By Ann O'Loughlin
A heavily pregnant young woman and her partner, who are living in a property acquired by a fund, can remain there until at least October, a High Court judge has said.
Mr Justice Paul Gilligan noted Melanie Mook and her partner Colm O'Nuanain are expecting their first baby in August and want a home birth and said he hoped that would work out as they desired.
The judge said there were negotiations between the couple and the fund about their buying the property at 85-86 Barrack Street, Cork, they are making "serious efforts" to stay there but had also indicated they would leave if serious difficulties arose.
He hoped the legal dispute could be resolved by October, he said.
The fund - Targeted Investment Opportunities ICAV (TIO) – has taken proceedings in relation to the property where the couple have lived for some years. They ran a coffee shop there at one stage and occasionally rent out part of the premises via Air B&B.
In proceedings initiated last month, the fund seeks various orders, including for vacant possession of the premises.
Representing themselves, the couple say they have nowhere else to go and have been in negotiations for some time with a view to buying the property. Up to now, they were permitted live there without paying rent, the court heard.
When the case returned to court today, Nevan Powell BL, for the fund, said the only issue he was pursuing for the moment was to inspect the property.
Mr Powell said the fund – which bought the property in late 2014 from a receiver appointed by Bank of Ireland Mortgage Bank– has never seen it. Having been provided by the couple with an engineer’s report concerning the property, it wanted to inspect it for reasons including concerns about potential legal liability attaching to the fund.
The report raised concerns about structural and fire safety issues which it would cost up to €300,000 to address, counsel said.
The judge sought the report and, having read it, said it addressed issues common to buildings as old as this property, including about the size of windows, and it did not appear any issue arose that required to be urgently addressed.
Mr O Nuanain said he and his partner were never asked by the fund or its agents about inspection of the property and were not objecting to inspection. Their engineers’ report, which raised an issue about getting fire cladding for the cafe part of the premises, was provided to the fund last January and they heard nothing about it until the court case, he said.
Having heard the sides, the judge said the inspection could take place next Monday and the case could go back to October by which time he hoped matters would be resolved.
The fund claims it purchased the property in December 2014 and was registered in March 2015 as full owner. It claims neither it nor the previous owners granted the couple a valid tenancy and they have no legal entitlement to be there.
It also claims negotiations with the couple about a lease agreement lead to no agreement and they had refused the fund's offer to house them in an alternative property for six months.
The couple say, with the agreement of a previous tenant, they entered the property some years ago and remained without being required to pay rent. They say they have resided in, and operated a business from, the premises for several years and had been in negotiations with agents for the owners for a long-term lease with a first refusal on sale at market rate. While under the impression negotiations were ongoing, they were told last month TIO wanted vacant possession, they also said.