Need to act for greater consumer protection
Published 21/10/2011 | 05:00
Palatial-style show houses decked out by imaginative interior designers gave the impression that all the homes in a new development would be dream homes.
At Priory Hall in north Dublin buyers assumed that homebuilder policies were adequate assurance. Builders and developers are also expected to fear that legal action would ensue if they did not comply with building regulations and that at least such legal action could damage the builder's reputation and discourage buyers.
Unfortunately the name-and-shame approach has an element of closing stable doors after the horses have bolted, especially at a time when so many builders are coming before the courts and blaming bankers for their problems.
Furthermore the builder's warranty and insurance cover only applies to the structures of the building and does not apply to other aspects such as plaster work or aspects of fire safety.
Anyone who has experience of getting builders to complete snagging will know how much effort a homebuyer has to put into getting a home completed to their satisfaction.
Nor has it been re-assuring to hear the buck passing that has gone on as an architects' representative blames developers and builders for discouraging them from inspecting building work and keeping them off sites.
It's understandable that an individual architect might fear that he would lose his job if he voices his concerns. But surely professional organisations such as the RIAI and Institution of Engineers needed to speak up on this issue when thousands of buyers were scrambling to buy their homes.
Then there's the role of Dublin City Council. If it could not identify the sub-standard aspects of a development where it is buying units, what chance does the punter have?
An architect has claimed that he could not be expected to break through a wall to ensure that it was built correctly.
Then there's the legal profession. The legal adviser for each of the purchasers should have sought all of the relevant compliance certificates from the builder/developer and ensured that they were in order.
However, legal expert Robert Gogan has found that some solicitors have no idea of the mechanics of buying an apartment. "Many of them merely regard it as a transfer of a lease (which, technically it is) and fail to make the relevant enquiries on behalf of their clients," he says.
Housing Minister Phil Hogan has promised to introduce mandatory certificates of compliance by builders and designers of buildings confirming that the statutory requirements of the Building Regulations have been met and has set a 12-month timescale for 'progress'.
In the meantime NAMA and foreign banks will have tried to shift hundreds of homes off their books. So the minister needs to set the deadline to get certification in force sooner.
This would make it easier for lawyers to check that the paperwork is in place and warn buyers if it is not.
It would also make it slightly easier for homeowners to take legal action in the event of faulty homes. However, to prevent homebuyers having to resort to such wasteful and costly action it would be necessary for the professions to stand up to developers.
Those professionals paid by consumers should make sure that they earn their fees.
Hopefully, at least some positive action will come out of the Priory Hall experience, if not for the owners, at least for future homebuyers.
Now is the time for all the professions to tighten up their methods of protecting, not alone their clients, but the consumers.
Secondly the Government should deal more urgently and effectively with the reform of the building regulations to provide greater consumer protection when it comes to the quality of new homes.