Tuesday 11 December 2018

'Cover sewage with cement... hide the bunkbeds' - Major slum landlord operation uncovered

  • Exclusive Independent.ie investigation
  • Revealed: More than 40 houses and apartments being run by group
  • Bunkbeds, partitions and suitcases removed before council inspections
  • Cement ordered to be poured over leaking sewage
  • One house previously the address of more than 2,000 offshore firms
  • Another house split into 14 bedrooms, each person paying 'close to' €700
  • Some owners ‘oblivious’ to what’s happening, others ‘in on the act’
  • Each property manager has a number of sim cards and aliases on rental websites
  • Tenants say rent paid ‘cash-in-hand’
  • Between 20-30 people living in some of the houses
Mattresses and furniture stored in a warehouse in Bray, Co Wicklow
Mattresses and furniture stored in a warehouse in Bray, Co Wicklow
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

A group of people running slum-like houses in Dublin are removing bunkbeds, partitions and items of furniture before inspections in an attempt to deceive council staff, Independent.ie has learned.

These tactics are being used to mislead inspectors about how many tenants are living in the overcrowded houses.

The investigation can also reveal that:

  • up to eight people sleeping in some rooms;
  • eight landlords manage over 40 properties across the county;
  • pocketing thousands of cash-in-hand payments every week;
  • one property in Ranelagh was previously the address for over 2000 offshore firms, some of which were investigated by international authorities as they were linked to criminal activities;
  • each property has an appointed 'queen' who is responsible for collecting rent, overseeing housework and management of the bills.

In correspondence seen by Independent.ie, some members of the group discussed ordering "10 big bags" of cement to pour over leaking sewage before Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council carried out an inspection at a property in south Dublin.

"Get about 10 big bags of cement and cover the sewage around the septic tank so if the council try to take samples they won’t be able to dig through," one member said.

Up to eight people in this particular group are managing at least 40 properties across Dublin between them and they are raking in thousands of euro cash-in-hand on a weekly basis.

Independent.ie has viewed seven of the houses and found them to be overcrowded - with between 20 and 30 people living in each property and up to eight people sleeping in some rooms.

The properties are located in Blackrock, Rathmines, Dundrum, Shankill, Ranelagh, Rialto, Clontarf and Tallaght.

The group remove mattresses and furniture the night before inspections and store them in warehouses in Bray, Co Wicklow and Drumcondra, Dublin, as the images below show.

Mattresses stored in the warehouse in Bray where the group keep furniture and other items during council inspections

All the properties viewed are two-storey houses in residential areas, except for a three-storey house in Clontarf.

The Clontarf house has been split into 14 bedrooms, each occupied by one person. A tenant currently living there said they are each paying "close to" €700, meaning the house would be generating around €10,000 every month in rent.

"One of the rooms doesn't have a window, so we think that person pays less, it's the cheapest room in the house," another tenant said.

It is registered with the Residential Tenancies Board as a "seven bedroom" property. The RTB confirmed that all other properties viewed are not registered as rental accommodation.

Offshore firms

Another house in Ranelagh, viewed by Independent.ie, has 25 girls living there and was previously the address of more than 2,000 offshore firms, some of which were placed under investigation by international authorities as they were linked to criminal activities.

There are currently 42 companies registered at the house but the majority of them are dissolved.

The ownership of the property is also registered in the name of a company that has since been dissolved.

A spokesperson for the Department of Business said the Companies Registration Office has "no restrictions on the number of companies that can be registered to a particular address, in fact it is quite common for companies to use their accountants/presenters business address as the registered office address of their company."

They did not respond to queries about this property being used as rental accommodation at the same time.

Massive operation

A source revealed that a 'queen' is appointed in each house to collect the rent and oversee housework and the management of bills.

The 'queen', who is also a tenant in the house, is responsible for advertising the house on Facebook rental groups if a bed needs to be filled. They receive a discount on their rent if they bring someone new into the house.

They refrain from using the actual address of the property on social media to avoid authorities uncovering the overcrowded conditions.

For example, this advertisement was recently posted on Facebook for one of the properties viewed by Independent.ie: "500 for double bedroom available in a great house with very nice, friendly and clean people. Looking for someone similar. House is located 2 minute walk to red line Luas stop and 5 minute walk to nearest shops. Pm for viewing".

One house in Rathmines has 23 girls living there. A room in the house has four beds squashed together and the tenants have to climb over the beds and keep their suitcases in the hallway as there is no room to walk.

No room to walk

The lease is in the name of one of the property managers, who is also listed as director of a property management company.

He said the properties mentioned above have nothing to do with his management company and the other members of the group are not employed by him.

"These houses are run like myself, registered as sole traders and earning a profit by subletting legitimately. Myself personally and redacted  have no business association with these people. They just happen to be in the same line of business of subletting."

However, Independent.ie has learned that the group are all working together and have divided the houses between each other. Each property manager is responsible for maintaining and running up to five houses.

He claimed that the Rathmines property passed recent inspections by Dublin City Council and Dublin Fire Brigade.

When asked if the bunkbeds and items of furniture were removed before the inspections, he said: "Never. The owner knows and the council knows. They meet lots of the tenants and talk every few months.

"The standard of accommodation at the property does not fall below the minimum standards required under the legislation. I am tax compliant in all respects."

Rathmines House.png
One of the rooms in the Ranelagh House that sleeps six girls

A spokeswoman for Dublin City Council said they do not comment on individual properties for legal and data protection reasons.

Independent.ie has been unable to contact the owners of any of the houses.

Some owners 'clueless', others 'in on the act'

A source revealed that some owners are clueless as to how their houses are being rented, while others are "in on the act and have full knowledge".

"They agree to have the owners carry out inspections at a certain time so they can see the house is being kept in good condition, and they remove the partitions, bunk beds and furniture and bring them to the warehouse, so the owners will think they were never there. The tenants then have to be out of the house during those few hours."

Furniture stored in the warehouse in Bray

The price of rent varies in the houses from €350 to €700 - depending on how many people the room is being shared with.

"The girls who sleep in a room with eight pay less than the girls in a room with four," one tenant said.

A house in the Shankill area has been divided into nine bedrooms. The sitting room was split into two rooms and the only communal areas are the kitchen and bathroom.

The pictures below show how each door has a number on it. A source said this is to make it easier when prospective tenants come to view the house.

room 5.png

A previous tenant in that house told how the shed at the back had been turned into a bedroom when he was living there.

It was not clear from the viewing if this is still the case.

A spokesperson for the RTB said the following:

"All tenancies that are under the remit of the RTB, and are registered, would appear on the published register.  As those indicated are not listed,  it would appear that these are not registered with us.

"However,  these dwellings may not be dwellings to which the Residential Tenancies Act would apply and they could be operating as hostel type accommodation. 

"Given the numbers alleged to be living in these dwellings it would be very important that they Local Authority be made aware of them as there are Minimum Standards governing rented dwellings that require the property to be maintained in a proper state of structural repair, have proper food preparation and cooking facilities, and provide for adequate heating and sanitary facilities depending on the numbers residing in the dwelling. It would be important to seek clarification from the Local Authority as to what, if any, inspections have been carried out on these properties.

"The RTB will forward the addresses  provided by you to Dublin City Council for their attention."

electricity for august.png

Wardrobes and suitcases line the hallway as there is no room in the bedrooms

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