Levon Dmitriev needs some money to save his home. Mr Dmitriev is of Russian origin, but has been living here for nearly 20 years and is a naturalised Irish citizen.
He and his wife and two children live in the Brú Na Sionna estate in Shannon, Co Clare.
They bought their three-bedroom duplex home in early 2014, sensing that things were going to get better and they could put down roots, solidify plans to raise their kids in this country of advanced human rights, laws, and respect for the citizen.
Last December, Mr Dmitriev attended a meeting of the management company of the estate to be told that he and around 240 other families or households were living in a dangerous development.
As reported in the Irish Examiner last week, the fire officer for Clare County Council had demanded a schedule of works to eliminate the risks of fire spreading.
‘Security’ — a euphemism for fire marshalling — has been deployed in the estate. There are also other structural deficiencies unrelated to fire safety.
The remedial work is estimated to cost around €2.25m. Mr Dmitriev and his family are expected to stump up seven grand now and another seven later in the year. And that’s just for starters.
“I have spoken with the bank and the bank said they can’t give any loan in this situation as what may happen is you will pay the money and somebody else might not pay — and where does that leave you,” he asks.
“As well, there is no guarantee that this is the final work. I was told that I might be kicked out of my home and still owe the loan.”
Mr Dmitriev has a five-page certificate of compliance to show that his home was built according to the proper design and legal criteria set out by the State. On one section, there is a fire safety certificate issued by Clare County Council.
This is the same local authority now informing owners that they better get remedial work done because there are fire safety deficiencies in the estate.
The certificate was issued on the basis of design rather than finished construction, but that’s no solace to the homeowners in Brú Na Sionna.
“I don’t know what to do,” says Mr Dmitriev. “I am afraid that actually I’ll be moved out of my home and the Shannon rental market is very tight. If 240 homes are moved out, where will we all go?”
Brú Na Sionna was built between 2004 and 2006, at the height of the property boom madness.
Around half of the homes were constructed under the infamous section 23 tax break scheme, which was among the schemes that fuelled the boom, and were extremely popular with investors.
Now that the walls in Brú Na Sionna have begun to spill their secrets, it’s not clear whether the interest of investors and that of homeowners coincide.
The former are mainly concerned with a return in investment, and presumably running a mile from anything that might impinge on their return.
The latter want a home, somewhere to live in a country where finding such a station is becoming increasingly difficult.
As is so often the case, the developer is no longer around. Paddy Burke Builders went into receivership in 2010.
The Brú Na Sionna management company is in negotiations with the receiver about money to address the deficiencies.
Apart from that, there is no real prospect of acquiring any level of redress from any State or private entity.
Brú Na Sionna is just the latest development built during the 2000-2008 period to be exposed as having major deficiencies.
This newspaper has covered the uncovering of problems in Waterford, Kildare, Meath, Dublin county and city, Louth, and now Clare.
These are only the cases which have been discovered, more often than not through deficiencies tumbling out because a major entity such as Nama has conducted a thorough survey.
In one case, that of Millfield Manor in Newbridge, Co Kildare, the problems were discovered in 2015 through a fire that levelled a terrace of six houses in half an hour.
Thankfully, it occurred during the afternoon and there were no casualties.
A report on building standards and oversight from the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning, and Local Government, written by Sinn Féin TD, Eoin Ó Broin, was published last Wednesday.
Oireachtas Housing Committee report on building standards, building control & consumer protection is here: https://t.co/kCGSFB4beH 26 recommendations to Govt for strengthening compliance, consumer protection & dealing with legacy of bad building. pic.twitter.com/DMg1Iwl3fn— Eoin Ó Broin (@EOBroin) January 24, 2018
“Poor design, shoddy workmanship, and improper products resulted in badly built homes in breach of building and fire safety standards,” according to the report, entitled Safe As Houses.
“Greed, dishonesty and incompetence left many homeowners and council tenants with poor-quality homes and hefty repair bills.”
Unfortunately, the pressures, and the greed, that balloons during a frenzy was always going to prompt some to cut corners. That’s where the State is supposed to step forward to protect its citizens. It didn’t happen here.
Ó Broin writes that the disasters were made possible by a “weak regime of regulation and compliance in which self-certification and limited independent inspections were the order of the day”.
Changes have been made. Self-certification has been replaced by a system involving a new species called assigned certifiers.
This leaves a paper trail and a better — albeit still remote — chance of pursuing redress in the event of problems being uncovered.
The regime, however, is still far from robust. Certifiers can be employed by developers, leaving huge scope for a conflict of interest. Certifiers could also be long gone when a problem is uncovered.
Ó Broin’s report recommends, among other things, a regime not dissimilar to that in Britain where local authorities either take direct responsibility for inspections or fund the inspections.
The report deserves implementation, but don’t hold your breath. Right now, the construction industry will resist further oversight, and the industry has the Government over a barrel.
In the years of boom, developers were fuelling the economy, prompting the Government to step back and let them at it.
Today, developers are key to solving the housing emergency, so once again they are, to a large degree, calling the shots.
It’s no way to face into the widescale development required to meet the desperate housing needs of the country.
As sure as bust follows boom, some will be prompted to cut corners, and without proper oversight it will happen all over again.
Those whose homes have been found to be dangerous or deficient as a result of the previous frenzy deserve proper redress.
The State left them badly exposed, and the State must now make amends.
Just as important is the live prospect that the mistakes of the past will be repeated in the near future.
Proper oversight is not a burden, as portrayed by some, but simply a matter of common sense, in a developed country that claims to hold the rights of citizens in the highest esteem.
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