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Web Summit founder and Irish Entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave. Alamy
Courts

Web Summit lose 'flawed' RTB appeal, ordered to pay €20k in damages to kitchen sink

A report by the RTB found the dwellers had disposed of coffee grains in the sink.

WEB SUMMIT HAS lost its High Court appeal against the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) after the judge found it was disposing of food waste into the kitchen sink of a property belonging to the firm.

In March 2021, the dwellers of a property in Dublin 6, belonging to the Web Summit company, highlighted that there appeared to be a leak in the kitchen.

A number of plumbers came to look at the matter but had difficulty determining the cause of the leak. In April 2021, one plumbing company, DC Drain Clearing, found there was a “significant blockage” in a pipe connected to the kitchen sink.

It was later determined that this blockage was attributed to food and other waste, but largely coffee grains, being disposed of into the sink.

The landlord of the property, in June 2021, delivered a notice of breach of obligations to Web Summit, due to the damage caused to the sink. The landlord claimed, in this notice, that the cost of repairs exceeded €80,000.

One month later, the landlord notified the RTB of the breach and that a further breach had occurred, alleging the Web Summit company had failed to pay rent on the property.

Three days later, on 12 July 2021, the landlord allegedly served the tech conference company with a notice of termination, evicting them from the property.

Through the process with the RTB, an adjudicator from the board came to examine the property and the damages caused. The adjudicator addressed the incorrect disposal of the coffee grounds and other food waste.

The report found that the disposal of these items in the sink did not “cause deterioration beyond normal wear and tear” but, noted that it was “unfortunate” that the blockage built up to the extent that it did.

However, other damage, relating to water egressing from the property, was found by the adjudicator – which they claimed predated the date given to them by Web Summit.

They found the owners of the tech firm had failed to notify the landlord of the water egress, which “exacerbated the damage to the dwelling caused by the blocked drain”.

The adjudicator’s report determined that Web Summit would be responsible for 20% of the cost to repair the damage, which equated to just under €20,000.

Web Summit appealed the report and an internal tribunal, within the RTB, took place in May 2022. The tribunal upheld the report’s findings in June 2022 and ordered Web Summit to pay for the damages.

The Tribunal found, on the balance of probabilities, that there was a breach of the obligations of the Tenant “as a result of the acts of the occupants in disposing of grease, coffee granules and food wastes which caused a blockage in the waste pipe”.

Web Summit, when filing to dispute the tribunal in the High Court, said that the tribunal had “erred in law” as the report did not determine if the disposal of grease, coffee and food waste – which caused the blockage – was normal or non-normal.

The tech firm, run and founded by Irish entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave, also argued that the report was vitiated because “this was a finding which no reasonable decision-maker could have made on the evidence before the Tribunal”.

In his judgment, Justice Cian Ferriter said: “I am compelled to reject the appellant’s case that the finding that there was non-normal use and non-normal wear and tear was one which no reasonable decision-maker could have arrived at.”

The judge said that the landlord had not claimed that the sink had been used abnormally, and neither had Web Summit, either before the High Court or the initial tribunal.

Justice Ferriter also said it was “important to emphasise the very high bar” which Web Summit must meet to prove that no reasonable decision-maker could have arrived at the finding which the Tribunal arrived at originally.

Judge Ferriter upheld the findings in the RTB Tribunal in June 2022, and claimed the dispute case, filed by Web Summit, was “flawed”.

In regards to this comment, the judge said it was “axiomatic”, or self-evident, that the disposal of coffee waste and other food into the sink was normal – irrespective of the blockages it caused.

However, the judge said that that determination, on whether the disposal of the waste was normal or not, would depend on “the level and nature of such waste (including whether it was appropriate to put waste such as coffee grinds down the sink at all)”, the frequency of such disposal and whether ongoing, routine cleaning measures were taken.

“The tenants, as was their right, chose not to give evidence to explain any of this. That left the Tribunal with the task of determining on the evidence before it, using their common sense and experience, whether the deterioration here resulted from normal or non-normal use/wear and tear,” the judge said.

“Simply put:,” Justice Ferriter said. “a reasonable decision- maker was entitled to decide that any normal use of the kitchen sink would not have led to the level of waste accumulation (including coffee grinds) in the pipe that occurred here.”

“I cannot hold in the circumstances that the Tribunal’s finding of non-normal use/wear and tear was one that no reasonable decision-maker could have arrived at,” he added.

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