Statute of limitations over defective building materials may be extended

Plan could enable action against builders and suppliers over longer time frame

Homeowners impacted by mica taking part in a demonstration earlier this month. Photograph: Tom Honan / The Irish Times

Homeowners impacted by mica taking part in a demonstration earlier this month. Photograph: Tom Honan / The Irish Times

 

The Government is examining whether the statute of limitations over defective building materials could be extended, enabling action against builders and suppliers of blocks to be pursued over a longer time frame.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has referred the question to the Attorney General for consideration, it is understood.

Under the plan, which would need approval from the Attorney General before proceeding, the statute of limitations would be dated from when issues with building materials were confirmed, as opposed to when a property was completed.

If it came to pass, homeowners would continue to be eligible for redress under any scheme approved by the Government, but it would increase the State’s ability to pursue suppliers and builders through the courts.

The current statute of limitations for claims over breach of contract is six years, generally seen to be from the date of construction in cases where the minerals mica or pyrite are detected. If the Government’s plan were approved, this clock would be started from the time a positive test for mica was carried out on a property. Sources said many homes only had their properties tested in recent years.

It emerged over the weekend that there are fears the mineral will be detected in several other counties aside from Mayo and Donegal, where many homes and other buildings have had issues identified. The Department of Housing is reportedly examining defective blocks in Dublin, Limerick, Clare and Sligo.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr O’Brien said the State is to seek tens of millions from building firms, insurance companies and financial institutions in an effort to claw back some of the anticipated €1.5 billion in costs associated with a State redress scheme. He told the newspaper that he expects more than 7,000 homes and public buildings to be impacted.

The Sunday Times reported that half of all houses assessed so far are being recommended for demolition due to the extent of damage caused by the blocks, causing average costs for redress to rise.

Redress scheme

The Government is also thought to be considering whether a levy on the building sector in order to cover some of the costs of the deal could be legally possible. The issue of redress for homeowners impacted by mica has become a political issue following large protests at the convention centre last week. Many families have been hit with significant bills for remediation, or face the value of their property plummeting, even as they keep up with mortgage payments.

Speaking on Sunday, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the redress scheme should go ahead despite the rapidly rising costs associated with remediation. “There is a real problem for those families, through no fault of themselves. Their homes are crumbling. And we do have to intervene,” he said.

However, Mr Ryan said there were wider issues around spending that would have to be addressed. “There is a wider issue all the parties are going to have to face in the coming weeks as we debate the big issues – the national development plan, housing for all. We do have significant choices ahead of us in terms of how we fund the housing, how we fund public transport, how we fund the water improvements, and also provide for current expenditure,” he said.

He said the Opposition “are promising absolutely everything but not actually recognising that the truth is we do have fiscal constraints. There is building inflation coming, there is supply chain disruption at the moment. We have a real challenge to, particularly in my mind, build all the capital infrastructure we need.”