'The buildings are in a shocking state'
The Riverside estate is in such a sub-standard condition that its residents cannot get basic insurance, and are stuck paying for homes that are unpleasant to live in. COLM KEENAreports
EMMETT DUNPHY IS from Canada and he and his wife were living in Dublin and both working when they decided, in 2006, to buy a home. Renting was costing them more than would buying a house. They looked at a number of properties in Co Laois and eventually decided on a three-bedroom duplex in a development on the edge of Portarlington called Riverside. Using a mortgage from the Bank of Ireland, they paid €210,000 for what they were told was one of the last remaining units in the then unfinished development.
“At the time the east block was a building site and the south block hadn’t been started,” says Dunphy, sitting in his kitchen. “We moved in on St Patrick’s Day, 2007. We were told we had grade-A soundproofing, but when others moved into the block we found that wasn’t true at all.”
When his wife got into the shower, the water ran straight through the drain, through the floor and into the downstairs room below. It was the first of a number of leaks and other “snags”.
It emerged that the plumbing throughout the development was atrocious. Dunphy says more than 50 claims were made against the insurance company providing block insurance and, as a consequence, it will now give only fire insurance cover for the development.
“We were only a few months in when we started to notice the bubbling [of the interior walls], because of the water coming in,” he says.
Under the kitchen window the paint is bubbling out from the walls, as is the case in the upstairs bedroom. There is a substantial balcony off the sitting room, but it is constructed so that water accumulates in one corner.
Worst of all is the outside rendering that covers the entire development. The east block, finished just two years ago, is scarred by holes, some of them sizeable, where the rendering has simply fallen off. Cracks are everywhere, especially at corners.
Brigid Bergin, who also lives in the development, fears that some of the rendering might fall on to her son when he is out playing. Mould grows in her bedroom and there is a smell of sewage at times from the drain in her shower. Some of her neighbours, she says, have downstairs toilets they sometimes cannot flush because of defects in the sewage system.
Emmett Dunphy’s neighbours, Richard and Claire Houlihan and their teenage son, moved in in April 2007. They paid €210,000, using money Richard received in an inheritance from his mother, and the proceeds from their house in a nearby council estate.
“Straight away there were problems,” says Claire. “The kitchen flooded, there was a leak from the bath into the hall. There is no soundproofing. You can hear your neighbour cough.” Because of the faulty rendering, water is getting in and causing the interior paint to bubble. “I’m in chronic pain because of the stress. I grind my teeth at night when I’m asleep. I just want the whole thing sorted out so we can move on with our lives.” But, says Richard, they can’t move now. Their properties are worth much less than the Houlihans paid for them, if they are saleable at all. “There doesn’t seem to be a way out.”
The south block of the development is largely unoccupied and there is a rumour, Claire says, that the receiver is trying to sell them to the council. One of the complaints the residents have is that they have to pay fees of approximately €1,000 a year to a management company that remains under the control of the developer, James Clancy. They get little in return for their money, they say.
A property management agency, Global Property Care (GPC), has a contract to manage the estate, but, according to Phil Alexander of that firm, it is having difficulty getting money from the examiner, Paul Keenan, of BDO Simpson Xavier. It is not clear why the examiner is involved. Keenan did not respond to a request for a comment about Riverside.
“The buildings are in a shocking state,” says Alexander. “The rendering is falling off; there is rising damp. There are lots of problems. I’ve made some good friends there and I feel very sorry for them, to be honest. They bought their houses in good faith.”
His firm looks after 37 developments and he says Riverside is the “second worst”. [The worst, in Mullingar, can’t even get fire insurance.] There are 167 houses and duplexes in the Riverside development, of which 43 remain unsold.
A report commissioned by GPC from Kevin Cronin engineering consultancy services, found that the rendering was “not fit for purpose” and was not well adhered to the buildings. It was causing “major deterioration” and “has become unsafe”. It needed to be replaced rather than repaired, in Cronin’s opinion.
However, Riverside residents don’t appear to have anyone to turn to and so seem stuck in their shoddily constructed development. “It’s not fair,” says Claire Houlihan. “When you see all the money the banks are getting, and you see what happened to ordinary people like us.”