Repossessions blitz in 26 Circuit Courts
Family homes, buy-to-lets targeted as banks get tough on distressed mortgages
The feared avalanche of house repossession cases is now under way and gathering unstoppable momentum, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal .
Banks, building societies and other lenders lodged more than 8,000 civil bills applying for possession of properties of all types in the regional Circuit Courts last year - the first step in the legal process that ends in seizure and possibly eviction.
And lenders received court approval for more than 1,000 possession orders for properties from Circuit Court judges in 2014 - most of them for houses and apartments, including family homes with distressed mortgages.
It means many thousands more court cases taken by the financial institutions are coming down the track in 2015 - seven years after the property crash of 2008.
The revelations will send shockwaves through Enda Kenny's Government ahead of the general election.
Earlier this month, the Taoiseach confirmed he will call in the banks over repossessions. He told the Dail: "I'm not happy at the situation where some banks appear to ignore the recommendations made by the personal insolvency practitioners (PIPs) in the interest of cutting a deal and coming to a sustainable agreement for many house borrowers."
But Government moves to challenge the banks may already be too late.
Latest figures show that 37,500 mortgages are now more than two years in arrears. On average, they are €48,700 behind in their payments.
Last week's disturbing scenes in Donegal, where 271 repossession cases came before the County Registrar in a day-long sitting, is being replicated in Circuit Courts in every county. In Letterkenny, one young woman fighting a possession order on her home had to be assisted when she became physically ill from stress in the precincts of the court.
The new figures from 26 Circuit Courts and based on official Courts Service statistics obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal that the financial institutions lodged a massive 8,164 civil bills to take possession of properties last year.
Often, lodging a civil bill against a property owner in arrears on their mortgage is a tactic utilised by lenders to force engagement by a borrower.
But the sheer volume of applications up and down the country confirms fears that up to 30,000 homes could be repossessed in the next two years.
The vast majority of those applications were for possession of residential properties, including primary family homes and buy-to-lets, with distressed mortgages.
Circuit Court judges granted possession orders against 1,063 properties last year, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
For the last three months of 2014 a more detailed method of gathering information was introduced by the Courts Service, which breaks down possession orders granted into three separate categories: primary houses, buy-to-lets and other types of property, including land and sites.
Last October, possession orders were obtained in the Circuit Courts against 86 primary homes.
In November, the number of orders granted against homes in which the borrower lives rose to 113.
And during Christmas month another 48 orders were granted for possession of houses and apartments that are the borrowers' primary residences.
During the final quarter of last year (October, November and December) the granting of possession orders in the circuit courts accelerated sharply to 419 separate cases - up from 96 in the first quarter.
Those final-quarter figures included possession orders granted by Circuit Court judges for 247 houses and apartments described as primary homes.
Surprisingly, just 74 orders were made against buy-to-lets during that period. Industry observers forecast that distressed buy-to-lets would be an easier first target for banks hoping to recoup losses.
Other figures analysed by the Sunday Independent, this time for 2013, show that some lenders are more likely to seek possession orders than others. Bank of Scotland (92), Ulster Bank (52) and Permanent TSB (44) were the lenders most likely to seek possession orders in 2013.
Comparison between the 2013 and 2014 figures for Circuit Court possession orders for residential properties, including family homes and buy-to-lets, show that they more than doubled last year, up to 770 from 310 orders granted in 2013.
Separately, the High Court approved applications to seize another 90 properties in 2014, though this also included commercial properties and land and may not have been as a result of mortgage distress.
It is important to note that the granting of a possession order does not automatically mean the property will be seized and the occupant evicted.
After the possession order is granted it is up to the lender to then pursue vacant possession to allow the property to be sold.
At the same time, however, the banks and others do not necessarily have to go through the courts to gain possession.
The vast majority of mortgage contracts contain a foreclosure clause which becomes operative, without the need for a court order, if there is any failure in payment of monthly instalments.
In many cases, borrowers who cannot meet their mortgage payments voluntarily surrender the property instead of going through the expense of court proceedings, which has to be met by the borrower if the bank wins possession.