Fears 92,000 'shoddily built' boom-time apartments affected by fire and structural defects
Around 92,000 apartments are feared to have serious defects from shoddy construction and lax building controls, with many rendered fire hazards as a result.
A new group representing owners of apartments facing hefty bills to fix flaws in their homes says the numbers that have come to light to date through court cases are only the tip of the iceberg.
The Construction Defects Alliance is urging affected owners to get in touch.
Spokeswoman Kath Cottier said most were too scared to speak out publicly.
"Many homeowners are worried about the impact on their lenders and insurers, if and when they find out about the defects, as well as the real concern that they may have difficulty selling their property," she told the Oireachtas Housing Committee.
The committee heard that the dilemma was causing tensions between neighbours and among the voluntary owners management companies set up to manage common areas in apartment developments and collect management fees.
"For every one person who speaks out, there's 10 who won't which is why we need to be a voice for them," said Des McCabe, of the Apartment Owners' Network which has joined forces with the alliance.
Owners in more than a dozen boom-era developments in Dublin and Meath have joined the alliance, but more than 131,000 apartments were built from 2000-2008.
Industry estimates suggest as many as 70pc of them, or almost 92,000, may be substandard.
There have already been several high-profile cases of residents having to evacuate apartment complexes on the orders of chief fire officers over fire safety and structural concerns. In almost all cases, the owners are left to foot the bill for remedial works at a cost of up to €25,000 each.
Andrew Prior told the committee he was an accidental landlord with a two-bedroom apartment in a development deemed a fire safety risk. He was charging rent far below market rates for the property and was resigned to never getting back the price he paid for it.
"It was quite an emotional thing to find out there may be a fire risk. We didn't take tenants with children after that. I've had to budget €220-€250 a month for the last 30 months to pay for remedial works.
"I've sacrificed my pension and private health insurance. I can handle that but I'm aware of people in the development who can't find the money.
"I know of a woman with health problems who can't afford her medicine. Her family have to help her out."
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said it was two years since the committee produced its 'Safe as Houses' report with recommendations for the State to help people stuck with defective homes.
"We keep hearing the line that the State cannot take on all liabilities in all circumstances. We've never asked for that. We've asked that, in the first instance, developers are made to pay and that the State lends a hand where that can't happen," he said.
He said the State should start by setting up an independent panel modelled on the Residential Tenancies Board to mediate between developers and homeowners and issue legally binding determinations where necessary.
The alliance is also seeking low-interest loans, tax reliefs or other financial help to ease the burden on owners.