Separated father of seven William Tuohy, 46, moved into 67 Church Hill, Tullamore, four months ago and has made the house his own — even paying the ESB to come and connect him to mains electricity.
Previously in rented accommodation, he had to leave after a dispute with the landlord, who he says failed to deal with sewage flowing in the back garden.
Now his children love to visit on the weekend because they can play in the garden. “I’m delighted to have somewhere nice for them to come into. It’s lovely to have somewhere you’re not worrying about what’s going on outside.”
Number 67 wasn’t his first choice, but he now loves its quiet location at the rear of the estate.
“I picked a house at the very front but unfortunately when I went to move into it somebody had broken in and robbed the tanks out of it and the houses all along that block.”
He said he was frank with gardaí when they visited him.
“I explained straight out what I was doing. I told them I was claiming squatters’ rights, using adverse possession to the property,” he said.
Mr Tuohy, who receives a disability pension because of depression and has had previous drug problems, said he enjoys doing up the house as he can afford to and it keeps him busy.
Speaking after a judge dismissed a Garda prosecution for trespass at the house, Mr Tuohy, who has been on the housing list in Tullamore for five years, tried all the vacant houses in the estate until he found one with an open door.
He painted the walls, put down flooring and dealt with a serious mould problem that developed while the house was vacant for three years.
He appeared before Tullamore District Court charged with trespass, but after viewing pictures of the improvements he’d made, Judge Catherine Staines dismissed the case, saying there was no evidence he’d intended to commit an offence.
Solicitor John Hughes explained that his client had been left to his own devices in the house and as they had recently learned the name of the owner, who is in NAMA, Mr Tuohy would like to pay rent and arrears.
He described Church View as “effectively a ghost estate, part-completed, part-unoccupied and unfinished, with around 30 vacant houses”.
Mr Tuohy said he plans to stay.
“I will now put up a battle to come out of here, I just want a place of my own, somewhere to bring my kids at the end of the week, with no headaches. I can’t understand why somebody like the council can’t take over these properties and rent them out to people. It’s a shame. There are so many people on the housing list. Look at the amount of houses in this estate and they’re being destroyed. It doesn’t make sense, does it?” he asked.