herald

Monday 25 September 2017

Brave couple win lifeline but dream home is gone

DEBT-RIDDEN: Six-month reprieve gives time to seek council house

IT was a distressing conclusion to an utterly hopeless legal battle. Having just witnessed the granting of an order for the possession of their family home, a devastated Carlow couple was forced to request a lengthy stay on the order.

After hearing an application from Stepstone Mortgage Funding Ltd, Judge Daniel O'Keeffe granted an order to the lender. He then turned to the couple, huddled at the side of the court, and suggested that he would include a stay of five months.

A flicker of desperation crossed the faces of the pair, who glanced at one another briefly before the man quietly asked: "as long as possible, your honour".

For his efforts, he earned an extra month, giving him a six-month reprieve as he attempts to ensure they will not be left without a roof over their heads.

Casually dressed and clearly uncomfortable, the couple cut an unusual sight, simply because they are among only a handful of defendants who have bravely chosen to attend court to see their property dreams twisting beyond their grasp.

Crippling

Theirs was a crippling financial situation, and one that has been mirrored all across the country. In August 2007 they had secured a loan of €240,000 from Stepstone at a rate of 8.15pc. The monthly repayments were €1,695.82, but just four months later they began defaulting on the loan.

By October 2008, the arrears had topped €8,000. And with no hope of paying off their rising debts, they found themselves mired in arrears of €25,890.15 by September last year. Having acknowledged their dire financial situation and their inability to make repayments, the couple did not consent to possession.

The court heard how they will attempt to secure housing from their local authority, but would not be in a position to do so if they had consented to possession. In the end, Judge O'Keeffe put a swift and decisive end to the situation when he granted the order to Stepstone.

It was one of eight orders granted at yesterday's hearing of the High Court chancery summons list, each case more distressing than the last.

In the case of one Roscommon man, yesterday's sitting brought with it one final deadline that may save his pub from repossession. He had taken out a commercial mortgage of €320,000 with Bank of Ireland in 2003 and secured a top-up of €50,000 in February 2006. Yet, by October 2008, he owed the bank €364,231.68.

Disaster

The pub has been leased to tenants, but disaster struck when the premises was badly damaged in flooding. The business hasn't operated since, but both the owner and the tenants believe it could be opened in four weeks if refurbishment goes ahead.

When the case was last heard in court, the defendant was given the option of putting a proposal to Bank of Ireland.

Yesterday, the court heard that these proposals had not been accepted, or, in the words of the defendant's barrister, had been "met with a brick wall".

She pointed out that along with rent from the tenants, the defendant collects monthly rent from masts which are located at the rear of the property, worth a total of €2,533.33 each month.

This more than covers the monthly repayments of €2,469.64. Furthermore, the defendant currently had €10,000 which to lodge if the proposals were accepted.

However, as counsel for the bank pointed out, the rental from the masts is subject to tax, and the proposals hadn't met with the bank's lending criteria.

Judge O'Keeffe suggested an adjournment would be advisable, but only until Friday. By then, he ordered, the defendant must have lodged the €10,000 to Bank of Ireland to ensure any hope of avoiding a possession order.

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