“Life has been a nightmare to be honest. We have been coming from Direct Provision, and we have other friends who are renting from very good landlords. We know that it’s not like all the Irish people are like this, we know that there are good landlords out there. We are renting from someone who has no heart. “
These are the words of Iness Lukadi, who has been resident at a house on Foxborough Road in Lucan with her husband and their four children for the last year. Before this, they were in Direct Provision for 5 years – moving to Lucan can only have felt like a blessed escape after so long in restricted accomodation without freedom to work or cook for themselves, and the meager personal allowance of €21.60 each per week which is provided to asylum seekers upon arrival.
The family obtained residency in 2015, but nevertheless spent another two difficult years searching for a home to move into. They had exhausted their period of clemency, and had little option but to accept this house, having spent 2 years saving for a deposit of €2000. They accepted it, despite the lack of a local school place for their children and Iness’ own studies in IT Tallaght making it highly inconvenient.
Even then, they remained dependent on HAP to be able to rent at all. The house was in poor condition, but money was made available for repairs. Little did Iness know that this was just the beginning.
“The landlord asked HAP to pay 2 months repair deposit and 1 months rent in advance. So he got €7800 from HAP and €2000 from us. So just for us moving in he got €9800….When we called to meet him, we found people doing jobs…He told us that the way it is with HAP we give our own deposit, and once he processes the payment he gives it back. So when we came here he said we should give him €2000 euro deposit, and when HAP pays him he’s going to refund that money. When HAP paid him the €7800, he didn’t give back that €2000. That means he got €9800 for nothing.”
Had they left the next day, the landlord could have kept every penny.
Unfortunately, the house was badly in need of more maintenance than even €7800 could have paid for.
“When we had a bath, the water was leaking. We spotted that on the very first day, but he told us that those guys who were fixing the house were gonna take care of it. But when we moved in, nothing was done.… we have to keep the window open because of the damp. The whole ceiling is covered in damp – if you close it you can feel the humidity. We have kids so we have to keep the window open.”
“We didn’t have any cooking facilities. The cooker hasn’t been working. It’s a gas cooker, he asked my husband to fix it – my husband told him he didn’t have any experience to fix gas cookers, then he says that we should look for someone to fix it, that it’s not his problem and that we should just fix it. We don’t have a cooking facility – we don’t have a microwave, we don’t have a washing machine, we don’t have a fridge and we don’t have a dishwasher… so we don’t have any basics in the kitchen.”
“There is no light (in the children’s bedroom). That meant the girls were sleeping in a room with no light for the first 8 months – you can see the wire that connects the light was completely cut off. we had to use a torch or a phone to put them to bed. It’s just 2/3 months ago that he sent someone around to connect a light.”
The landlord regarded even the most innocuous requests with disdain, and reneged on his promises to spend the HAP grant on helping Iness and her husband provide a home for their children immediately.
“There was a time I asked him for a microwave, and he was so insulting to me. There’s a message on the phone where he says “What else do you want, a back massager? You are asking me for a microwave? – what next a back massager?” Just for me to ask for a microwave…and what is a microwave compared to the money he’s getting every month?”
Worse was to come, as he soon began seeking a further €400 per month in rent. This was despite the total lack of any effort on his part to improve the house.
“We pay €2350 every month, Hap is already paying him €1950 every month – he wants another €400 on top but we don’t have any basics in the kitchen. I can’t prepare a meal for my children.
Our heating? The boiler doesn’t work. If you put in credit on the machine, it will be running but the boiler will take maybe 3-4 days before it starts working so it’s costing me as well. I might spend €30 topping up, but it’s only maybe 5 euro that I use. We don’t have a fireplace – so you imagine with that snow. I had to buy blankets to wrap my kids up in. There’s no heating and there’s no fireplace.
My kids have really suffered and there is nothing that we can do about it. They said we should deal with it, we should take the house the way it is, it’s a nightmare.”
Unfortunately, much worse than indifference and greed was to come.
Devine wanted to embellish his relationship with the family on paper, purely for his own benefit.
“He asked us to tell HAP we had taken up this house from the 1st of April. We didn’t take the house on the 1st of April, so we told HAP we had taken the house on the 13th of April because that was when we gave him the deposit and took the keys to the house. On the form, there’s the landlord’s section that he has to fill in, he filled in the 1st April. When I went to HAP I said I took it on the 13th. So they started paying him on the 13th.
Again, Devine told the family to lie on the HAP forms;
He said “That’s not what we agreed.” He told us to tell HAP to say we took it on the 1st. We couldn’t do that, we couldn’t lie. That upset him. So because HAP is paying him according to the date that we moved in, it took some time for them to backdate all his payments. So he kept on sending us back to HAP. HAP kept telling us that “we don’t deal with tenants when it came to landlord’s money, so tell your landlord to ring us.” But every time we did that , he said “It’s your responsibility, you have to go to HAP and make sure my rent is being paid”.
It was so much it was difficult. It was our first time renting as well, so we didn’t know. For him, he knew the game he was playing.”
At no point did the family meekly accept their fate. Their financial and emotional investment in this property was too much for that to be possible. They arranged for an inspector who could prove the extent to which they were being neglected.
“The problems escalated when the inspectors came to inspect the property. They called him and sent him an improvement notice. He was so upset that we had let the inspectors come and inspect his property – he didn’t want anyone calling him about his property. So that was the beginning of problems. That’s when we started getting text messages, we started getting calls.”
