Latent Defects Redress Bill 2019: 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 Members of this House know, during the time of the Celtic tiger, hundreds if not thousands of people bought homes only to discover at a later stage that, through no fault of their own, these homes had latent defects. I am not talking about cosmetic changes but significant fire safety defects or water ingress that cause significant structural damage to the people's homes. This was in the first instance the responsibility of developers who oversaw projects in which buildings were built poorly and which were then sold on to people with those defects. There was also a failure of the State to put in place a proper regulatory regime to ensure that builders could not get away with such developments.

When this issue has been raised with both the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Taoiseach, the stock response has been that this is a matter between the purchaser of the home and the developer. While in the first instance that is true, it is the failure of the State to properly regulate those purchases and those buildings which means the State has some responsibility in this regard. Indeed, the State has accepted some responsibility with respect to some latent defects, for example, with Priory Hall and some areas regarding mica and pyrite. The question then for buildings left with significant structural defects is that why was the State willing to step in and assist with those cases of latent defects and not others.

The Bill I am introducing today is giving the Government an opportunity to address this issue. The Bill is based on a cross-party Oireachtas housing committee report that was published in January 2018 called Safe as Houses. What that report and what this Bill seek to do is as follows. In the first instance, it asks the State to set up a one-stop-shop, not to accept liability for these defects but to provide homeowners with a location from which they can get information on the legal framework within which they find themselves. Crucially, the Bill also seeks to put in place in non-judicial mediation and adjudication scheme. The idea of this would be to ensure that homeowners are not forced to go to the courts but would have some recourse to mediation and adjudication. Contrary to what the Taoiseach has often said when asked about this, in the first instance the proposal here is to ensure that the developer is responsible for remediating the buildings they sold and which had been poorly built.

It is simply not the case that either this Bill or the report is asking the State to take on a carte blanche liability. We are asking for information, mediation and adjudication in order that in the first instance, the developer is forced to pay.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, I cannot propose the introduction of a fund to cover the cost of remediation where the builder or developer is still not trading. What the Bill empowers the Minister to do, however, is commission a report that would allow him to consider options for the provision of such a fund, if it were in his interest.

The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, who has dealt with this directly, and the Taoiseach should note it is no longer possible for the Government to sit on its hands and ignore the plight of those with latent defects in their homes. Those affected purchased a home, which was probably the single biggest investment in their lifetime. For the State simply to say it is a matter for the homeowner and developer is no longer credible. I am introducing this Bill in a genuine attempt to encourage the Government to put in place a latent-defects redress scheme, as outlined in the report Safe as Houses. I look forward to the full support of Members of the Opposition who supported the recommendations when they were before the committee. I ask the Government to study the Bill seriously and work with the rest of us to try to put in place a scheme that supports homeowners and, in the first instance, forces the developers to pay but, where the developers are not pursuable because they are no longer trading, provides some other means of redress.

Sinn Féin will be prioritising this for Private Members' time as soon as possible. I hope we can have a full and frank debate on the merits of the proposition on the floor and also allow all Deputies make clear whether they are willing to stand with homeowners who, through no fault of their own, ended up with properties with significant latent defects or continue to throw the homeowners to the wolves and not provide them with any support whatsoever. On that basis, I seek leave to introduce the Bill.

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.