Cork auctioneer Liam Lynch failed yesterday in a legal challenge against a rates bill for over €100,000, in respect of vacant buildings among a portfolio of properties he owned.
Judge Donagh McDonagh rejected the appeal by Mr Lynch, of South Mall, Cork, against the rates collector for Cork City Council in respect of a €107,119 rates demand on his properties for 2012 and 2013.
Barrister Meg Burke, for the council, applied for legal costs in the action, stating various witnesses had to be called for the civil case which was in court on 12 separate occasions.
Dominic Creedon, solicitor for Mr Lynch, argued against the costs as he said a significant legal principle needed to be clarified in the taking of the case.
Judge McDonagh awarded costs against Mr Lynch and in favour of the local authority. He said if the auctioneer wanted to clarify the legal point, it would have been cheaper for him to have consulted with the author of a seminal legal text in the area or with any other senior counsel who could have given him a legal opinion.
At Cork Circuit court, Judge McDonagh said the nub of the issue was whether rates liability fell to the owners or occupiers of properties.
While the properties in question were not, at the present time, valuable in terms of tenancy, they were still of value to the owner. The judge said Mr Lynch had the potential to earn from the properties and that this might even increase if their value increased.
In terms of the issue of occupying properties which he owns, he did not have to occupy them on a permanent basis, the judge said. “It makes little difference whether he is defined as the owner or the occupier.
“In the absence of an alternative occupier, he has the primary responsibility. He was, in effect, pleading inability to pay by reason of the properties being unoccupied.
“It seems to me it is disingenuous to seek to avoid paying rates and to continue owning all his properties.”
The judge compared the case to someone with a liability for a phone bill, who could not continue to own the phone and not pay the bill, or continue to drive a car while not paying tax and insurance.
“If he cannot meet liability on his assets the only legitimate thing to do is to dispose of some or all of the assets,” he said.
Concluding his judgment, the judge said Cork City Council was entitled to full payment by Mr Lynch to the amount of €107,119.
The judge said some issues were not in contention, including the fact the rate struck for the properties was correct and that Mr Lynch was correctly identified as the owner of the properties — a portfolio built up over 25 to 30 years for the purpose of letting.
Judge McDonagh said much had been made of the issue of abatement or reduction of the rates. He said that was a matter between the ratepayer and the local authority. “This is not a matter on which this court can adjudicate,” he said.
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