Wednesday 24 January 2018

Landlady who had tenants under electronic surveillance fears losing home

Tim Healy

A FORMER landlady who kept a number of student tenants under electronic surveillance fears losing her home due to efforts to enforce judgments of some €115,000 against her and her daughter.

In 2007, Rita McKenna and her daughter Edel were ordered by Circuit Court Judge Gerard Griffin to pay damages of more than €115,000 to 10 students who were tenants in their house after finding they had kept them under secret electronic surveillance.

 

The tenants, from Mayo, Galway, Donegal, Armagh and Monaghan, had rented rooms in 46 Mobhi Road in Glasnevin, Dublin, from the McKennas in 2003 and 2004 while studying at nearby colleges. They became concerned in late 2004 their conversations and activities were being monitored when the McKennas referred to details the students had discussed in private in the house.

 

When they raised the issue, they were evicted.

 

One tenant, Patricia Hegarty, brought a case against the mother and daughter in 2004, which was later settled out of court. Ten more tenants subsequently sued the McKennas for breach of privacy.

 

The wires were found during a search on December 3, 2004, when Ms Hegarty's solicitor and a garda called to the house on foot of a court order. The McKennas lived in a separate part of the Mobhi Road house from the students. Nine bedrooms in the property were rented out.

 

In a bid to secure payment on foot of the judgments granted, a judgment mortgage has been registered against the Mobhi Road property.

Lawyers for the tenants wrote to Ms McKenna in December last saying, if judgment was not paid, they would seek orders for sale of the property.

 

Today, Ms McKenna, representing herself,  asked the  Master of the High Court, who deals with pre-trial issues, to make orders which would allow her appeal against the 2007 Circuit Court order.  Under the relevant rules, an appeal should be lodged within ten days but Ms McKenna wants that time extended.

 

She told the Master, Edmund Honahan, she had had to represent herself in the Circuit Court and felt she had not received a fair trial on grounds including she had expected certain witnesses to testify on her behalf but they were not present.  She also made a series of claims against her former advisers.

 

She said she had not appealed earlier for reasons including her health, she had had a nervous breakdown and because she had not understood there was a ten day limit to an appeal. She also suffered a distressing period in 2005 as her son and his friend were missing in the tsunami in Thailand and her son's friend had lost his lfie.

 

She would run the case differently now and would look for particulars of contracts from the plaintiffs, she said. She had spent some €85,000 on the matter to date apart from the €117,000 judgment, she added.

 

Conor Bowman, for one of the tenants, Fiona McGinn, said there were no grounds for time to be extended and the students should not have to suffer further.

 

Master Honohan said he wanted time to consider the papers in the matter and adjourned the application to next month.

 

In his Circuit Court decision, Judge Griffin said the evidence in the case left him "in no doubt whatsoever" Ms McKenna and her daughter kept the plaintiffs under "electronic surveillance".

 

The judge ruled the students' rights to privacy was infringed and awarded damages varying from €7,500 to €12,500 each.

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