Light-touch regulation leaves owners with the bills

Longboat Quay apartments

 

Light-touch regulation didn’t work in the banking sector and doesn’t work in the construction sector either. That much is clear from the latest disaster to hit homeowners in Dublin’s Docklands, where the Longboat Quay apartment complex will have to be evacuated due to serious concerns about fire safety.

Built in 2006 by boom-time developer Bernard McNamara and certified as compliant with building regulations by an in-house architect who is no longer in the jurisdiction, its residents are now facing the “nightmare scenario” of being evacuated from their homes while at the same time having to raise up to €2 million from their own resources towards the cost of carrying out remedial works to bring the building up to fire safety standards required by the regulations.

As minister for the environment before he decamped to Brussels as EU agriculture commissioner, Phil Hogan had the opportunity to remedy the situation by specifying that construction activity is monitored by suitably qualified local authority professionals, as in the past. Instead, he introduced a regime that merely requires a newly-completed building to be certified as compliant by an architect, structural engineer or other “assigned certifier”.

Widespread criticism, notably from within the architectural profession, that this would offer no real protection for buyers was blithely dismissed by Mr Hogan, who continued to insist that his light-touch approach “will provide consumers with the protection they need and deserve.”

The then minister went even further, stating in April 2013: “As soon as these regulations become operational, homeowners who encounter a problem with a building will be in a radically better place. They will be able to immediately access information which can lead them towards a solution to the problem.” In the case of Longboat Quay, however, the availability of such information on who might be legally liable for defects is of little or no value because Gensong Ltd, the development firm, is in receivership and the certificate of compliance was signed by an architect from another European country who has since returned home. All the residents could do was to appeal for help from the McNamara company’s receiver and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, now a subsidiary of Dublin City Council.

Mr Hogan expressed his hope that the issue of latent defects insurance for construction projects would be addressed before the new regulations came into effect on March 1st last year. But this didn’t happen, with the result that residents of new apartment buildings subsequently found to be defective have no way of seeking redress for problems emphatically not of their own making. An appalling situation that must be brought to an end, and quickly.

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