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Galway man denied squatters' rights after living in house for 16 years

This case is significant for other property owners who wish to protect their properties against adverse possession.

THE HIGH COURT has ruled that a man is not entitled to squatters’ rights despite occupying a house for more than a decade.

Michael Flaherty, a Bus Éireann worker, has lived all his life in a run-down house on Henry Street, near Galway city centre.

Barrister for the Plaintiffs, Venetia Taylor BL argued that Cyril Dooley and Orla Cullinan, who bought the house in May 2012, were led to believe at the auction that the house was vacant.

House in disrepair 

They were told that it was subject to a life tenancy of someone who had since died. Cullinan stated that they were under the impression the house was vacant when they viewed the property as it was in such bad disrepair.

However, Barrister for the Defendant, Séamas Ó Tuathail SC argued that Flaherty believed the new owners were not entitled to evict him because he was entitled to claim adverse possession of the house as he had been living in the premises for over 12 years.

Adverse possession is a means by which an individual takes possession of a property, for a designated period of time, with the expressed intention of excluding all others including the true owner.

If a squatter enjoys adverse and exclusive possession of the land for twelve years, then he or she may oust that owner and gain title.

Squatters’ rights 

When Cyril Dooley and Orla Cullinan requested that Flaherty vacate the property, he claimed squatters’ rights on the basis he had occupied the premises sine 1998, adding that it was the last time he paid rent.

Paddy Flaherty, who died in 1995, was the life tenant of the house. He was the uncle of Michael Flaherty.

Following the death of Paddy Flaherty, his brother, Michael Flaherty’s father, took over the tenancy. In June 1998, his father died and he took over the house.

Flaherty stated that after his father died he paid rent in the sum of IR£5 to Paul Fitzgerald and that they had a conversation about getting him somewhere else to live. He stated that he never heard from him again about rent.

Peter Fitzgerald, the predecessor-in-title of the property gave evidence that he and his family were property developers who purchased the property from the previous owners in 1990. He confirmed that he did receive rent form Mr Flaherty in 1998 and also in 2004.

He also gave evidence that works were carried out on the property. The neighbouring property, owned by another Fitzgerald family (no relation) which is attached to the property, wrote to him to request him, as the owner, to carry out works.

He said that he had his foreman do the works in 2007.

Paid insurance on the property

Fitzgerald stated that insurance was always paid on the property and that this was a normal practice that all their properties would have to have insurance paid and be up to date.

Taylor submitted to the court that the burden of proving that the squatter is in possession is on the squatter.

Flaherty’s claim for adverse possession was refused with Justice Gerard Hogan rejecting his defence of squatters’ rights.

The significance of this judgement to property owners is that the judge said the state of the property and the money put into the property in terms of repairs does not amount to an act of possession or prove ownership and that the condition of a premises is largely irrelevant to these issues.

However, the judge said that insuring the property for all this period does amount to an act of possession.

This is particularly significant for claims in the future, to protect an owner from his property going into adverse possession.

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