Supervising building standards: Consumers left without protection

Supervising building standards: Consumers left without protection

It’s just over two years since 72 people died in a fire in London’s Grenfell Tower. Had that building been properly fireproofed most of those, if not all, lives might have been saved.

We have not had a comparable tragedy, but a growing litany of reports concluding that a great number of Celtic Tiger era houses or apartments are not properly protected against fire, suggests that we are far more vulnerable than is acceptable. Once again, poor, box-ticking regulation and remote supervision have failed those it is in place to protect.

Many consumers who bought buildings approved by the relevant authorities have been left in a very difficult, sometimes unmanageable, situation. Some have had to leave homes belatedly recognised as fire hazards. Many have had to pay huge, unexpected bills to have homes brought up to standard.

In a world where buying a home is ever-more challenging this ambush, this you’re-on-your-own impasse shows how very loaded the dice is against consumers making what is often the biggest financial commitment of their lives. When maximum protection is required consumers can be, because of our aversion to accountability, left high and dry.

A primary contributor to this glut of poor building — schools too remember — during the Celtic Tiger days was pretend regulation. Fire safety certificates were issued by local authorities based on plans drawn up before building began.

There was no obligation to establish if safety measures had been put in place when a project was completed. That, three years after Grenfell, fire certificates are still issued in this way shows a cavalier attitude to safety and protecting consumers’ investments. A loaded dice indeed.

Unsurprisingly, there are no absolute figures on how many buildings are defective but some years ago Nama told the Dáil’s PAC that half of the 300 vacant properties under its control had fire safety issues. At that point, October 2015, Nama had spent €100m trying to resolve slapdash builders’ legacies.

In March, property management company KPM said it there were significant fire safety issues in “almost all” of the 60 apartment developments it controlled.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) has warned that building defects were “present in most apartment buildings” built during the boom. Two years ago the SCSI called on the Government to review Celtic Tiger-era apartments but, again unsurprisingly, nothing has happened.

Apartment owners in south Dublin are the latest victims of this build-and-run culture. Residents at Frascati Hall in Blackrock face bills of €25,000 to fix leaks and fire-proof their 2006 building where apartments sold for up to €900,000. The developer McInerney Homes went into receivership in 2011 with debts of €113m.

Many governments face palpable anger from discontented electorates. There are many reasons for this and unfortunate consequences too — Brexit and Trump are the most obvious. Government inaction on ensuring that building standards are always delivered and not protecting consumers from developers who manage to stay well ahead of the posse when defects come to light add to that anger.

Once again,the Government puts appeasing business before protecting citizens.

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