Owners of properties affected by pyrite are concerned that a new system for classifying the problem could make it more difficult for them to secure financial support to carry out works to repair their homes.
Pyrite is a mineral that has been detected in thousands of properties in Ireland. Its presence in construction materials can cause cracks to develop in structures such as walls and floors, which are expensive to address.
Pyrite has been a source of distress for those unable to access a limited State remediation scheme established to help them address the issue.
The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) on Tuesday published a new set of classifications for varying degrees of pyritic heave - the damage caused by infected foundation materials.
This system could be used by engineers, geologists and other technical experts in assessing properties. There are four categories addressing various levels of pyrite related damage, running from severe to negligible.
However, category B is of particular interest as it refers to those believed likely to “only incur minor damage to the building in the future”.
This type of property, according to the NSAI, is limited to easily treated properties using periodic repairs such as filling in cracks.
Numerous homeowners have been highly critical of the PRB redress scheme as their properties have not been deemed sufficiently badly affected to avail of financial aid from the scheme to fix their homes. However, the properties are linked to pyrite which makes selling them challenging.
The new system, some believe, could be used to put more home owners outside the remediation scheme and do little to enhance the likelihood of a sale or to safeguard the value of a property.
The Housing Agency, which administers the work of the PRB, said the new system would not have an effect on those seeking access to remediation.
While it is hoped the new B classification might in fact assist those who have had difficulty selling their homes by offering some reassurance as to the extent of the pyrite, David McGinley, spokesman for the Pyrite Equality Group (PEG), said it “papers over the cracks” of a much more serious problem.
“It’s effectively rubber-stamping your house as being substandard but if it says that you don’t need to be fixed then that could lessen your chances of qualifying for remediation,” he said.
Describing it as an administrative fudge, he said “it will reduce the numbers of people who need to be remediated because what they are saying is that you can self-remediate at home.”
Estimates of the number of properties affected by pyrite in the State have been put at between 12,000 and 20,000.
The Housing Agency said it did not expect the new system to affect access to the remediation scheme and that in fact there was likely to be a small increase in numbers. “It would be a matter for mortgage lenders, solicitors, and others whether the revised categorisations will improve the situation for people selling their homes,” a spokesman added.
Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O'Brien, a vocal critic of policy in the area, said he was concerned the new classification for B properties could lead to a "soul destroying" reduction in access to the remediation scheme. He likened it to buying a car that had been in a crash.
The Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy welcomed the revised standards. A spokesman for his department said it noted the “greater clarity for homeowners with properties in category B, where pyrite is present but the potential for future damage is limited to minor damage, which can be easily repaired eg. filling cracks, repointing of external masonry etc, without the need for replacing the hardcore”,
He pointed out the PRB was independent in the performance of its statutory functions but any amendments which the board consider are required to the redress scheme as a result of the revised standard “will be given full consideration should they be submitted to the Minister”.
“It is not possible at this point to say whether the revised standard will alter the number of resolution/repairs granted and carried out on properties.”