A tenant who put a family through a "living hell" by cutting the rafters on the house he was renting in a bid to force the owners to sell him the property at a reduced price has received a two-year suspended sentence following the payment of compensation.
At a sentencing hearing at Cork Circuit Criminal Court Judge Sean O'Donnabhain said that Denis O'Connor (67) of Hillside, Cappagh in Kinsale, Co Cork had caused "devastation" to Audrey O'Mahony and her loved ones.
The pensioner began renting their cottage at Ballinspittle, Co Cork six years ago.
Ms O'Connor told the court that she believed that Mr O'Connor intended to obtain permanent possession of their house by unethical means.
"He is not the least bit sorry for what he has put us through. His actions against us are inexcusable, cruel and downright wrong,” she said.
Mr O’Connor pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage to the house by removing roof rafters and damaging floors and various fittings at the O’Mahonys’ property at Duneen, Ballinvredig, Ballinspittle, Co Cork, on dates between December 5th, 2015, and July 23rd, 2018.
Mr O'Connor also pleaded guilty to the theft of a fitted kitchen worth €1,000, which he removed from the single storey cottage to replace with his own kitchen.
Bizarrely he then removed this kitchen when he left the property, leaving the house without a functioning area to prepare food.
Garda Cormac Dineen said that the O’Mahony’s had moved from the cottage in Ballinspittle to their new home in Clonakilty. They put their original home on the rental market.
Mr O’Connor, who is a handyman by profession, began renting the property in 2015. He agreed to carry out some minor repair works with the consent of the owners.
However, the court heard that the family did not give him permission to carry out some of the works completed. This included the removal of 27 roof rafters and taking up a hall floor leaving the family with a bill for damage of €16,000.
Stopped paying rent
Garda Dineen said that Mr O’Connor finally moved out of the property more than a year after he had stopped paying rent to the O’Mahony family.
Defence barrister Donal O'Sullivan BL said his client was a discharged bankrupt who was apologetic for his actions. His client today ( Thursday) handed over €13,000 in compensation to the family.
Ms O’Mahony said that O’Connor deliberately damaged the house so they couldn’t sell it to anyone else but him at a reduced price.
She said that it was almost four years since Mr O’Connor threatened that “things were going to get nasty” and in that time he had made their lives “a living hell.”
“Our worst fear became a reality when we finally got our home back – on that morning, July 23rd, 2018, my world caved in on top of me – the discovery of the very serious and dangerous damage to the attic where he removed 27 rafters was the last draw,” she said.
Homelessness was high on my mind at that time – we feared we would lose both the rental house and our own family home if we could not sell the rental and pay our escalating linked mortgages debt to the bank – our despair was overwhelming – we were trapped in a never-ending nightmare.”
Ms O’Mahony told how the financial strain left the family with no choice but to cut back on groceries, clothing and heating. Such was the stress she was under that she collapsed and was taken to hospital.
Denis O'Connor has spent the last two months in custody pending sentence.
Judge Ó Donnabháin told the court he had huge sympathy for Ms O’Mahony. He said that in spite of the compensation paid to the family he was still "singularly unimpressed" by the demeanour of Mr O'Connor in court.
"I heard all of the evidence and am aware of the devastation and damage caused to the householder. The householder was very much at risk from Denis O'Connor. He was let in there (to the house) in good faith. The damage and distress caused to the couple was epic.”
However, taking the guilty plea, the lack of previous convictions and payment of compensation in to consideration he jailed Mr O'Connor for two years suspending the entirety of the sentence.