The Irish Times view on apartment defects: passing the buck

The building standards the department required before 2014 were not good enough

Roof damage at the Hyde Square apartments in Kilmainham, Dublin. Apartment owners at the complex have been presented with bills of almost €11,000 each for the repair of their decaying roof.

Roof damage at the Hyde Square apartments in Kilmainham, Dublin. Apartment owners at the complex have been presented with bills of almost €11,000 each for the repair of their decaying roof.

 

Six students died in appalling circumstances in San Francisco in 2015 when a balcony collapsed. Two years later, fire killed 72 people at the Grenfell Tower in London. Poor building practices, defective materials and inadequate fire safety precautions were identified as contributory factors and construction companies and their insurers were pursued for damages. Those dreadful tragedies have relevance to what is happening in Ireland today.

At least 12 apartment complexes in the Dublin area, dating back to the pre-2007 building boom, have been found to be defective. The defects have included such things as fire safety considerations and construction defects. Residents and owners of these homes and apartments have now, through no fault of their own, been presented with repair bills of up to €11,000. Others face eviction, with no certainty of returning after repairs have been made. Opposition parties and others have called on the Government to establish a “sinking fund” to cover necessary repairs and refurbishments.

The plywood underlay on the roof of Hyde Square apartments in Kilmainham is disintegrating, raising structural and fire safety concerns. File photograph: The Irish Times
Plywood underlay on the roof of Hyde Square apartments in Kilmainham, Dublin, is disintegrating, raising structural and fire safety concerns. File photograph: The Irish Times

Bailing out builders, developers and material suppliers, by providing State aid to their unfortunate victims, happens too often in Irish life. There must be accountability for the legacy of the boom and consequences for those responsible. Responsibility for the pyrite scandal, which emerged in 2007 when thousands of homes began to fall apart, is being contested in the courts. But the State has already paid out more than €70 million for repairs and costs could quadruple.

The number of homes affected by fire safety concerns may be very large

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy described the lack of proper building standards and controls during the boom years as “distressing” and said the focus had been on tax breaks for builders and investors. New regulations were introduced in 2014. For apartment owners who bought during the housing bubble, however, it was too late.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors favours a review, to assess the full extent of the problem, before action is taken. It would also support the establishment of an official emergency fund. The number of homes affected by fire safety concerns may be very large. One independent architect told this newspaper that construction defects are widespread, with residents living in damp and leaky structures with fire safety defects.

The Department of Housing is offering no assistance to affected residents. It was, a spokesman said, a matter to be resolved between homeowners, builders, developers, their insurers and warranty schemes. It had no budget or statutory role.

The department does, however, have a moral responsibility. The building standards it required before 2014 were not good enough. Rather than sit on the sidelines, it should take a principled stand in favour of natural justice.

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