complainants also said the electricity supply was interfered with or cut off twice.
In a decision issued on Friday, the tribunal upheld a complaint of discrimination on the housing assistance ground taken by the tenants, Joselyn King and her partner Piotr Pedzisz, against their former landlords, Lisa and Michael Furlong.
Ms King and Mr Pedzisz, who rented a property in Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford from the Furlongs, exhibited a sworn statement they had made to gardaí over the incident.
“Only the speedy physical intervention of the local gardaí prevented serious intimidation taking place,” said a Threshold advocate who appeared for the tenants.
The tenants said they had started renting in August 2020, but fell into financial difficulties and asked their landlord to accept HAP in November that year.
“No, I am not open to HAP,” they were told. “I am only happy to except rent without HAP. I had other tenants that told me they had HAP, but I did not accept them. It’s your choice – you can stay without HAP, or you can look for something else,” the landlord told them in a text message.
The respondent landlords, who were represented by solicitor John G Murphy of John A Sinnott & Co, did not dispute that text or subsequent ones with the same message, adjudicating officer Michael McEntee noted.
“The respondents continually referred to ‘tax issues’ that would be brought to light if they went into the HAP scheme,” the Threshold advocate submitted.
Ms Furlong said in her own evidence that there had been “no reference to HAP” when the complainants took up the tenancy and that the tenants had asked her to take Mr Pedzisz off the tenancy to “facilitate” the HAP application.
She said she was not content to do this, as the loss of Mr Pedzisz’s “substantial” job at a local bakery would leave the “sound financial basis” of her investment “uncertain”.
Ms Furlong said she got no rent from August 2021 following a dispute over payment, after she sent the notice to quit.
Ms Furlong accepted in her evidence, however, that she said she “might accept HAP if the rent was increased to €1,000 per month” from €850.
The landlords’ position was that a “legally valid” notice to quit was served with effect from late October and that the parking of the trailer and the bags of sand were “perfectly acceptable on their own property”.
It was further submitted by the landlords that the account of what happened at the property on October 27th, 2021 was “a complete exaggeration by the complainant”.
“HAP had nothing to do with the case. No discrimination could have taken place as HAP was never involved,” Mr Murphy said in a closing submission.
In his decision, the adjudicator, Mr McEntee, said the matter had already been “well ventilated” at a Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) hearing in April 2021 which deemed the eviction notice to be a proper one.
He noted the RTB’s findings that “family members and/or agents significantly interfered with the peaceful occupation between October 2021 and January 2022″.
Quoting further from the RTB’s decision, Mr McEntee noted a finding that it was “clear the landlord refused to accept HAP and stated this on a number of occasions”, but had denied the eviction notice was a result of the HAP request.
“The adjudication view has to be that the refusal to accept HAP was the initiating factor in the rest,” Mr McEntee wrote, adding: “The harassment was of a particularly egregious nature.”
Mr McEntee wrote that he was making a “sizeable award” of €12,000 in the case, amounting to about a year’s rent on the property, because “the evidence presented of respondent behaviours merit an award of this nature”.
The RTB determination order in the matter issued September 7th last year ordered Lisa Fanning to pay €1,741 to her former tenants at a house at Silverdale, Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, Ms King and Mr Pedzisz.
The award was for a breach of the Residential Tenancies Act under the section referring to allowing a tenant to “enjoy peaceful and exclusive occupation of the dwelling” and comprised €4,000 in damages, less rent arrears of €3,109, taking into account a security deposit of €850.