Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Questions (262, 263, 264)

Bríd Smith

Question:

262. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the progress of the working group on latent defects in apartment buildings set up in 2020; the interim findings of the group; if the group will be inviting submissions from affected apartment owners and others; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8030/21]

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Bríd Smith

Question:

263. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will support a State redress body to fund remedial works for defective apartments built in recent decades; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8031/21]

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Bríd Smith

Question:

264. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his plans to address weaknesses in the building regulations regime here including the enforcement of standards in relation to fire safety and other areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8032/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 262 to 264, inclusive, together.

Firstly, I wish to acknowledge the very stressful circumstances which the owners and residents of buildings face when defects occur in their homes.

Unfortunately, building defects have emerged in some houses and apartments built during the 2000s. 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.

The design and construction of buildings is regulated under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2020. The Acts provides for the making of Building Regulations and Building Control Regulations.

The Building Regulations 1997 - 2019 set out the legal requirements in Ireland for the construction of new buildings (including houses), extensions to existing buildings as well as for material alterations and certain material changes of use to existing buildings. Their aim is to provide for the safety and welfare of people in and about buildings.

The Building Control Regulations set out the administrative procedures for demonstrating compliance in respect of an individual building or works.

Under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2020 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 which have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under statute.

In addition local authorities also have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, the Housing Acts and the Planning and Development Acts, which may be relevant where fire safety concerns arise in residential developments.

The Programme for Government sets out a number of commitments in respect of the important policy area of building defects and provides for an examination of defective housing, having regard to the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing report, "Safe as Houses".

In this regard, my Department is actively engaging with key stakeholders and I have had several meetings with stakeholder representative groups on this matter over recent months. My Department is currently working to establish the structures to examine the issue of defective housing, this will include apartment buildings, in line with the commitment in the Programme for Government.

I recently appointed Mr Seamus Neely, former Chief Executive of Donegal County Council, to the position of Chair to the independent working group to oversee the effective implementation of the group’s terms of reference which are currently being finalised.

In addition, I brought a Memorandum for the Information of the Government to Cabinet recently to note the establishment of a working group with the appropriate expertise to examine the issue of defective housing. It is intended to hold the inaugural plenary working group meeting shortly.

In regard to the working group’s deliberations, the group will seek to engage with a range of interested parties, including homeowners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals and industry stakeholders, among others.

In the context of fire safety, 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, which is under the remit of the Minister for Justice, 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.

In the interest of supporting owners and residents living in developments where concerns regarding non-compliance with fire safety requirements have arisen, the Framework for Enhancing Fire Safety in Dwellings was published in 2017. It is intended to be used as a guide for the owners and occupants of dwellings (houses and apartments) where fire safety deficiencies have been identified, or are a cause for concern, to develop strategies to improve fire safety and to develop strategies to enable continued occupation in advance of undertaking the necessary works to ensure compliance with the relevant Building Regulations. The Framework is available at the following link: https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation/department-of-housing-local-government-and-heritage/?referrer=http://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/framework_for_enhancing_fire_safety_in_dwellings.pdf.

Separately, the ongoing building control reform agenda, with its many initiatives, already provides a comprehensive roadmap for embedding a culture of real compliance within the construction industry. The reform agenda includes:

- Amendments made to the Building Control Regulations;

- Establishment of the National Building Control Office; and

- The ongoing development of new legislation through the Building Control (Construction Industry Register Ireland) Bill.

Now, if/when issues arise whether pre, during or post construction, it is clear who has held the designated roles and who is responsible for addressing the issues. This facilitates and simplifies the inspection, implementation and enforcement role of Building Control Authorities.