Bill for defective housing a burning issue

RESIDENTS in Longboat Quay await to see whether they will have to fund remedial works on their homes, but they are not alone, writes Michael Clifford.
Bill for defective housing a burning issue

Residents of other developments that had fire safety issues have also had to come up with cash to make their homes safe.

Another McNamara development, Elm Park, in south Dublin, had to have remedial work done. It is estimated to have cost €8m. The Irish Examiner understands that much of this was funded by a receiver for McNamara interests, which ultimately came back on Nama.

In fact, Nama has spent €100m in remedial work, mainly on apartment blocks, in the Dublin area, which were discovered to have breached fire-safety regulations. Another example where funding is a major issue is Millfield Manor, in Newbridge. On March 31, a terrace of six houses was burnt to the ground there in half an hour.

An investigation uncovered major defects in the houses on the estate. Millfield Manor was timber-frame construction, a method that has given rise to many problems, both in terms of design and installation.

What is unique about Millfield Manor’s fire-safety issues is that the development includes both houses and apartments. And the response to the separate types of housing tells a lot about fire-safety laws, as crafted in this country.

In May, 2013, an inspection by Kildare Fire Brigade, in two of the four apartment blocks in the estate, uncovered major deficiencies in fire safety. The developers , and the management company, which is connected with the main developer on site, Barrack Construction, were served with a fire-safety notice. This provided 90 days in which to do the work required. The work wasn’t done, and more notices were served.

When the work was still not done by the following January, Kildare County Council launched a criminal prosecution. The prosecution was taken under the Fire Services Act, 1981, which grew out of the Stardust tragedy, in which 50 people died in a fire at a north Dublin disco.

The prosecution wound its way to a hearing at Naas District Court on October 1 last. At that hearing, negotiations between council officials and the parties in question led to an agreement.

According to a spokesperson for Kildare County Council, “an agreement was reached between the parties to fund the remedial works that are required to comply with the fire-safety notice. The management company has undertaken to do the works within a six-month timeframe. The case is due before the Court again on 4 July.”

Once the council came into possession of the information regarding fire safety, it moved to act, and pursued the developers all the way. Contrast that with the reaction from the council about alarming fire safety issues that resulted from the fire that destroyed six houses. The council commissioned a third party to undertake a survey of the houses to determine if any problems were systemic. The result was in the affirmative. The report found major problems with fire doors, ceilings and the party walls that separate houses.

The council arranged a meeting with residents, where an official read out the report. This was then handed over to the residents, who were told it was up to them whether to put the document into the public domain. This was to insulate the local authority from any responsibility. The residents were told that there were major concerns about their homes, but responsibility for the remedial work rested solely with individual residents. Another report, commissioned by one of the residents, had similar findings that “there are major and life-threatening” issues around fire safety. The report concluded that the houses had “no resale value”.

The attitude of the council to this appalling situation was in contrast to its pursuit of developers for the issues in the apartment element of the estate. The council is acting to the letter of the law. Fire safety in dwelling houses is dealt with in the Building Regulations Act. There is no requirement for a separate fire-safety certificate.

The only recourse that a homeowner has for problems relating to fire safety in houses, as opposed to apartments, is under the Building Regulation Act, which has provision to make the developer responsible, if it is shown, within five years of completion of the property, that it did not comply with the regulations. The five-year limit was well passed by the time the fire occurred last March.

However, questions can be asked as to the state of knowledge within the council about potential problems with houses on the estate. When the issues were discovered in the apartments, in 2013, it should have been obvious that there was a fair chance that the same problems might apply in the housing element, or, at the very least, that the estate was not built to a proper standard.

Yet the council stayed schtum. It took the fire in March for the issues in the houses to become known. The only hope for the residents to receive funding, for an issue that is not of their making, is through central government. The Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, has set up a review process of how to deal with issues like this, with Millfield Manor to be included as an example. Few are expecting any help from that quarter, but this issue won’t be going away.

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