Thursday 18 July 2019

Repossession of widow's home halted after protest threat by leading campaigner

Deal agreed with housing body to prevent widow and children becoming homeless

David Hall of iCare
David Hall of iCare
The home in Strokestown, Roscommon
Campaigner: David Hall posted online a call for people to protest against the repossession. Photo: Tony Gavin
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A subprime lender is said to have backed down on plans to repossess a widow's family home after a protest at the property was threatened.

A possession order secured by Start Mortgages, an affiliate of vulture fund Lone Star, had been due to be enforced today by the Dublin City Sheriff.

However, the repossession was put on hold earlier this week. Mortgage debt campaigner David Hall said this happened after he posted on social media on Sunday saying he would ask people to attend at the house and protest.

According to Mr Hall, Start Mortgages has now agreed to allow iCare Housing, the approved housing body he heads up, to buy the house in the Dublin suburb of Cabra.

If the sale goes ahead, the widow and two of her children will be able to continue living in their home under a rental agreement with iCare.

Mr Hall told the Irish Independent the possession order had been given to the sheriff for execution even though an offer from iCare had been on the table. He said the day after he posted the protest tweet, Start indicated it would call off the eviction for four months to allow iCare to buy the house.

Campaigner: David Hall posted online a call for people to protest against the repossession. Photo: Tony Gavin
Campaigner: David Hall posted online a call for people to protest against the repossession. Photo: Tony Gavin

Start Mortgages declined to comment. However, it is understood it disputes that the threat of a protest was the catalyst for the repossession being cancelled.

Details of the Cabra case come just weeks after the eviction of a family in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, and subsequent events caused considerable controversy.

A video posted online showed the occupants of the Strokestown farm being wrestled by security guards brought in to enforce a possession order. Days later the guards were attacked by a large group of masked vigilantes and the family have since returned to the farmhouse.

Mr Hall said that while his tweet may have been provocative he had been trying to get the lender to "see common sense". He said he only advocated non-violent protest and condemned what happened in Roscommon.

"It was my intention to have a protest to signal clearly this was an unnecessary repossession," he said.

"And we will be encouraging active protest at properties in the future, but they will be peaceful."

In the Cabra case, the woman and her husband bought their home in 1995 with a mortgage from First National Building Society but soon got into difficulties paying off their loan. Start Mortgages took over the mortgage in 2006 and began High Court proceedings the same year.

It is understood a possession order was granted soon afterwards but it was not enforced.

The woman's husband died in 2012 and the matter did not come before the courts again until 2017. A renewed possession order was granted on November 28 last year.

iCare has modelled its operations on the Government's Mortgage to Rent Scheme. It is seeking to buy suitable homes from lending institutions where the mortgage holder can't pay the mortgage and is eligible for social housing.

Mr Hall said the Cabra family fell into this category, but that initially Start Mortgages would not agree to a deal.

"Now Start have agreed to back down and allow iCare Housing to buy the house and allow the family stay there as social housing tenants and Start get paid in full," he said.

"It is a sensible outcome and will stop a mother and two children becoming homeless."

Under the terms of the iCare offer, the outstanding debt would be paid, as well as arrears and some legal costs.

The property will then be owned and managed by iCare with the occupants becoming social housing tenants under a 25-year tenancy agreement.

"They are means tested and they pay rent in accordance with the normal social housing rules. The local authority will then pay the balance of the rent," said Mr Hall.

If at the end of the 25 years the occupants are still eligible for social housing, they can continue to rent.

Should their fortunes improve they will be able to buy the house back at the price iCare paid for it.

However, they will not be able to sell it on at a profit.

Irish Independent

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