Government urged to stop home repossessions

By June 20, 2017Articles
A major issue is brewing in Irish government regarding home repossessions. As thousands of families face losing their homes, the Green party is pushing the government to initiate a temporary ban on home repossessions as many homeowners may not have had their legal rights explained to them by Irish courts.

The Green Party demands temporary ban

The Green Party issued its demands for the government to place the temporary ban as it warned of the serious financial implications that the issue raises. The party is requesting for an immediate moratorium on the issue of home repossession through the courts. Party member, Catherine Martin, cited a recent case in the High Court, which had ruled that European Consumer Law must be considered in any case of home repossession in the Republic.

High Court ruling means many cases may be illegal

The ruling, which was given in the case of Allied Irish Bank v. Counihan stated that in any application for repossession where the mortgage is not being paid has to take into account the European law on consumer rights. In the case of AIB v. Counihan, Mr. Justice Max Barrett ruled that the argument from the Dublin couple’s counsel was acceptable. The argument was that the European consumer regulations on unfair contract terms should be applied to each and every case in the lower courts. The European rule requires all courts to examine the original mortgage contract in order to first decide if any of the terms of the mortgage could be construed as unfair.

Homeowners were not made aware of their rights

The ruling was a major breakthrough in repossession cases and has the potential to bring into play a “proportionality test” on consideration of a family’s rights under the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. And while this means that judges in repossession hearings must carry out this assessment of deals being “fair and appropriate”, almost all cases heard in the Irish courts since the ruling have not been properly assessed, and homeowners were not made aware of their rights.

Courts may not have followed due process

The current situation of repossessions in Ireland has meant that thousands of people have already lost their homes without being given full due process in the courts. This leaves the repossessions as technically illegal, and leaves the state liable for any financial implications should the cases be reheard and found lacking. Ms. Martin has called for the government to put a temporary ban on repossessions until the legal issue surrounding previous repossessions has been resolved.

Potential risk of government being liable for illegal repossessions

The latest figures from the Central Bank show that more than 80,000 home mortgages are currently in arrears, of which almost 35,000 are more than 720 days in arrears. As many of the cases already heard may now be in conflict with the EU law, they would, therefore, be unlawful repossessions. “There is a potential financial risk for the State here. If the Irish courts were not properly implementing EU law in these cases, and homeowners suffered a loss because of this, the State may be liable to pay them damages,” Ms. Martin said. The request for the ban was made to the Dáil already, and a debate has yet to be set for the issue.

Vulture funds should be reclassified

In another issue, a private motion from the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit group is calling for new laws that will regulate the vulture funds, which have recently been buying up blocks of defaulted Irish mortgages for a fraction of their value. And while the bill looks set to be denied by the government, it may force re-classification of vulture funds as, technically, “landlords”, giving their “tenants” rights preventing summary eviction if their home is being sold from under them.

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