Iness tried to stand up for herself and her children by seeking legal protection from the RTB after several weeks of abuse and neglect. This only enraged her landlord further. His greed turned into spite.
“We took him to RTB (over the abusive messages). The RTB made a decision saying he should pay for the damages, which he appealed.
He refused to pay for the damages, for the messages he has been sending. He hasn’t given us a peaceful occupation. He was asked to pay us 2800 euro but that’s not our point.
We didn’t take him to RTB because we wanted the money. We wanted a peaceful life. He can’t come anytime – he came at midnight. He sent people, maybe even 5 people in a day to look at the house – they said they were going to do some work. But he wouldn’t ring me to say he was sending these people.
I have kids in the house, I can’t let people in and out. But if I refuse, I’ll be insulted the whole day. He’s made my life very difficult.”
While the RTB case was still pending, intimidation gradually escalated to violence, as the family refused to give in to his efforts to destroy what they’d worked so hard to build.
“He began by stabbing my car tyres. All the tyres were stabbed. He sent his boys to do it. He’d say “Are you moving out?” and we’d say “ No we’re not moving out, we’re waiting for RTB and RTB is still pending. We’re still waiting for RTB decision to come out.” He’d tell us he was going to send some boys out, and it wasn’t a joke. Within 2-3 weeks there’d be some boys who would smash the windows. Once we’d fixed those windows, he’s coming to throw the eggs on those windows. Once you forget after a week or so, because we had to fix the car. I need the car, I need to drive my kids to school. Once you fix the car, he’s coming to break them again. And in this area, there’s no place you can safely park because every house has its own parking. I was forced to go and park somewhere outside my house where they couldn’t find my car.”
Ironically, in many respects the family have been model tenants. They have spent much of their own money on improvements, and HAP has ensured they are never in arrears despite their difficult circumstances. This matters little to the landlord, and his behaviour and attitude towards the RTB means that it’s hard to believe he’ll follow their ruling.
“He has no reason to terminate us because our rent is up to date. There was a time we went to tribunal and he got up and walked away in the middle of the tribunal hearing. He told the judge “tell these people to get out of my house. I don’t have time for this nonsense.”
His campaign of bullying and intimidation came to a head over the recent May Bank Holiday weekend.
The weekend began with Iness’ car being smashed up by four young men with baseball bats on Friday evening.
“There were four guys in the car. They parked at the corner, came out with the baseball bats… my husband wasn’t around. It was just me and my four kids in the house. We hear “bouf bouf bouf” outside and I was busy calling neighbours, because once they see neighbours they run.”
“I ran outside with my phone ringing the guards. They skidded around the back of the house and climbed another wall behind my house. They jumped inside my back garden and smashed all the windows in the back garden and went. They knew at that time we were busy calling the guards, so we couldn’t track them down.”
“He called us on Saturday on a private number. I answered the phone – I heard him and dropped the phone. I rang my husband to find out if he was calling him, and my husband said “No, why is he calling you?” My husband was in the UK at that time escorting my son’s football team, so he called him to ask “why are you calling my wife, what is it that you want?”. He said “Why are you not moving out?
I was left in the house with my three girls. It was really scary – me and my three kids were traumatised. It’s like every time it happens, you go back to your children and tell them it’s OK, that they won’t be back again. After a week, it happens again and you have to tell your kids it won’t happen again.
….For me as a parent, it’s so hard lying to my kids. Every time they just come back and do the same thing.”
The personal and professional toll this treatment has taken on Iness’ life and her family has made it almost impossible for them to start a new life here. Iness’ efforts to improve her job prospects through education have been severely compromised.
“That’s cost my studies as well. For me, I have exams Thursday, Friday, Saturday. I’ve spent 3 days in emergency accomodation with no internet. All my notes are online- that means I can’t study or prepare myself for that exam. I’m busy working out where I’m going to sleep tomorrow instead of concentrating on my studies. I have only 1 day to go into my pre-exams.
This school I’m paying for myself, I’m not on a SUSI grant.
But this happened at the same time last year – I went to do one exam and I failed because it was the time he was sending me all the messages. The subject was Business Maths – I couldn’t do it. I went to the exam blank because I couldn’t concentrate – I couldn’t do it.
If you fail you have to pay 185 euro extra for every subject so it’s still costing me. I have to fix my cars, I have to find a way of cooking for myself, I have to find a way of washing for my kids, I have to find a way of paying for my exams that I failed.”
However, the effect it has had on her children has almost been harder to bear.
“Today they were not in school. They went into emergency accomodation with just a few clothes. We had to come back, we had to prepare their uniforms… with no iron. I couldn’t come back to prepare their uniforms, so they didn’t go to school. It’s still affecting them.
It’s not easy for them to move, they have friends here. My son has a football club here in Lucan. If I have to take them into emergency accomodation in Tallaght, everything stops. They have to make new friends again, a new life from scratch.”
The family remain in emergency accomodation in Tallaght for now. All of this stress and heartbreak has been caused for the sake of a mere 400 a month extra in rent.
For Iness, however, it is at heart a problem far more serious than anything money alone can solve.
“I just want a place to call home, that’s all I want. This emergency accommodation is not a life, it’s like I’m back in Direct Provision. Nothing has changed – I’m back to square one. I don’t know when that house will happen. It’s like waiting for your residence- you don’t know when it will happen. I’m just hoping for my kids that it will happen. I just want my kids to enjoy their freedom.”