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WRC hears claim landlord told woman she could not stay in flat after hearing she was pregnant

The woman claimed she was discriminated against on grounds of family status and gender under the Equal Status Act.

THE WORKPLACE RELATIONS Commission has heard claims that a woman and her husband were asked to leave their rented apartment in Dublin after she informed her landlord that she was pregnant.

Business development executive, Megan Kenna, told the WRC that she and her partner were told they could not stay in their 2nd floor rented apartment at Island View, Harbour Road, Howth by their landlord, Brendan O’Brien on April 9, 2022 because of her pregnancy.

Kenna claimed she was discriminated against on grounds of family status and gender by O’Brien under the Equal Status Act.

Counsel for Kenna, Michael Kinsley BL, also said that the landlord’s actions amounted to unlawful harassment.

O’Brien’s solicitor, Colm Hickey, rejected the claims and stressed his client was concerned that there was a “health and safety issue” about a spiral staircase leading to the apartment which was “wholly unsuitable” for a pregnant woman and children.

Hickey pointed out that the landlord had also made two offers of alternative accommodation to the couple.

In evidence, Kenna said she had moved with her husband to Ireland from Barcelona and taken out a 12-month lease on the one-bed apartment in Howth in January 2022 with a monthly rent of €1,650.

Kenna became emotional as she described she had found it difficult to have children and was “cautious” after discovering she was pregnant in February 2022.

She told the WRC that she had notified O’Brien’s partner, Breffini Jones, on April 6, 2022 that she was expecting a baby.

Kenna said she was “really surprised and kind of terrified” when Jones informed her the next day that the landlord did not believe the apartment was suitable for a baby.

She told the WRC that it was “a stressful experience” when O’Brien called to see them on April 9, 2022 when he told them that he did not want a child in the apartment.

Kenna said she and her husband decided to move out shortly afterwards as the landlord was “going to make our lives hell.”

She said the impact of having to leave the apartment was immense as her landlord was wanting to evict her at a time she was hoping to celebrate her pregnancy.

Kenna said she feared losing her pregnancy because of the stress and having to move home in a housing crisis.

She claimed she wanted to be “a voice for other women” as “this situation should never happen.”

The WRC heard that she had required additional ante-natal visits because of her anxiety, while her obstetrician had decided that she was not suitable for a vaginal delivery due to her stress levels.

Under cross-examination by Hickey, Kenna admitted she had recorded her conversation with the landlord as he was “aggressive” and had “declared war.”

She agreed that O’Brien had offered them another nearby apartment at the same rent but described it as “very gross” as the toilet was filthy and there was a lot of grime and grease.

Kenna pointed out her current apartment also had a spiral staircase that was “perfectly safe.”

However, Hickey remarked that there was a major difference as the staircase in his client’s apartment was an external one.

Asked by WRC adjudicator, Andrew Heavey, if she accepted that O’Brien was trying to help her, Kenna said that he could have fixed the stairs if that was his concern.

The WRC heard a recording of the meeting between Keane and her landlord, with O’Brien opening the conversation by stating: “I can’t allow a child in this apartment.”

He maintained that he had contractually signed a lease with two people and not with three parties.

He explained the health and safety issue with the spiral staircase was the only reason he was asking them to move out.

“If something happens, I’ll get screwed,” said O’Brien. “I can’t take a risk in having a child on that staircase.”

However, O’Brien said he was in the process of buying another nearby apartment which he was prepared to offer to the couple to rent but only on a monthly lease as he needed to carry out building work on it.

“I’ll look after you. I own a lot of stuff around here,” he added.

O’Brien said there was no need to panic as there was no imminent need to move.

Asked if he did not have insurance to cover any accident in the apartment, O’Brien said he did not want to argue.

“I’m the landlord. It’s my property,” he retorted.

He told the couple he was not prepared to take a risk whether he had insurance or not.

At another stage he remarked: “I’m a wealthy man. I’m not going to expose myself to someone who will take me to town.”

The landlord claimed the couple would be breaching the terms of the tenancy by bringing “a third party” into the apartment.

O’Brien, who said he also owned 36 houses in Manchester, said his “modus operandi is to keep everyone safe and to keep me from being sued.”

Although he acknowledged that what he was telling the couple was a shock to them, he added: “I’m not one of these pushy landlords. I’m a decent man.”

In evidence, O’Brien said there were 46 steps in the steel staircase and he would not allow his own daughter to live there even though she wanted to.

The chartered surveyor said the issue was simple as he “could not sleep at night” at the thought of someone carrying a buggy up the staircase.

O’Brien said he felt quite intimidated at being before the WRC as he had never been accused of discrimination in 34 years of renting properties, while he also took umbrage at their conversation being recorded by Kenna.

“I’m not a villain,” he added.

O’Brien said he was sorry that his former tenant suffered stress in her pregnancy but insisted he had not discriminated against her and was only trying to help.

He said he had never issued Kenna with an eviction notice and had treated her in “a humane manner.”

At the outset of the hearing, the WRC rejected an application by O’Brien’s solicitor, who handed in a note from his client’s doctor, to hold the case in private and to prohibit the identification of the parties involved.

A ruling on the case will be published in due course.