Owner ordered to pay €3,000 to the family for refusing to accept HAP

The landlord was ordered to pay €3,000 in compensation to the tenant for refusing to accept Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) after the settlement deal collapsed.

The owner told the Labor Relations Committee (WRC) that it had learned that the complainant might take another case and “doesn’t want to pay the money to someone who can take on as many cases as he wants.”

She wrote to the housing charity Threshold, which represented the man in the case, accusing her of “enabling criminality” – the charity then received a phone call from Gardaí about her client, and the court was informed.

The WRC has now ordered Barbara O’Donnell to pay €3,000 in compensation to David Blanchard after his complaint of discrimination based on housing assistance under the Equal Status Act 2000 was upheld in a decision published this morning.

The court was informed that on January 13, 2021 Mr Blanchard’s partner, Leanne O’Doherty, sent an email in response to an online advertisement saying the couple were interested in renting a home in Limerick from Ms O’Donnell.

“Do you accept HAP? I have currently received HAP and have deposit and first month’s rent immediately… If you can get back to me, thank you,” Ms. O’Doherty wrote.

The reply stated on the same day: “Sorry, I do not accept HAP,” the court was told.

Mr Blanchard said that by the time they went looking for a house, he and his partner were living with his parents and had one baby and another baby on the way.

Evidence that housing charity Threshold served Mrs. O’Donnell was submitted with Form ES1 statutory notice of the Equality Act on March 8 of that year, which states: “Refusal to accept a tenant dependent on housing support amounts to discrimination under the Equality Act.”

Ms. O’Donnell’s written response to the complainant later that month stated that the house was in the “student area” and was “unsuitable for families”.

She wrote that previous tenants “constantly contacted her about the noise and behavior of the students.”

She added that she believes HAP is “not hostile” because the house needs a new boiler.

The landlord added that she did not know that she could not refuse the tenant on the grounds that they were receiving HAP.

Failed settlement deal

The WRC postponed the matter to a hearing in August 2021 to allow the parties to enter into settlement talks – but the following month Mr Blanchard asked the WRC to move forward with adjudication of the suit.

Mr. Blanchard’s position was that Mrs. O’Donnell “failed to honor” the settlement agreement.

In her testimony, Mrs. O’Donnell said she had agreed to the settlement but had learned that Mr Blanchard had brought a case against another property owner.

She said she “didn’t want to pay someone who could take as many cases as possible” – after a lawyer and observer told her there was a “loophole” in the law that would allow it.

The owner said she was willing to pay in installments of 50 euros to cover the undeclared amount, but when she made the first payment, it was returned.

However, she said, under questioning, that she did not seek an agreement from Mr Blanchard to change the terms of the settlement deal so that she could pay in installments.

She said she then wrote to a Threshold representative on September 1 accusing them of “enabling criminal activity” by representing Mr Blanchard.

Mr Blanchard said he was “shocked that the defendant accused him of being a criminal”, adding that following Ms O’Donnell’s allegations, Gardy contacted the housing charity about him.

He said he filed one more complaint against a landlord alleging discrimination on the basis of housing assistance.

Class officer Louise Boyle noted the defendant’s evidence that she had refused Mr. Blanchard’s application because the neighborhood was a student area and would not be suitable for a family.

However, you wrote that Mr. Blanchard’s evidence was “more credible” and that he made a prima facie case of discrimination which the proprietor failed to refute.

Ms. O’Donnell was ordered to pay €3,000 in compensation for the effects of discriminatory treatment.