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Column: 'New Dáil Bill would help stop devastating home repossessions and evictions'

The people I work with are not are not speculators or wily investors. They are not people who knowingly entered into home loans they couldn’t afford, writes Julie Sadlier.

Julie Sadlier

THE WORD EVICTION has a particularly poignant and cruel association in Ireland. For anyone who has even a passing knowledge of our history, the word conjures up images of ravaged families loading their scant belongings on carts in the threatening presence of well-dressed landlords and their agents.

It’s a scene, and a word association that we would probably like to regard as being consigned to history. The reality, however, is that the threat of eviction remains very much part of life in contemporary Ireland.

Sanitising the reality of eviction

Today, we tend to call it possession, particularly when it refers to eviction from a home that is mortgaged.

It’s a term that slightly sanitises the devastating reality that people are being dispossessed of their family home, and a term that denotes that those being dispossessed are wholly responsible for their own fate.

The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. At least 30,0000 households – and that’s a conservative estimate in my view – are facing the unthinkable fate of losing their homes largely because they are unable to service unworkable mortgage terms.

The people I represent are not cynical defaulters or shirkers

They are couples in their fifties and sixties who may have remortgaged their home to raise capital for a valid business expansion in the buoyant days of the early 2000s.

They are young parents, who paid huge sums of money for very ordinary houses. They are single parents who don’t put the heat on in their houses and scrimp on food for themselves in order to try to meet the onerous repayment demands on their home loans – payments that banks may not even accept.

They are people with no money, with nowhere to turn and, most often, with no choice in the end but to surrender their homes.

The Keeping People in Their Homes Bill

shutterstock_424330639 Source: Shutterstock/Antonio Guillem

It is because of the fate of these ordinary people – our neighbours and friends – that the new Keeping People in Their Homes Bill 2017, introduced this week in the Dáil by Independent Alliance TD Kevin “Boxer” Moran, is so important, and so overdue.

Utilising principles of EU Law (already transposed into Irish law), it gives us a common sense piece of legislation that allows courts to balance the competing economic rights of corporate home lenders or their successors (so called vulture funds) against the fundamental rights of ordinary individual borrowers who are facing homelessness.

At its core is what is known as the proportionality assessment or test, which is fundamental to EU contract and human rights law.

Proportionality means that courts can consider the effect of repossession on the whole household and the impact that granting or executing an order for possession of a home would have on lives.

Effects of home loss on health

In practical terms, this legislation will allow a judge or County Registrar to consider the effect that the loss of a home has on the physical and mental health of household members.

Courts can examine whether there is suitable alternative accommodation available for the household to live together. They can take into account the impact that home loss will have on children.

They can examine the viability of alternative arrangements to prevent home loss, or they can assess the potential costs to the State if it has to provide emergency accommodation and supports to the household in the event of home loss.

These people are not wily investors

I have been representing people facing repossession since the economic crash nearly a decade ago. The people I work with are not are not speculators or wily investors. They are not people who knowingly entered into home loans they couldn’t afford. They are not people who ever saw themselves in the desperate and precarious situations they now find themselves.

They are law-abiding citizens who want to co-operate with banks on fair terms, who want to be able to plan for their children’s futures, and who above all, want to stay in, and pay towards, their own homes.

This piece of legislation won’t consign eviction to history in Ireland, but it can perhaps move us some way towards ensuring that it becomes the exceptional outcome in home loan cases, rather than the inevitable one it remains today for far too many families.

Julie Sadlier is a solicitor who has been representing families facing repossession since the economic crash a decade ago.

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Julie Sadlier

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