Repairs to defective apartments could cost more than €1bn

Oireachtas hears of 100,000 flawed units while developers back in operation again

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien:  Getting more precise costs for fixing defective apartments should be an objective of a working group he is setting up. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien: Getting more precise costs for fixing defective apartments should be an objective of a working group he is setting up. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

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Fixing defective apartments across the State could cost more than €1 billion, while developers who built affected homes are still active under new names in some instances, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The joint Oireachtas housing committee heard evidence on Tuesday from groups representing owners of homes impacted by building defects, as well as affected individual homeowners.

The Construction Defects Alliance (CDA) told the committee it estimates there are 100,000 units impacted, with a median cost of about €15,000 per home to remedy defects, usually related to fire safety or water ingress.

Des McCabe of the Apartment Owners Network told the committee that obtaining more precise costs should be an objective of a working group being set up by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, but “at the moment, we’re looking at a billion [euro] plus, based on 100,000 units.”

The committee also heard evidence from owners who have paid or are paying thousands of euro to remedy fire safety defects. Ciara Holland said her two-bedroom Dublin home was affected by fire safety defects, which ultimately cost her more than €16,000. She said: “My developer is still in operation. He actually was recently granted planning permission, just down the road from me.”

‘Shocked and disgusted’

She objected to her local authority against the new development, but it was approved. “The county council were fully aware that they previously built defective homes, that hadn’t complied with the granted fire certificate. But they granted planning permission anyway.”

She said she was “shocked and disgusted”. “The regulatory environment just doesn’t work, it doesn’t protect the innocent people. I have two little girls, and I put them to bed, all their little lives in a fire-defective home.”

Barry Mulhern, who is being asked to pay €15,000 to remedy safety issues in his home, told the committee: “We know for a fact that the developer that built our apartments is still trading under a different name but is doing substantial works.”

Donal Nugent, who lives in a development where works have been carried out to several units at cost of up to €1 million, said the experience has been “very, very stressful. It’s taken hours and days and weeks of my life. This has been the most stressful three years of my life.”

Legal protection

Deirdre Ní Fhlionn, a barrister and construction law expert, told the committee that people who purchased defective apartments “were doing it in a context where builders and developers were, and are still, insulated by the legal system from the risks in what they built”.

She said there had been recent reforms to regulation but that the situation which “gave us all these defective apartments is largely unchanged from a legal point of view”.

“We don’t allow other very important industries to regulate themselves, and that regulatory failure is still with us,” she said, adding that a redress scheme for apartment owners would be welcome, but should be accompanied by further regulatory reform.

She argued that the building control system was “set up to be light-touch and the building control Act itself doesn’t require any building control authority to go out and inspect any buildings”.

The committee was also told that any plan to fund repair works through low-cost loans to apartment owners would not be sufficient to address the issue. “Access to cheap loans on their own, whether that’s no interest or very low interest, would not be acceptable as a solution for tackling the costs of remediation,” the committee was told by Kath Cottier of the CDA. “They would still leave the owners 100 per cent on the hook for remediating defects they did not in any way cause.”