At the end of this month the residents of the Cosgrave built Ivy Exchange apartments development in Dublin’s Parnell Street will be attending what is likely to be a lively AGM of its buildings management company.
At a recent EGM, the members were asked to vote to maintain an extraordinary increase to the annual management fees, from circa €2,000 per annum to circa €6,000 per annum. They have previously been asked to pay up to €12,000 (for larger two bed units).
The reason given for the latest 300pc hike on the normal rate is that residents are now paying for full-time personnel at the five-block site who patrol the common areas day and night (€18 per hour) so that someone can press an alarm button in the event of a fire breaking out in any one of the apartment blocks.
Without this full-time monitoring, the residents reasonably believe there’s a good chance the fire authorities have grounds to evict them from their own apartment homes, which their management company thinks will cost €14m plus in addition to VAT to put right on the fire regulatory front.
Some years ago the management company (IEGP) hired a reputable engineering consultancy to conduct preliminary ‘deep’ investigations into the buildings to test them in particular for fire regulation compliance.
The resulting report claimed that the test apartments investigated were in breach of fire regulations along with common areas tested. The consultancy’s report estimated that the cost of remedial work to make the buildings fire safe in the event that all apartments were affected, would likely run to €9m plus VAT. Two years on, with huge hikes in construction costs, that is estimated to now run at €14m plus vat.
What is deeply ironic, is that the members of the management company also include representatives of Cosgraves and associated companies who originally built the blocks and still own properties in the scheme. According to residents, Cosgraves have refused to engage them directly regarding the undertaking and costs of remedial work to fix the development’s alleged fire defects. Cosgraves operate as one of Ireland’s most successful development companies. This is an outfit which trades on a longstanding reputation for quality construction work.
Through their management company, the residents at Ivy Exchange are currently involved in a security for costs process as a preliminary to their intention of taking Cosgraves and at least seven other firms involved in the construction of their homes to the Circuit Court in a quest to get them to engage over remedying fire defects at their homes.
The management company at Ivy Exchange has already brought their issues to the commercial court last year in a different action in pursuit of service charges it claims Cosgraves, as owners in the scheme, owe.
In the commercial court IEGP (the management company which represents owners) took action to sue JOM Investments, which is owned equally by the estate of Joseph Cosgrave, Michael Cosgrave and Oonagh Cosgrave, the widow of Peter Cosgrave. IEGP claims it is owed hundreds of thousands in service charges by the Cosgraves, which it needs for the overall fund in turn to fix the fire safety issues in the blocks which Cosgraves themselves developed.
Court filings showed that correspondence from Dublin Fire Brigade identified “numerous fire safety deficiencies” and “multiple deviations throughout in layout from the approved fire safety certificate”.
In an affidavit, Joseph Cosgrave said that the family “do not accept any liability whatsoever for any fire safety issues at the Ivy Exchange” and that the works were certified by the project’s architects and engineers and the project’s fire safety consultant. That case is ongoing.
Dublin City Council, the planning body, received 20 apartments from the developers under Par 5 rules. It subsequently sold many of them off to private buyers. Under the sale conditions, those who bought DCC owned apartments were not permitted to sell for 20 years, thus confining them in the long-term to homes that the city council’s own fire services claim demonstrate “numerous fire deficiencies”.
In this way, the city’s planning authority, which granted permission also owned and sold units that its own fire services now have issues with. Ivy Exchange is a just small snapshot of a startlingly big Irish homes fire defects picture with an ultimate cost to the tax payer that could run to more than €2.5bn.
On July 28 the Government finally published the findings of an official working group appointed by housing minister Darragh O’Brien regarding defects in Ireland’s Celtic Tiger era apartment blocks built between 1991 and 2013. While it purports to cover around 100,000 homes, the reality is likely to be much higher given that at the height of the Tiger era, we were building 30,000 plus new apartments per annum.
It estimated that 40pc to 70pc of Celtic Tiger era apartment properties may be affected by fire safety defects. Water ingress defects may affect an estimated 20pc to 50pc of properties, while structural safety defects may affect an estimated 5pc to 25pc of properties.
It estimates the average cost of undertaking remediation at €25,000 per apartment/duplex home. This translates into a potential overall bill ranging from €1.56bn to €2.5bn.
Simply getting Government recognition of this problem at all has been a long road. The results of a State enquiry into fire issues in Irish apartments which was promised five years ago, in the aftermath of the UK’s Grenfell disaster in which fire promoting renovations led to the horrific deaths of 72 people, were never published.
However, despite an official “hands up” from Government at long last, the reality facing affected residents seeking remedial costs from developers is a quagmire like that the Ivy Exchange residents now find themselves in: a long drawn out process requiring investigative and legal costs running into hundreds of thousands if not millions. They’d have more rights in Ireland if they’d bought a faulty toaster.
Meantime developers who are responsible for building and selling apartment homes which were in breach of fire regulations, are still building today even as homeowners face eviction from schemes they constructed.
Some developers did become involved. Bernard McNamara who completed Longboat Quay in Dublin’s Docklands in 2006 offered to conduct the remedial work in his buildings ‘at cost’. The former Fianna Fáil councillor initially wrote to residents, claiming that the problems in the 299 homes were greatly exaggerated, and offering to complete necessary works for €1.5m. But following negotiations with the Dublin Docklands Authority he accepted that the required works were much greater than he had claimed. Longboat Quay has since had its issues amended.
We had Priory Hall in Donaghmede, Dublin, built by Tom McFeely, which had 41 families forced out of their homes in 2011. It was estimated that it cost €27m to rehabilitate the complex.
Dangerous fires have already broken out such as that which took hold at the Beacon South Quarter in Dublin shortly after apartment owners voted to pay out more than €10m between them to fix fire-retardant and other defects. Dublin Fire Brigade had threatened owners with legal action if they did not undertake fire-safety works in the development built in 2005 by Paddy Shovlin. Owners of the 880 apartments faced remedial costs for proper regulation fireproofing of up to €15,000 each.
Paddy Byrne’s Millfield Manor in Newbridge, Co Kildare saw six homes burn to the ground in just 30 minutes because of faulty fire barriers.
And it’s five years since the UK’s horrific Grenfell disaster in which 76 people lost their lives in a 24-floor pyre. The authorities investigating say they have become bogged in a “merry-go- round of buck passing”, but British police recently confirmed to the BBC that they are examining the possibility of charging individuals with gross negligence manslaughter, which could carry long prison sentences.
It’s not enough for the Government here to pass the likely €2.5bn cost of making people’s homes safe to the tax payer as per pyrite. We need owners funded to carry out remedial work to keep their children safe from fire. Then the state needs to go and pursue those developers for the refunds.
Last, going forward we need laws that not only clarify exactly who is responsible for fire breach in built homes (including officials) but laws that make for mandatory sentences for those responsible. So that they go to jail.