Saturday 27 May 2017

Rent dispute at luxury caravan park goes to High Court

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

THE sun might be shining on Brittas Bay in Co Wicklow this weekend but a looming legal showdown has cast a shadow over the exclusive Ballinacarrig caravan park where mobile homes once changed hands for up to €300,000.

Well-to-do Dubliners have pitched their wagons on its manicured grounds for years, enjoying convenient family holidays an hour down the coast, in mobile homes to rival any Spanish holiday villa.

The park, which operates as a private club, sits on 80 acres with tennis courts, a golf course and a private beach. Its 176 members include Noel Smyth, the solicitor and property developer, and Dermot Desmond, the millionaire financier, used to keep a mobile home there.

The exclusive tag has not shielded Ballinacarrig from the recession, however.

The mobile homes have crashed in value and an ugly dispute with the landowner over a 15 per cent rent increase is destined for the High Court.

On May 18, the owner of the park, Malachy McDaniel Stone, will ask the court to forfeit the leases and allow him repossess the park.

If he is successful the well-heeled families could be evicted, along with their mobile homes. The landowner will argue that he is owed rent at increased levels and that residents didn't provide a bank guarantee to cover the rent -- a condition of their lease agreement. Residents plead that lots of families simply cannot afford to pay. The recession has hit. At least 10 families have left the park and more than 20 others have indicated that they may also have to walk away.

Many are in negative equity: a three-bed mobile home on the park is currently for sale for €40,000. According to one resident, others may even abandon their luxury mobile homes because they cannot afford to remove them.

The land, which was in the McDaniel Stone family for generations, was turned into a mobile home park in the 1980s, and soon attracted professionals, attracted by its proximity to Dublin.

A decade ago the residents of Ballinacarrig organised themselves into a private members club: the Ballinacarrig Park Club Ltd. The club had its advantages.

The residents' secured 35 leases over the plots and could make up their own rules, to keep the tranquillity and exclusivity of the park.

The mobile home owners paid more than €9,000 a year in rent and service charges for a licence to occupy a plot. One resident claimed, that between 2000 and 2008, more than €15m was spent exchanging mobile home plots in the park.

It was not uncommon for a family to pay a couple of hundred thousand to get in, and hundreds of thousands more on a spanking new mobile home, decking and verandahs.

But conditions built into the deal such as rental increases and the provision of a bank guarantee have come back to haunt the residents.

Last year a 15 per cent rent increase -- agreed with the landowner during the boom -- kicked in.

As the recession hit home, a number of families struggled to pay the annual rent and charges.

The mobile home owners then discovered that they had collective liability for the rent: "To the horror of everybody, they discovered that they were jointly liable for the people who didn't pay," said the source. And banks ran from guaranteeing the rent.

When the majority of licences expired last September, many refused to renew them until the dispute was resolved.

Others still continue to use their mobile homes and the park's luxurious facilities.

The High Court's chancery division has set aside two days to hear what promises to be an interesting case.

Sunday Independent

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