My Tenant Is Bringing Me to Court
The Small Claims Court Ireland
Yep, never expected this one.
The tenant in question moved in September 2020, this was shortly after the 1st lockdown had lifted but COVID-19 was still an unknown factor in Ireland and vaccines were a long way off.
The effect of COVID on the rental market in Dublin was obvious. Short-term lets on Airbnb were effectively wiped out and many of them were made available on Daft as longer leases. There was a brief window when it was “a renters market” and there were a surplus of properties and rooms available in the city.
I had been very lucky that both my previous tenants had moved out just before COVID kicked off. But, as a low-salary earner, I was starting to feel the pressure of the reduced income.
I put two rooms up on daft again (rent-a-room, live-in landlord) but there was much lower levels of interest given everything that was available. When I met the tenant for a viewing he seemed nice enough. He told me that he was 68 years old, from the U.S.A. and retired (we will refer to him as Donald). He needed to move out of his current place because he was being harassed by another tenant and the landlord wasn’t doing anything to help.
Donald said he wanted somewhere quiet and to be in a place with a live-in landlord; he also said that he never missed a rent payment in all his years. As he was leaving the viewing, he mentioned that he didn’t really like people from eastern-Europe. I pointed out that my neighbours on each side of me were originally from there and that they were lovely people, great neighbours. At the time, I chalked the comment up to a generational thing.
Another guy came to view the rooms and he was interested but couldn’t move in until a month later. He was from Nigeria and had a Masters in International Business under his belt (we will refer to him as Kamari). He proved to be an ambitious and incredibly conscientious guy. He was an instant click for me, we had a lot in common and he seemed like a good person to live with. I offered him the second room and said I would hold it for a month while he ran his lease out on his current place.
In the meantime, with no other options, I decided to take a punt on Donald and offered him one of the two rooms. A few days later, he visited again to clarify two things. Firstly, his pension was paid on the 4th from the U.S. so he need a few extra days to pay the rent. Secondly, he wanted to apply for HAP and needed me to fill in forms.
I was happy to facilitate both requests and issued him my standard licensee agreement for us both to sign. Donald moved in a week into the month so I agreed to charge him a week less rent for the first month.
The First Signs of Trouble
After I helped him move his things in, he settled in fine. He had worked as a lecturer in History so many conversations came back to this subject matter and politics. It didn’t take long for him to start sharing his views on immigrants and Jewish people. Not palatable conversations to be having over breakfast. I ignored his remarks, stating that generalisations were never helpful and changed the topic.
The first hints of things to come were seen at the end of the month when Kamari moved in to the other room. I bought us all a few take-aways in the first few weeks to try to establish a friendly atmosphere in the house. Despite this, Donald quickly took a dislike to young Kamari.
Bad to Worse
The situation continued to deteriorate over a few months and came to a head with a shouting match one night when I wasn’t in the house. Donald had silently developed the expectation that Kamari would stay out of the kitchen when he was in there cooking or eating. One night, Kamari was dropping his dishes into the kitchen and Donald immediately screamed at him to get out. An argument ensued. Both tenants texted me about it and I tried to arrange a meeting but Donald refused to talk to Kamari and insisted he speak to me alone.
Donald Wanted Out
On my return to the house the next day, I agreed to talk to Donald about the situation and he opened the conversation with “I’m leaving, I can’t stay here”. It was pretty clear he wanted to have his piece and he proceeded to scream at me at the top of his voice saying that I “had done f#@! all to protect his health and he has blood pressure and can’t deal with this stressful situation”.
I tried to resolve the issue, asked him to talk with Kamari and also explained that all common areas of the house are free for us all to use. Kamari eventually joined us and said his piece too. Donald just kept getting angrier and eventually left the room confirming that he was moving out.
Five minutes later, he came back downstairs and apologised profusely to both me and Kamari. I later figured out why I believed he had a sudden change of heart. I think he rang HAP and said he wanted to move but they told him that if he chose to move out that he wouldn’t qualify for HAP again for another two years. I can’t be certain.
A New Donald, An Old Donald
Overnight he became a different person. He apologised again to Kamari and even offered to make him some xmas dinner. Life resumed as normal and everything was fine again for months. Until it wasn’t.
I was out of the house again working on location when I was contacted by Donald who claimed Kamari was slamming the doors at night. I happened to be on a zoom call with Kamari a day prior to this and saw Kamari jump in fright at a loud bang of the front door as Donald he left for the shops. Kamari then told me he had been slamming doors for the last few days.
I queried this with Donald who claimed Kamari was the one slamming doors and he was being “a disrespectful piece of @#!#” I asked Donald if he had engaged Kamari in any kind of respectful. He didn’t respond to that.
The following day Donald text me to say he was going to call the Gardaí on Kamari and go to the station the following day to follow up and “make sure they were doing something about it”.
