We are mid-refurb – can work on our house be deemed essential?

Property Clinic: We could become homeless as we have to leave our rental

We are mid-renovation on a house we bought in February. The first electrical fix was to start on March 30th but due to the new restrictions on what is an essential service, the work on our house has been suspended.

We are due to move out of our rented house shortly but it's likely we can't keep to that timeline. Plan B of moving into my fiance's parents' house is now not an option either because we don't want to potentially infect them unknowingly.

Can the work on our house be considered essential to avoid us becoming homeless when we have to leave our rental? All structural work has been completed. We can’t get clarification from anyone.

Let’s look first at why work on your renovation and most other sites has stopped. On March 28th the Department of An Taoiseach published a list of essential service providers. The list set out 16 separate work categories. As you are probably aware, while the restrictions on movement introduced on April 12th were eased slightly on May 5th, the restriction on travel for work remains in force for all but essential workers, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.


While it may have appeared at first glance that the construction category in that list could assist you, on closer examination we see that wasn’t the case.

Essential construction work here was confined to Government-awarded contracts,which could continue if advised to do so by the instructing department. These are essential health-related projects associated with Covid-19, key infrastructure work, and the delivery of services to businesses and homes on an emergency “call-out basis” in areas such as electrical, plumbing, glazing and roofing.

The guidance is clearly framed at targeting only essential and emergency call-out type of work. The works to your home, although essential, would also, therefore, need to be classed as an emergency to fall within the permitted activities.

Of course, it is very unfortunate that your tenancy is coming to an end at this time. However, the good news is that construction work has been given the green light to resume on May 18th subject to compliance with new protocols agreed by the industry. So, hopefully, your renovation will be completed in the next month or so.

If building workers are to operate within strict social distancing protocols, this will no doubt require a greater
time period in which to carry out works

However, a restart on site will bring its own challenges. If building workers are to operate within strict social distancing protocols, this will no doubt require more time to carry out works. There may be a need to work with alternate crews. The general logistics of getting personnel, equipment and materials to site will be more restricted. Site facilities and management will be affected.

The new protocols have the potential to slow down progress and, therefore, reduce productivity. A reduction in productivity will lead to longer project timelines and subsequent increased costs for the contractor. The contractor will seek to pass these additional costs on to you as the employer.

I would suggest early intervention and discussion with your contractor to establish a realistic timeframe in which the work can be finished. You should try to ascertain if there will be any increase in cost as a result of time delays.

If you are to work within your initial budget, there may be a need to review the scope of works or perhaps choose alternative less costly finishes so that the project is delivered on budget. Your surveyor should be able to guide you on how this new regime is to be administered through your building contract.

Surveyors, engineers and architects face their own challenges in delivering their services when site visits are necessary. These visits typically involve group discussions and problem solving. This will now be more difficult and less practical. – Noel Larkin

Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland scsi.ie