Tenants told to leave Monkstown Mansions
``Its not just about us. It's the general situation of tenants in private rented
accommodation. We've no rights whatsoever. Landlords hold your life and
livelihoods in their hands, and for the sake of a quick buck, they can put you on
the streets and you've no defence or chance of fair treatment. It's a terrible
situation,'' says Caoimhín O'Fathaigh, one of nine private tenants in
Dublin facing eviction over the next few weeks.
``How can the government let this happen to us?''
If the temperature were doubled and the light brighter, you'd think it was a
little residential courtyard in Italy, surrounded on two sides by two-storey
housing split into flats and two high walls. It used to be old stabling for the
big house, now Monkstown Community Centre. But the landlordism of `the big
house' persists. Only the nationality has changed.
Amongst the parked cars, a little table and chairs are set out. Each tenant flies off in different directions to collect their contribution to the celebration of tea. They return with the sugar from the West, a couple of tea bags from the south, sugar. Gearóid Morton brings the water. There are only two cups. The mad-hatters tea party. They are artists, poets, actors from the land of the saints and scholars that Bord Fáilte likes to brag about, but no one wants to care for - at least not when it comes to property.
On 15 February, the new owner, Carlos Portalanza, who bought the property off Patrick Finucane, served notice to quit on the tenants. They went to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council to ask what they could do, where they might be able to live. The council told them they must wait for the eviction notice to expire, then the landlord would take them to court to get them out, where they might get a stay of execution on eviction in a district court, but they had no chance of remaining in their homes.
``Early one morning, I passed a man living in a concrete pipe, down the road from here. He looked so cold. I gave him a fiver for a bowl of soup. Maybe we'll end up there,'' says Caoimhin Ó Fathaigh. ``The council told us that once we were evicted we might be offered B&B or hostel accommodation.'' Single people haven't a chance of housing. There are 5,000 homeless people roaming the streets to prove it.
Pádraig, who is a poet, scholar and writer, says, in his despair, ``What would I do with my books, in a hostel for the homeless. Its would mean the end of my life.'' Padraig used to run and act in a theatre in Rome. He has lived in Monkstown Mansions for over 11 years. He has no rights.
Fred has lived there for 18 years. He has a job locally, upon which he depends for his livelihood. ``If we went to a B&B, I'd have to pay, because I'm earning. I couldn't afford B&B rates on my wage. He earns £150 a week.''
As it is, the flats are badly run down, with leaking roofs, no central heating, damp and mildew throughout. ``The corporation should have taken the previous landlord to task and obliged him to repair the place. For mostly one-room flats, the tenants were paying around £250 a month.'' This gave the landlord £27,000 per annum for nothing. It was the tenants themselves who had to fix the slates when the rain poured in. ``And why didn't the council stop him selling the place over our heads, and oblige him to bring the apartments up to minimum standards?'' asks Padraig.
The new landlord, Carlos Portalanza, sent all the tenants notices of rent increase from 1 April, Fools Day, of between 250% and 320%. He wants £200 a week for a one-room flat. Then they got a solicitor's letter saying the owner didn't want them to use the courtyard to park their cars anymore. ``Its all part of trying to get us out of our homes,'' says Caoimhin O'Maoileoin. ``He has a skip outside my kitchen window. It's there for weeks. Draws the rats and flies. Coming round with big friends, banging our doors. What have we done wrong to have to put up with this?''
``Its disgraceful how people are treated in this state,'' says Caoimhin O'Fathaigh, enraged at the injustice of their situation. If we can publicise our situation, just to bring it to the attention of the government, it would be something. In Germany, they are not allowed to increase rents more than 5% over three years. Landlords can't just evict you. What is wrong with our government? Why do they let this happen? Have they forgotten the old days, and what people suffered. Why do they keep things the same?''
Caoimhin is an actor. Next week he's playing `Everyman' in a morality play, a long awaited dream for a lead part in a play. ``I am `Everyman''' he says. So he is, at least every man without property.