I had had enough. Plus I needed to make sure Kamari felt comfortable in the house. So I served Donald with his notice. He quickly turned on a dime and asked me to reconsider sighting COVID as the reason for his recent moods. Fool me once, I thought.
I informed Donald that the decision had been made and was final, I also told him that I would help him to move to other accommodation as soon as he finds it.
Donald Moves Out
Donald found a new place to live relatively quickly. He text me to inform me of his move out date and requested I help him to move. I said I would.
On the day of the move out he asked me, “how much money do you think you owe me?”
HAP had taken over most of his rent payments and there was only a small monthly payment to top it up. He had decided to pay it all in one go at the start of the year. I owed him a refund for June to December for these small monthly top ups. No problem.
I also owed him his security deposit minus some small deductions.
There was also an issue when HAP started paying his rent on 23rd of the month and we didn’t know if it was in advance of the next month or retrospect of the current. As soon as he brought that up I knew that I would owe him that refund too so I said I would investigate and refer back to him. I said it would take me a few days.
In the mean time I transferred him a chunk of money which was a mix of overpaid rent and security deposit.
Another deduction I decided to make didn’t become apparent until we were leaving and he indicated that he was leaving a broken office chair in my garden saying “Oh I’m sure someone will take that”. I didn’t make a deal of it at the time because I wanted him gone so badly.
I had to make two trips with all of his stuff to his new place (and met his new landlady) but I was so happy he was gone I bought Kamari and myself two bottles of wine and a take away and we celebrated that night.
The following day he emailed me with a list of reasons why I owed him more money. I said I hadn’t had time to look at it yet but I would and he would have to be patient. As I had transferred him over €700 on the day he moved (one day prior to this) out he would need to wait until the end of the month for when I get paid for me to be able to afford the rest.
Nope. He emailed back to say he was not waiting that long and he was bringing me to court. Turns out he had the court case filed with the small claims court before the end of the month. The other interesting thing to note from the claim was that, by that time, he had already changed address again. I don’t know what happened but maybe the landlady wasn’t as patient with him as I was.
By the end of the month I got paid and emailed him to notify him of the transfer of the outstanding monies and that I considered the matter closed.
Letters from the Small Claims Court
A while late a letter from the Small Claims Court arrived. It costs €25 to file a case with the small claims court. He was claiming I owed him €350. One of his claims was for the month after her moved out! He wanted a refund for moving out three days before the end of the month (even though HAP had paid the rent!!). He was also disputing some of the deductions I made from his deposit. I spoke to a friend of mine who works as a tax solicitor and has a mate who does litigation.
She outlined that this guy is old, probably has nothing else to do and will be a like a dog in with a bone. One option was to accept the claim and just pay him off to extradite myself from the hassle. The other option was to defend the claim and know that I could be going down a long road with this. (You also have the option to counter claim if you want)
I decided to defend the claim and drafted a reply to his. I sent it to the court along with the form they send you.
Not Satisfied With Reply
I was pretty pissed off about the whole thing until some time passed and I decided to change my thinking on it. I have a bucket list and one of the things on it was to watch a live court case. So I said to myself, well now I will get to do that finally.
The next letter I received made the entire thing more entraining. My response had been sent to Donald and he wasn’t happy. His opening statement said something to the effect of “the respondent is someone who regularly flouts laws and lawful bills. While I stated at the property he never paid his TV licence and seemed proud of the fact”.
The letter that came with that asked me if I was willing to make an offer to prevent the case from going to court. I politely declined and sited more evidence as to why I do not own this guy any more money.
And Now We Are Off To Court
Towards the end of November I got a letter with a date and time for the hearing. It’s going ahead in late December. I was actually glad to get this as I was hoping that it wouldn’t drag on for a long of time or crop up right in the middle of 2022 when I plan to be doing other things.
You Only Ever Hear the Bad Stuff
I wanted to make a note to say that when it comes to renting a room in your house or your entire property, there are no end of nightmare stories. Ask yourself would you have read this far if this blog post was about how great a guy Kamari has been? We love bad news and drama.
The fact is, the rent-a-room scheme has been a fantastic experience overall and has helped me to buy my first investment property and pay down extra off my mortgage. If you are working towards FIRE or just want extra cash – do it! You will be helping to solve the housing crisis and putting a spare room to go use.
I will let you know how it goes...
I have until late December to get all my ducks in a row. Kamari has agreed to come along as a witness, but I am not holding him to that. I am unclear on what actually happens inside the court itself or what to expect. If I lose I am liable for the full amount plus whatever expense Donald has racked up.
My solicitor friend advised me that it is unlikely that he is using a solicitor to take the case. Indeed the point of small claims is to do it without a solicitor. Plus he would actually have to be paying the solicitor’s invoices in the run up to the case all to win €345? I will post the outcome of the case and any insights that might help anyone in a similar situation.
Give it a try...
You will get one email a month with a summary of posts from that month so you can keep up-to-date with my progress and failures. Grand job!