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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
CATU Waterford/Twitter Frame from a video, shared online, of the eviction which appears to show a member of the gardaí speaking to a man (centre) who is evicting the tenant.

Tenants say gardaí 'made eejits' of them after calling for assistance during improper eviction

“You could’ve put anything in front of me, and I would’ve signed it,” the tenant told The Journal.

A TENANT IN Waterford City who was evicted from his home over the weekend said he felt gardaí “made eejits” of him and his finacée after he called for assistance and were still evicted.

Aaron Madigan was evicted from his home after someone acting on behalf of Madigan’s landlord served him an improper notice of termination through a SMS text message, notifying him he had to leave the tenancy.

The eviction was documented and posted to social media by tenants’ union CATU after a member of the union was arrested at the scene for alleged public order offences. The man has since been released.

Madigan, who occupied the residence in Waterford until Saturday, told The Journal that his landlord got him to sign a license agreement – which is commonly used in rent-a-room schemes.

Under this arrangement, the homeowner is not lawfully required to register as a landlord as it is understood that the tenant will be living with the homeowner.

However, Madigan claims that he and his fiancée, Grace, were the sole occupants of the one-bedroom property for the entire duration of their six-month stay.

According to Madigan, he never met the landlord at any point while he rented the property from him, and was told by the landlord’s son-in-law – who was the only person he dealt with – that the landlord lived abroad.

Due to a lack of accommodation available in Waterford City, and because he and and his fiancée were “eager” to find somewhere to live, Madigan said he was happy to take whatever he could get.

“You could’ve put anything in front of me and I would’ve signed it,” he said.

Last month, Madigan received a text message from his landlord containing a notice of termination. He subsequently approached housing charity Threshold and tenants’ union CATU seeking advice.

He said that Threshold and CATU affirmed him that, because he and his finacée were the sole occupants of the property, they were able to avail to the same rights as a normal tenant, despite the initial agreement between Madigan and the landlord.

According to the Residential Tenancies Board’s website, notice periods must be in writing, signed by the landlord or agent, and must specify the date they were posted or hand-delivered to the tenant.

Landlords must also send a copy of the notice to the RTB on the same day they provided it to the tenant.

Additionally, a notice period must be given of 90 days or more, depending on the length of the tenancy, which begins the day after the notice of termination was served to the tenant.

Under the rent-a-room scheme, a homeowner must establish eight things with their tenant, including the cost, transaction method and frequency of rent, duration of tenancy, the division of utility bills, restrictions on noise levels, notice and rent review periods.

Currently, tenants who avail of the rent-a-room scheme are not protected by the same rights as normal renters, such as a requirement for their landlord to be registered to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).

The RTB told The Journal that its remit “does not include Rent a Room and digs style accommodation” – meaning it cannot settle potential disputes between a lodger and a homeowner.

Threshold recommended that Madigan, who had been living in the property for six months, contact the RTB in regards to the validity of the notice, given it was sent to him through SMS.

Madigan says he did so on 1 September by formally disputing the eviction and told The Journal he has yet to receive a response from the board. He also told his landlord’s son-in-law on multiple occasions that he had done so.

A search of the RTB website does not have any tenancy registered at Madigan’s former address, nor the name of the landlord. 

When asked if a dispute had been filed under the address, which was posted by the tenant’s union on Twitter, the RTB told The Journal that it could not comment on individual cases.

The Journal attempted to contact the landlord’s son-in-law, who did not respond at the time of publishing.

‘My back was in bits’

Madigan was evicted last Saturday, a month after the text message was sent. 

A crowd, which included some members of the tenants’ union CATU, gathered outside the residence to protest the eviction.

The eviction was attended by gardaí, who maintain they were attending a public order incident but that they had no role in the eviction.

Videos of the event, which were circulated on social media by CATU, appear to show gardaí at the scene while a group of men removed items from the home.

Madigan claims it was he who initially called the gardaí as the group of men who had arrived at the front door were attempting to kick it down to allegedly forcefully remove him from the property.

Madigan told The Journal that he was able to hold the door shut while he waiting for gardaí to arrive as the group pushed from the other side.

Footage from inside the property during the event, seen by The Journal, shows Madigan pressed between the door and the bannister of the stairs, attempting to hold the door shut.

“My back was in bits,” he said of the incident.

Waterford Hadigan Aaron Madigan / The Journal Aaron Madigan, a tenant in Waterford, holding the door shut during the eviction on Saturday. Aaron Madigan / The Journal / The Journal

Madigan said as soon as he was made aware that the gardaí had arrived at the door, he opened it to plead his case about the attempt to evict him from the property.

However, the group who were attempting to remove Madigan were allegedly “brought into the property” by the members of An Garda Síochána, according to the tenant.

Madigan told The Journal that he received verbal abuse from members of An Garda Síochána, as he lay on the floor of the property due to being in pain from holding the door shut.

“I was shouted at, laughed at and told to get over myself by the gardaí while I was on the floor, injured and crying because they were not listening to me about the RTB dispute,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

We followed the law and the gardaí made eejits of us for doing so.”

He added that he and his fiancée Grace’s mental health has been “heavily affected” by the treatment they received from the gardaí and the alleged violence that occurred during the eviction.

‘Unforgivable’ behaviour from gardaí

A Munster organiser for CATU, Nora Labo, told The Journal this week that the gardaí did not assist the tenant and instead assisted the men who were carrying out the eviction.

Videos from the event, circulated on social media, appear to show members of An Garda Síochána entering the property and speaking to the men carrying out the eviction.

The behaviour from the guards is unforgivable,” Labo said.

A statement from a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said the members attended the scene after responding to a call of an alleged ongoing public order incident in Waterford City.

During the event, a man in his 20s was arrested and detained in Waterford Garda Station under the Public Order Act and was later released without charge.

An adult caution was also administered.

When questioned about the claims Madigan, his fiancée, CATU and eyewitnesses made, a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said they do not comment on “remarks made by 3rd parties”.

“Any person who believes they have been subject of inappropriate behaviour by any member of An Garda Síochána is entitled to make a complaint to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission,” the spokesperson added.

Responding to the images of the gardaí’s alleged involvement on Twitter, People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said: “The Garda Commissioner needs to make a statement and take questions about how gardaí were involved in facilitating an illegal eviction.”

The party later said in a statement on Tuesday that “unequivocally condemns the actions of the individual acting on behalf of the landlord” and said it was “vital” for communities to prevent such occurrences in the future.

Sinn Féin TD, and the party’s spokesperson on housing, Eoin Ó Broin commented on the social media posts over the weekend.

Ó Broin said that housing minister Darragh O’Brien must “speedily implement” recommendations about evictions made by the RTB in November 2022.

Speaking on the recommendations, Ó Broin said on Sunday: “They [The recommendations] will produce additional protections for tenants at a time when there is likely to be an increase in illegal evictions.”

In a statement on Wednesday, CATU strongly condemned the “brutal” eviction and called for more accountability from the gardaí present who, they say, allowed it to occur “under their watch”.