Latent Defects Redress Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to establish a Latent Defects Redress Board, the functions of which shall be, inter alia, to provide resolution to ordinary owners who purchased homes in good faith, in order that such owners have an opportunity to seek mediation or adjudication in relation to non-compliance with building regulations.

As Deputies are aware, thousands of homeowners and hundreds of social housing tenants across the State live in properties with Celtic tiger-era latent defects. These defects often include, for example, a lack of fire-stopping between apartments, inadequate provision of fire doors and significant levels of water ingress, where water is progressively damaging the structural integrity of the buildings. This not only places enormous cost of anything from €10,000 to €60,000 on those homeowners, it also causes significant stress. In cases where groups of apartment owners are unable to provide funding for remediation works quickly enough, they may, for example, lose insurance provision on the properties, as well as other difficulties.

The question one must ask is why this is the case. The first part of the answer is that it results from very bad building practices by far too many developers and builders during the Celtic tiger years. However, this is not just a private matter between builders and home purchasers. Builders were only able to get away with shoddy building practices because the regulatory regime in place at the time was far too weak. In fact, in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Dáil debated the legal underpinning of that legislative regime, a small number of Deputies warned that light touch self-regulation would result in homeowners spending large sums of money on defective properties without adequate consumer protection. Unfortunately, those Deputies were correct. In December 2017, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government published a report that I authored, entitled Safe as Houses. It made a series of recommendations to the Government, including to introduce a latent defects redress scheme to provide non-judicial mechanisms for resolution of these issues and funding for effective householders. Unfortunately, the previous Government was absolutely deaf to the calls from these families for support. Time and again, the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, repeated the mantra that it was a private matter between purchasers and sellers.

I acknowledge the enormous work of the Construction Defects Alliance, a campaign group set up by the families affected. I welcome the commitment in the programme for Government to examine this issue based on the recommendations of the Safe as Houses report. It is a very welcome step that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has met the Construction Defects Alliance and is putting in place a working group to see what redress can be put in place for these homeowners.

That said, I have several concerns. Like me, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, has direct experience of meeting families in our constituencies who are affected by this issue. I do not doubt his sincerity in wishing to resolve the matter. However, I am concerned that the programme for Government only refers to loans, rather than direct grant support. I am also concerned that the working group that has been set up will not report until summer next year and that no provision was included in budget 2021 to, at least, kick-start a latent defects redress scheme next year, a measure Sinn Féin provided for in our alternative budget.

The Bill gives the Minister power by way of regulations to put in place a latent defects redress board and a latent defects redress scheme with adequate funding. That would provide a one-stop shop for people affected by latent defects to get information and advice. It would provide for a non-judicial mediation and resolution service to get the defects resolved and for a fund part-funded by industry and part-funded by the Exchequer to cover the cost in circumstances where the developer is no longer trading and is unable to foot the bill for the defects that it caused in the first instance.

Obviously, I will engage constructively with the Minister's working group, but we now have an opportunity to do right by people who, through no fault of their own, are living in unsafe and defective buildings. Let us not wait until 2022 to support these families. Let us put in place a robust defects scheme for all those affected by latent defects early in 2021, get the funding provided, start to provide the remediation and then take it from there. That is what the Bill tries to do.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.