In the first instance, I would like to acknowledge the stressful circumstances which the owners and residents of buildings face when defects occur in their homes.
However, in general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved: the homeowner, the builder, the developer and/or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme. In this regard, it is incumbent on the parties responsible for poor workmanship and/or the supply of defective materials to face up to their responsibilities and take appropriate action to provide remedies for the affected homeowners.
It is important to note that while my Department has overall responsibility for establishing and maintaining an effective regulatory framework for building standards and building control, it has no general statutory role in resolving defects in privately owned buildings, including dwellings, nor does it have a budget for such matters.
Under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2014, primary responsibility for compliance of works with the requirements of the Building Regulations rests with the owners, designers and builders of buildings. Enforcement of the Building Regulations is a matter for the 31 local building control authorities who have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Acts and who are independent in the use of their statutory powers. When a building is constructed and occupied, statutory responsibility for fire safety is assigned by section 18(2) of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 & 2003, to the ‘person having control’ of the building. In multi-unit developments, the "person having control" is generally the owner management company. Under the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, the owner management company must establish a scheme for annual service charges and a sinking fund for spending on refurbishment, improvement or maintenance of a non-recurring nature of the multi-unit development.
With regard to the proposal of the Deputy, it is not possible for the State to take on responsibility/liability for all legacy issues. Nor would it send the right message to the industry regarding their responsibility for compliance.
Stronger compliance with building standards has been a key priority for Government in response to the building failures that have emerged over the last decade and my Department has advanced a robust and focused Building Control Reform Agenda, including:
- Amendments to the Building Control Regulations;
- Establishment of the Nation Building Control Management Project and a National Building Control Office; and
- The ongoing development of new legislation through the Building Control (Construction Industry Register Ireland) Bill.
These reforms have already brought, and will continue to bring, a new order and discipline to bear on construction projects, creating an enhanced culture of compliance with the Building Regulations
This focus on strong and effective regulation in the building control system and the construction industry, and on improving compliance in the building regulations, reduces the risk and the incidences of defective buildings and has provided insurance underwriters with sufficient confidence to introduce new latent defect type products in Ireland, despite a general retrenchment and conservatism in the wider insurance industry. These new products are first party insurance policies, which cover damage and non-damage (breaches of building regulations) claims, to varying degrees. This means that the purchaser does not have to make a claim through the builder but can submit a claim directly to the insurer. This is of particular benefit to a homeowner in circumstances where the builder or developer has ceased trading.