Call For Immediate Abolition Of Eviction Courts
The Hub-Ireland, a community organisation working at the coalface of the mortgage-distress problem, is renewing its call for the Government to repeal the controversial Land and Conveyancing Reform Act 2013.
Introduced by former Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, it is otherwise known as the ‘Evictions Act’ because it enabled fast-track: possessions of the family homes to be administered by County Registrars. This has given rise to what many observers regard as an extremely problematic situation for several reasons and there is currently a Constitutional challenge awaiting hearing by the Supreme Court.
In most counties, the County Registrars double-up as County Sheriffs and so carry out the very home possessions that they themselves had adjudicated on. Moreover, County Sheriffs receive a percentage commission on every possession order they execute, based on the value of the home that is being taken.
“This is completely unacceptable and is a clear conflict of interest on the part of County Registrars and must be stopped immediately by a repeal of the Evictions Act,” says Hub-Ireland spokesman, Byron Jenkins.
Prior to the enactment of the Evictions Act, home possession cases were heard in the High Court and adjudicated within all aspects of the law.
The Hub-Ireland has been monitoring the workings of various County Registrar sittings around the country and has concluded that, in terms of the proper application of law, they are not an adequate replacement for High court proceedings.
The Hub-Ireland points out that because County Registrars are not judges, let alone High Court judges, they do not have the experience necessary for cases of such seriousness as the possession of a family home, where complex points of law need to be considered within a proper judicial framework, particularly in view of the devastating consequences for the families in question when a possession order is granted.
This is reflected in the fact that each Registrar acts in a different manner and the end result for a home-owner in danger of eviction, appears to be completely arbitrary. Some County Registrars, for example, are perceived by many as being totally pro-bank and are greatly feared by home-owners, some of whom express feeling belittled and harassed when they turn up to defend their homes. Others report feeling pressurised to agree to pay more money to the mortgage-company than they can reasonably afford, as an interim measure in order to stave off eviction, only to find a few months later, that a possession order is handed down regardless.
Other Registrars are perceived to be more sympathetic and endeavor to get the mortgage-companies to engage with the home-owner. Notwithstanding the sympathy of certain Registrars however, The Hub-Ireland says the process of evicting families from their homes and rendering them homeless is utterly immoral.
“Turfing a family onto the streets is sub-human, even evil,” says Byron Jenkins, spokesperson for The Hub-Ireland, “by buying homes, most people just wanted to better themselves and their families. As far as I can see, their only crime was falling victim to the predatory sales team of the bank.” He says that the mortgage-companies must now be forced to do a deal with distressed mortgage-holders and the notorious Evictions Courts must cease.
The Hub-Ireland is not alone in calling for an immediate end to the evictions process and for a ‘Big Bang’ solution to be offered to all home-owners in mortgage-distress. For the most difficult cases, Edmund Honohan, the Master of the High Court, recently floated the idea of compulsory purchase orders of homes by the State that could then be rented back to their owners.
“The rest could be written down to current market value and make the mortgage companies take the hit, ” says Jenkins. “After all, they instigated this crisis. This would have the added benefit of turning the economy back onto an even keel and kick-starting growth.”
He emphasises that the home-owners, who are being processed through the Evictions Courts, are the victims of the economic collapse of Ireland and the job losses that followed, and their difficulties are not of their own making.
“Everyone got bailed out, except the very people that should get bailed out. One has to just look at the top end of the money chain: they are all getting write-offs, or write-downs. Vulture funds should be banned from this country, and those that are here, need to be ejected.”
Jenkins also has serious concerns about the workings of Irish vulture funds, who High Court Master, Edmund Honohan, also pointedly drew attention to last week.
Jenkins says, “Our home-grown vultures, Irish Collective Asset-management Vehicles (ICAVs), those companies being aided and abetted by the Government and NAMA, should have their assets seized and utilised by the Government for the betterment of the people. The ICAVs are taking control of possessed properties in large portfolios. They are selling the properties at knockdown prices and then coming after the owner for often a large residue debt. Often the ICAVs are claiming a shortfall that is completely arbitrary and therefore an act of fiction, as the properties were never individually priced. But the ICAVs still come after the owners for this now, fictitious sum of money!
“These vulture funds are mopping up the toxic debt of the banks, and only paying 16 to 19 cent in the euro for it, which amounts to an 81–84% write-down for the fund. But who are the real owners of the loans, this is the biggest question of all,” says Jenkins.
The Hub-Ireland is also calling for an investigation of NAMA and the banks by an international board, in order to avoid parties with vested interests being able to influence the outcome. It says that prison sentences should be handed down for those found guilty of wrongdoing.
“The Celtic Tiger was a beast created by the banks, for the good of the banks, with unscrupulous and predatory lending, a boom-and-bust, orchestrated by the banks. They knew what was coming and when you look at the timing of the Evictions Act, it is clear that the Government aided and abetted them.”
So what to do? The Hub-Ireland suggests that the write-down of every mortgage to today’s market value could be an acceptable and fair solution. “Everybody wins, except the banks, sub-prime lenders and vulture funds,” says Jenkins
He believes this solution would be widely welcomed, as there is now more general awareness of the deep corruption surrounding the economic crash and the mortgage-crisis, as information is revealed about NAMA deals, write-downs for wealthy business-people, politicians and lawyers investing in property funds and cashing in on the crisis, collusion between the banks and the government, and collusion between the banks and the legal system in seizing the homes of ordinary people.
“Even the dogs on the street know what is going on and the elephant in the room is gradually coming into focus. People are waking up to the pure corruption that is happening on a daily basis in Ireland,” he says.
The Hub-Ireland has drawn up a list of demands it is seeking to have implemented, in order to end the acute and tortuous difficulties being experienced by mortgage-holders in distress.
EMERGENCY MEASURES TO STOP EVICTIONS
1. An immediate suspension of the Eviction Courts.
2. The immediate repeal of the Eviction Bill (the Land and Conveyancing Reform Act 2013) before the Dáil breaks for its Summer recess.
3. A write-down of every mortgage to today’s market value.
4. Where a sustainable solution for someone in mortgage-arrears is possible, then the bank must be forced to agree to it.
5. An independent adjudicator to sit in on every meeting of bank Arrears Resolution Boards, with a view to restructuring the mortgage as above.
6. Where there is no affordable option, the State to buy all possessed family homes by way of compulsory purchase orders and rent them back to the owners.
7. Those who have already had their family homes possessed to be compensated by being offered State-acquired rented homes.
REFORMS TO ENSURE PROBITY AND PROPER CONDUCT IN LEGAL AND FINANCIAL AFFAIRS
1. All court proceedings in possessions cases to be recorded and fully on the record, including ex parte and up-for-mention proceedings, in all courts—District, Circuit and High Court.
2. The Registrar and Sheriff to become two distinct, separate positions within the legal system, the functions of which should never be carried out by the same person.
3. In possession cases, all persons within the judicial system to be compelled to declare their interests, namely their bank accounts, pensions and investment portfolios.
4. The suspension of all ICAV dealings with possessed properties.
5. An internationally led enquiry into ICAVs, NAMA and all banks operating here.
The Hub-Ireland invites anyone in distress due to mortgage debt to contact them on 01 534 9118, or email firstname.lastname@example.org The headquarters is in Dublin and it has several branches in different parts of the country where local support can be sought.