A “bioarchitect” whose unique 10,000-square-foot self-designed home in rural Co Laois was due be sold in an online auction last Thursday has blocked the sale by obtaining an injunction.
ichael Rice, who specialises in “building structures based on the fractal patterns of nature”, had, in 2016, partially completed Dreamfields, a family home designed to double as an architectural school, on an 11-acre site outside Mountrath.
The property was recently seized by Aiden Murphy, a receiver appointed by Mars Capital, a mortgage fund owned by a UK company, over an alleged €700,000 debt that included €312,000 of arrears. The initial 2009 AIB loan of €500,000, repayable over 28 years, had been secured on the property. Dreamfields was subject to recent coverage in The Irish Times property section ahead of a BidX1 auction last Thursday, and a number of interested bidders registered.
However, on Wednesday, circuit court judge Kenneth Connolly, sitting in Mullingar, granted Mr Rice an emergency injunction preventing the sale after hearing evidence that the receiver did not have the power of sale.
The order was granted on an ex parte basis, with no representation from Mars Capital. It is understood Mr Rice, who is in Portugal working on a project, had previous negotiations with Mars to try to secure a partial write-off of the €704,000 he and his ex-wife Heather owe, but those talks broke down.
The locks on the house were changed by the receiver shortly after his appointment in January. The house, which cost over €1.2m to build, was put up for sale with an asking price of €300,000. Mr Rice has claimed in legal letters that the receiver is “trespassing” on his property.
The Irish Times write-up said the partially finished Dreamfields “could make a fabulous yoga centre or similar retreat — far from the madding crowd within a building designed with nature in mind”. The house has a “shamanic” reception area and five reception rooms, an office, studios and nine bedrooms.
On Friday in the Four Courts, Judge Connolly was told by Mr Rice’s barrister Andrew Robinson that his client downloaded the contract-for-sale for Dreamfields from BidX1 and it showed the vendor was the receiver. He said the receiver had no power of sale as he was a rent-receiver, and this was accepted by Mars Capital.
The judge was told Mars is taking a possession case over Dreamfields, and that is due for hearing on April 14. Mr Rice is contesting it. He has separated from his wife and is travelling for work, but all his property is stored in Dreamfields, he said.
Mars Capital’s barrister Barry Mansfield said his client would give an undertaking not to sell Dreamfields until the judge had ruled on the dispute.
He said a wrong contract for sale was uploaded to the BidX1 website. He said Mars is the mortgagee and entitled to sell the property. A new contract for sale has been drafted setting Mars as the vendor.
The 1881 Conveyancing Act allowed a mortgagee to sell a property if it took possession peacefully, and this was done, he said. He added that Mr Rice’s application was brought in “very strange circumstances” and Ms Rice was not notified.
Correspondence from February was opened in court and showed solicitors for Mars and the receiver had raised concerns with Mr Rice about the placement of a placard in Dreamfields from the Armagh & Down Land League outlining opposition to evictions. Mr Rice denies any connection with the placard.
The letter to his solicitor asked how the architect claimed Dreamfields was a family home when neither he nor Ms Rice lived there. It also asked how he intended to pay a liability of €704,000 when the property’s valuation was €200,000. The letter said if those and three other questions were answered “satisfactorily”, the receiver would undertake to provide him with the keys to the house.
Mr Robinson complained that his client only learned about the sale through The Irish Times feature published in mid-March. The judge suggested the “worst” that could be said of Mars Capital was that it was “speaking out of both sides of its mouth” in its correspondence with Mr Rice.
He fixed a hearing for April 17 and said he wanted the case heard as soon as possible given the “seriousness” of the application. He said Ms Rice should be notified of the proceedings as she may “welcome the sale”.
The judge said he expected Mr Rice to be in court for the application, and it was notable that he was not. The injunction would not continue as he had accepted the Mars undertaking not to sell Dreamfields until he had ruled in the case.