Property Clinic

Leaky apartment roof, smell in bedroom and insurance for old houses

Any further delays in fixing the leaky roof will only lead to a potential claim on the block insurance policy for damage caused to your property and this in turn will lead to a greater shared cost by way of increased future premiums on all members of the OMC

Any further delays in fixing the leaky roof will only lead to a potential claim on the block insurance policy for damage caused to your property and this in turn will lead to a greater shared cost by way of increased future premiums on all members of the OMC


Q I own a top floor apartment in an older complex (developed some 30 years ago). Unfortunately the roof was damaged during the recent storms and leaks have now occurred. Despite numerous phone calls and letters, the management company is refusing to fix the leaks, saying that I should fix them myself. There is a sinking fund in place with sufficient monies to carry out the repair.

What are my options in this situation? I can’t occupy the property until the roof is fixed – however, I don’t own the roof to fix it.

A You are quite right in that you do not have the authority to fix the roof yourself nor are you required to do so. The roof is a shared structure and is the responsibility of the owners’ management company (OMC) to maintain.

I am assuming that you have attempted to contact the board of directors in an amicable fashion on numerous occasions with a clear outline of your concerns and provided them with your contact details. As you have exhausted the standard channels of communication you must now escalate the matter to protect your interests.

Any further delays will only lead to a potential claim on the block policy for damage caused to your property and this in turn will lead to a greater shared cost by way of increased future premiums on all members of the OMC to bear.
- Send a registered letter to the board of the owners’ management company at the registered office address detailing the issue. The letter must be signed and dated and include your residing postal address and contact number. In the letter, advise of the previous correspondence detailing the dates, times and persons contacted. Confirm that you will allow five business days for a written response which must include an undertaking to address the leak and outline the details of the contractor tasked to fix the roof and the particulars of their instructions. Your letter should also be faxed and emailed to the board on the same day if possible.
- Should the five days elapse without a formal response, write a registered letter that is signed and dated advising them that you wish them to contact the policy provider of their director and officers liability insurance as you intend to make a claim against them.
- Forward the matter to your solicitor to act on your behalf.

Points 1 and 2 should get you an adequate response without the outlay of legal costs. If, however, the board persist in ignoring your plight you may have no option but to proceed to point three thereafter.

It must be said that a licensed property service provider would be well versed in dealing with such issues for owners’ management company members without requiring the above intervention by you.

Paul Huberman is a member of the property and facilities management professional group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland,

Q A member of our family has recently moved in to her new home. The problem is that there is a strong smell (a bit rancid to be truthful) in a small bedroom. The house was built in the 1960s and it has had two fairly substantial upgrades in recent years. There is a concrete floor and new lino has been laid since she moved in. A dehumidifier was in the room for a while but it did not make much difference. The room is on the ground floor.

The drains in the kitchen which is on the other side of the wall have been treated. At this time the room is unusable. Is there any specialist firm in the west of Ireland who could investigate the source of the smell?

A The problem seems to have occurred since she laid linoleum. If the concrete was recently installed, then there may have been insufficient time for the floor to dry out. Floor coverings should not be laid until the relative humidity (RH) of the floor slab is at or below 80 per cent. In the case of a ground-bearing floor slab, a damp proof membrane (DPM) underneath can restrict drying of the slab. Linoleum, an impervious floor covering, effectively traps the moisture in the floor.

Specialist probes can be inserted to determine the RH and if over a period of time it lowers, then it is drying as the moisture is free to evaporate. A traditional sand cement screed can take 24 hours for every millimetre of thickness to dry, which can be as much as three months for a 75mm screed and even longer if the concrete under is still drying. This criterion is rarely achieved in construction as working programmes do not afford such times. Methods used today to deal with this is to apply a surface damp-proof liquid membrane with levelling compound over the screed before laying an impervious floor covering.

If the floor is old, then it can sweat from moisture trapped under the linoleum sheet. This is common when modern plastic coverings are overlaid on old cold floors. Moisture in the cold slab cannot evaporate due to the impervious floor covering. To resolve this particular problem it is necessary to remove the entire floor covering and thoroughly ventilate the room to allow the floor to dry. A different covering is necessary such as carpet tiles or carpet sheet that will allow the floor to breathe. Laminate flooring may even suffice with a breathable underlay.

You have ruled out drainage, but there could be leaking heating or plumbing pipes in the screed or even a fault in the DPM under the floor. I can only really speculate without knowledge of the upgrade works and local conditions. If the removal of the linoleum and thorough ventilation does not address the problem, I would advise that you contact a local chartered building surveyor and get an inspection carried out.

Jim Drew is a a member of the western region branch of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

Q My house is more than 100 years old and most insurers will not cover it. Some of those who will, require it to have been rew ired and re plumbed within the last 20 years.

Why does this not apply to all houses, if wiring and plumbing more than 20 years old is regarded as unsafe? What has the age of the house got to do with it?

A Your question is very valid and highlights the discrepancies in the system. Insurance companies have become highly automated over the last few years and many of the questions are based on a box-ticking system. This is understandable for the insurance companies in that they have to break down the risks in to various categories. No doubt previous claim records will show that older properties are at a greater risk of insured perils arising.

Accordingly, the insurance companies appear to have taken a somewhat arbitrary age, which no doubt for convenience is 100 years and any properties older than this go into a certain category. When the property is in this category, there are then further sub-categories to be considered including the wiring and plumbing and roof coverings. There is clearly an anomaly here in that if you have a house that is less than 100 years old but has services and indeed roof coverings that are considerably older than 20 years, then the questions simply do not arise.

Once you get beyond this automated box-ticking approach, it should be relatively straight forward to get insurance cover at a reasonable level. However, you will most likely have to do this through an insurance broker who can contact the relevant personnel and build a simple case around the facts, for example, that the house has been looked after and modernised in recent times and that the risk of an insurance claim arising is actually much less than with many other houses currently on their books.

Val O’Brien is a sits on the building surveying professional group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

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24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2.
This column is a readers’ service.
Advice given is general and individual
advice should always be sought

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