Amy Molloy: Tragedy in overcrowded properties just a matter of time
Unscrupulous landlords are raking in money on back of misery
Two Irish students died in Belgium because of substandard accommodation. The reaction here was one of disgust, with calls for stricter punishments for unscrupulous landlords.
Malachy Vallely, who owned the overcrowded property, received a suspended sentence and a €6,000 fine three years later.
"Our daughter's life was worth more than that," the family of Sara Gibadlo (19) told the Irish Independent after the verdict was handed down. Vallely was branded a "slum landlord" who used the property as a "cash cow" by the prosecution. He later sold it for €180,000.
Meanwhile, back in Ireland, a group of up to eight landlords are managing at least 40 properties between them - with up to 30 people living in some of the houses.
It often takes a tragedy to bring about change - but sometimes even that isn't enough. An incident similar to what happened in Belgium is inevitable here as authorities continue to blatantly ignore the inhumane conditions people are being forced to live in.
Overcrowded slums have been uncovered all across Dublin following a special investigation by the Irish Independent. The properties viewed by an undercover reporter all paint a disturbing picture of exploitation and greed. Wardrobes, suitcases and piles of shoes line the hallways as there is no room in the overcrowded bedrooms where beds are crammed in to maximise profit.
Eight girls are sleeping in one room in a house in Rathmines and are each paying €350 a month to do so. Double adapters lay across the floor; clothes hang off the bunkbeds, and the "curtains have to remain shut in case the council comes".
Next door, four single beds are packed into a tiny bedroom clearly meant for one person.
"We have to climb over each other to get into the bed," one young Brazilian tenant said. Many keep their belongings stuffed into their suitcase as they have nowhere to put them.
Perhaps that is why nobody is taking action on these overcrowded houses - there will be nowhere for the tenants to go.
Owners of two houses have since come forward to say they had no idea their properties were being run in this manner.
- Read more: 'Cover sewage with cement... hide the bunkbeds' - Major slum landlord operation uncovered
"The council told me they called to the house but nobody would let them in and it looked OK from the outside," one said. And that's the thing, many of the houses do look OK from the outside.
Earlier this year, the Irish Independent exposed a house in Cabinteely, south Dublin, where 70 people were living with just two showers to cater for them. These properties are in nice, residential areas, but the evidence is there if you look hard enough. Look for the houses with 10 bins outside, where blinds and curtains remain closed. Then go online and scrawl through adverts that make the property sound too good to be true - because it is.
The relevant authorities have carried out inspections at some of these properties. However, the Irish Independent revealed how the landlords have been removing bunkbeds, partitions and items of furniture the night before inspections and storing them in warehouses in Bray and Drumcondra. If gardaí believe someone is stashing drugs in their house, they don't send a letter to the suspect saying they will call to inspect the property at 2pm on a Tuesday.
Landlords packing tenants into a house like sardines should be treated no differently to suspected criminals. They are raking in thousands of euro - cash-in-hand - weekly and profiting from Ireland's housing crisis. And until the 'hear no evil, see no evil' act is dropped, they shall continue to do so.