Insurance fund for apartment builders might prevent past failings

Owners in four boom-era apartment schemes face huge bills to fix construction defects

The Priory Hall apartment complex in Dublin under demolition and reconstruction in 2016. More than 250 people were evacuated from the scheme  because of fire-safety risks in October 2011. Photograph: Alan Betson

The Priory Hall apartment complex in Dublin under demolition and reconstruction in 2016. More than 250 people were evacuated from the scheme because of fire-safety risks in October 2011. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

“We didn’t have the necessary standards and control under the Celtic Tiger government.” So said the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy in the wake of news as reported in The Irish Times that owners in another four boom-era apartment blocks face five-figure bills for potentially catastrophic shortcomings in things as basic as fire prevention, windows, balconies and even roof construction

Even allowing for the political sideswipe, Murphy’s comment about the slapdash and haphazard way some apartment complexes were built is damning.

Why are the current owners – about the only innocent parties in the whole debacle – left holding the bill?

Before 2014, fire-safety certificates were granted on the basis of plans submitted before development even began. There was no requirement for follow-up checks during the building work.

New regulations were supposed to tighten that up but ultimate responsibility rests with the developer. Which is fine except, as in the case of the boom-era apartments, the developer no longer exists as a corporate entity – even if many of the same people are still involved in the property game here.

With apartment blocks a newish feature of the Irish building scene, it has never been clear why planners and builders appear to have learned so little from other European countries with multi-generational experience in this area.

Planners and housing chiefs in Dublin now suggest future development in the capital will focus on apartments to meet housing needs in the capital. Persuading people to buy into the idea against a background of recurring critical building issues and a lack of family units is likely to be a challenge.

One feature that might help would be to get the builders/developers to pay into an insurance fund as they are building – and while they are still solvent. That way, if something does go wrong, the money will be there to meet the cost, without tapping subsequent apartment owners.

Will they like it? No. But confidence in the sector has to be restored somehow.

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