A DISAGREEMENT ignited between Portlaoise town councillors at the recent council meeting, over Cllr Caroline Dwane’s claim that a tenant in a Laois County Council house had their home repossessed after missing two rent payments due to ill health.
Cllr Dwane proposed a motion to call on Laois County Council to outline the current process of repossession of a council house when a tenant is in rent arrears.
She told her fellow town councillors of an incident she was aware of, where a representative of Laois County Council had called to a woman’s house and informed her that her home would be repossessed after missing two rent payments totalling €424.
“I told her this was a hoax caller, but when I contacted Laois County Council I nearly fell through the floor when it was confirmed,” she said.
Cllr Dwane explained that the woman spends three to four days a month in hospital due to bad health and it was because of this that she missed the payments.
“I was gobsmacked. I was advised by the county council to tell her not to miss another payment. When the man from Laois County Council arrived she was on her way to the doctor’s. How has this situation arisen?” she asked.
At that point, Cllr Willie Aird interjected and said he thought it was wrong for Cllr Dwane to “rehash” the whole history of a council house tenant.
“I haven’t named them and I have every right to raise it,” replied Cllr Dwane.
Her party colleague, Cllr Alan Hand pointed out that Cllr Dwane had received no interaction with the housing department, which meant the town council meeting was the only way she could raise the issue.
Michael Rainey of the housing department said he had never heard of the case Cllr Dwane was referring to and he said it was “a wee bit unfair” that no member of the finance department was present to face Cllr Dwane’s claims.
“I contacted the rates department and they confirmed it,” replied Cllr Dwane.
“The council isn’t ruthless like that,” remarked Cllr Aird, although he said it was regrettable if the housing manager, Mr Rainey had not heard of the case.
“That function is not under my control,” said Mr Rainey.
“But you should be aware of it,” retorted Cllr Aird. “But I don’t have a name,” replied Mr Rainey.
Cllr Kathleen O’Brien agreed with Cllr Aird that Cllr Dwane should not have brought the case before the town council in such a manner.
“All that information should not have come out at a town council meeting, it should have been in private,” opined Cllr Kathleen O’Brien.
“I disagree with you, I haven’t named the person or the house,” replied Cllr Dwane. “I have every right to ask about the process, I don’t believe I need to call an inner committee meeting. I make no apologies. We have a right as councillors to defend these people.”
In a reply from Róisín Hennessy of the finance department, it was said that there is a strict procedure followed for rent collection by Laois County Council. When a tenant falls into arrears, a statement is issued followed up by a phone call. If there is no response or payment, a reminder letter is sent, followed by a preliminary notice of legal proceedings and then a notice to quit. The file proceeds to the next stage only if an agreement is broken or no payment is made. It is at this stage that the repossession of a dwelling is sought and the file is then sent to the council’s solicitors. At any stage, the tenant can contact the council and enter into an agreement to avoid legal proceedings being instituted.
“I’m glad to hear it’s not standard procedure,” remarked Cllr Dwane.