Housing defects are not Government’s responsibility, says Minister

Damien English told to ‘get your head out of the sand’ and help homeowners fix defects

The State does not have responsibility for defects found in properties after builders sell them , Minister of State for Housing Damien English has insisted.

Mr English ruled out the establishment of a latent defects redress scheme recommended two years ago by the Oireachtas housing committee in a report entitled Safe as Houses.

He was responding in the Dáil to Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin, who highlighted reports about homeowners in Dublin and Kildare facing significant costs to address latent faults identified in their properties.

The Dublin Mid-West TD noted reports in The Irish Times about homeowners in Sandyford having had to pay €10,000 to rectify defects, and homeowners in Blackrock having had to pay €25,000 to do so.

“One homeowner in Co Clare must foot a bill of €62,000 for latent defects for which the homeowner had no responsibility,” he said.

Mr Ó Broin, who told Mr English to “get your head out of the sand”, said the State had accepted liability for some cases of latent defects including Priory Hall, pyrite and mica block, but has “left other home owners to their own devices”.

Pyrite scheme

Mr English said the State did not accept liability in the cases mentioned by Mr Ó Broin. He said the pyrite scheme had fixed more than 1,200 houses and, in the mica scheme in Donegal, “the defective products and issues were not apparent at the time of construction or purchase”.

However, he insisted that these were different to cases where there had been a failure to adhere to regulations or building control mechanisms or where there were issues with workmanship.

“We have always been very clear on this. The relationships between the builders, the owners of the properties, the purchasers, the insurance companies and the banks and lending institutions are private,” he said.

“We have tried to help when we can. We have always said if there are solutions that do not expose the taxpayer to an unquantifiable amount of money and we are given an opportunity to help, we will try to do so.”

Mr English acknowledged that it was a difficult situation but said Mr Ó Broin’s proposal “involves an unquantifiable amount of potential exposure for taxpayers. It is not the responsibility of the State to do this.”

Structural problems

Mr Ó Broin said nobody expected the State to take full responsibility, but it had to provide some assistance to the hundreds, perhaps thousands of homeowners who through no fault of their own have ended up in defective properties with fire safety or other structural problems.

He suggested the scheme could be a one-stop shop to help homeowners deal with latent defects. He also called for a mediation and dispute resolution service “to make the developer pay in the first instance”. He said that if they leave the homeowner “at the mercy of the legal system as it stands, they will never get redress”, and there were some cases where the developer could no longer be pursued.

Mr English said the “building control reform agenda already well under way provides a comprehensive road map for embedding a culture of compliance and accountability in the construction industry and for strengthening the building control framework in this country”.