A landlord has admitted she "would do things differently" after she lost at least €25,000 in an 18-month battle to remove rent-dodging tenants from her property.
Ann, who does not wish to be named for legal reasons, is owed €18,000 in rent arrears and has spent €6,000 cleaning and refurnishing the property since their departure. She still does not know what her legal bills will cost.
"I do not believe we’ll get any of the money back but I would like some sort of justice. We had no idea it would take as long to get them out, that they would be so stubborn and that the process would be so slow," Ann said.
She now says she "may not have followed the law" if she had been aware of the process ahead.
Since her ordeal, she said she has heard stories of landlords changing door locks, taking front doors off their hinges and paying tenants cash-in-hand in a bid to make them leave.
Ann and her husband invested in the property in Cork as part of a pension plan and began renting to the family of three, a single mother with a grown-up son and a younger child, in December 2015.
"It was complicated as the rent was going into a pension trust, managed by a trust account and we didn’t have visibility on this account," she said.
"It was a few months before we discovered there wasn’t any rent being paid. We found out when the tenant herself told us she was a ‘bit behind’.
"I thought she had just missed a month, I said it was fine and to catch up in the next couple of weeks.
"When I checked with the pension fund trustees there had been four months unpaid at this stage and we were already on the backfoot."
The landlord said the property management agency recommended giving them another chance and so they renegotiated the terms of the rent.
"The tenants seemed so plausible and we weren’t keen on pushing a family out when there was a child involved."
The tenants paid rent for the next few months but then the payments stopped again. It was February 2017 and they had now been in the property over a year. Ann had also received three noise complaints from neighbours of the tenants.
"The whole process was just so upsetting for us. They claimed they had no money, a run of bad luck and a sick relative. In the meantime, on the son’s Twitter it was plainly obvious they had money," Ann said.
The tweets, seen by Independent.ie, detail a number of trips abroad, how he was buying tickets for Electric Picnic, going on nights out with friends and his "addiction" to online shopping.
"We felt there were two options available to us; we could follow the legal process or we could have locked them out.
"If we went with the second option, we ran the risk of a potential fine of €20,000 from the Residents’ Tenancy Board (RTB). In our mind that wasn’t an option so we made the decision to follow the legal process."
They then began an 18-month long process involving the RTB, solicitor, courts and constant communication with the family.
Following two notices of arrears which were ignored by the tenants and two postponed meetings with the RTB, the board finally made a decision in Ann’s favour in December 2017 and issued a termination order.
"The tenants had disengaged from the process. This was a stressful period where promises of payment never materialised and the tenants remained in the property," Ann said.
Despite the RTB issuing a termination order the tenants still refused to leave.
Ann’s solicitor immediately began gathering information to bring the case to court, but it was over four months before the circuit court could hear the case.
In May 2018 the circuit court in Cork found in the landlord's favour. The tenants were told to comply with the RTB order, to comply with the rent payments, to pay the arrears and all costs to the applicants.
"I thought they’d be gone by the end of the week," Ann said, "but my solicitor told me it doesn’t work like that. We had to get an execution order to engage the sheriff.
"The sheriff told me it would cost us €2,000 if it came to an eviction because he would have to engage the gardai and social services and for the baliff and a locksmith on the day of the eviction.
"Because the sheriff managed to talk them out on July 19, we didn’t need to pay the €2,000."
Ann walked into the property a day after the tenants left on July 20 to realise they had stripped the apartment of all the white goods, curtains, couches and light fittings.
"They took anything of value and left the place strewn with rubbish," she said.
"All along, we were saying at least they’re looking after the place. I remember that day. I’d been so elated that they were gone and this was just another crushing blow. I don’t want to sound dramatic but we were so upset."
Ann reported the tenants to the gardai for theft but said she isn’t optimistic about the outcome.
She acknowledges that some early mistakes on their part could have been avoided. She said they should have had "better oversight" of the rent payments and should have initiated the legal process sooner.
"We tried to do right by them in the beginning and now, knowing all along that they were taking advantage of us, and we could do nothing about that.
"There are €18,000 in rent arrears, we have spent about €6,000 getting the place back to its original condition and, as yet, we have no idea what the solicitor’s fees will be."
The full legal process, from the issuance of a notice of rent arrears to repossession of the house, took over 14 months in total.
Ann continued; "We have strong concerns about the RTB process and the lack of information and advice available to landlords in these situations.
"I would like to make landlords more aware of the process and how long it can take," she added.