With rental prices skyrocketing and a property shortage that is increasing by the day, the search for a house in Dublin is a minefield. Finding a room in a good location, and with decent rent, is this capital city’s equivalent to winning the lottery. If you are one of the lucky ones who has found an abode, you will quickly realise that you have an abundance of additional factors to contest with. Some of these can be small and inconsequential, but many others can be unsettling and discomforting. Unfortunately, the latter was the case for midlands native Sarah Fitzpatrick.
Sarah, 23, recently moved to Dublin for education and work purposes. Like many others, she struggled to find a room to rent, “I was on Daft.ie and Rent.ie every single day, refreshing them every hour and emailing people all day but not one person was writing back to me.”
Disheartened she kept trying, and within three weeks she got a viewing for a room. However, with this room, she was taking an enormous chance. Why? There were no pictures to be found of her possible digs.
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Sarah was desperate. She was living week-to-week from a suitcase, and all she desired was a permanent place to lay her head. She was one of five people to view the room. “The room was grand, and I just thought I was getting a good deal with it being a double en-suite in Raneleagh. So I told the landlord straight-out that I would take it, and he gave it to me," and added, "I handed over the money immediately, but because I was so desperate I didn’t think of how much it was or the consequences.”
Out of hopelessness, she agreed to the room before seeing the entirety of the house and was met with unrest by the landlord when she asked to see the upstairs of the house. “I should have found that strange straight away, but he had given me the room and he seemed nice so I trusted him.”
Stranger than fiction
However, the situation quickly became stranger than fiction. The house was listed under a management company in a woman’s name and not the landlords. When she went to pay her rent and deposit, she was given the landlord's bank details. She then asked for a receipt but the landlord said that this is dealt with by the management company, who then denied that statement in an email and claimed the landlord had that responsibility.
Sarah was told that she would be living with two housemates who she had met, but on a visit to the house, she encountered a third housemate who, unbeknownst to her, was living upstairs. “This woman met me outside the house when I was supposed to be meeting the landlord and just handed me the lease and revealed she lived upstairs even though I had never been told about her”
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“I read the lease and it said that if I wanted a friend over I would have to get written permission and if I didn’t I would be fined €400. If I had candles I would be fined €200 and it also said I couldn’t smoke in the house, the garden or on the street the house was situated on.” Sarah began to question more and discovered from her roommates that the landlord also lived upstairs with the mysterious third roommate she met outside. However, whenever the landlord was challenged on this, he profusely denied it.
One evening, Sarah was in the house alone but heard someone in the kitchen. She had been warned by her housemates that the landlord made a habit of snooping, but she never expected him to try to enter her room unannounced: “I heard him moving around and then he came to my bedroom door which I locked from the inside, and he tried to force it open but then must have realised I was there and left. I was genuinely shaken. Landlords shouldn't be trying to gain entry into their tenant's room unannounced”.
This strange occurrence partnered with a lack of heating and internet motivated Sarah to move out of the property. She ran this by the landlord who said that was "absolutely fine”. Sarah then asked for the deposit but it was to no avail saying “He kept making excuses about it and just said to ask the office but I eventually found out that the office doesn’t exist."
Threatened and scared
On the day she was officially leaving, the landlord came to Sarah’s room where she asked him directly where her money was, “He got so angry and started shouting at me. I couldn’t really understand him. He was screaming that I would only get some of my deposit back but he would not be disclosing the amount with me”, adding “He told me I lied to him about moving out and how dare I question him, then he began to become even more aggressive and asking did I think he was mental?"
By this point she was terrified saying “I just froze, he was becoming so overpowering and I was on my own. She added that she eventually began to stand up to him and bluntly told him that he had been lying to her about living in the house and that she felt unsafe. “When I said that, he threatened me and said ‘how dare I call these people dangerous’ and that it was me who was the dangerous one.”
She added “I was bawling at this point, so I panicked and rang the guards, the landlord then ran upstairs and locked himself inside a room. The guards came and couldn’t do anything but I just needed that feeling of protection. When I left the house I looked above at the upstairs window and the landlord was hiding behind the curtains. The guards never got the opportunity to talk to him. It was all so bizarre.”
Once she left, Sarah investigated the house further and discovered the landlord had been acting under the vice of two different names. She also discovered the 'office' he mentioned was actually just another unregistered rental property.
The situation is now in the hands of the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. Sarah has since found a new place to live but is warning people to be careful, “Do your research. If you get a bad feeling at a house viewing than go with it and trust it. Just because it’s hard to find somewhere doesn’t mean you should have to sacrifice your safety."