On Thursday, 9th of November, Francis Noel Duffy TD presented his Defective Dwellings Bill at Second Stage/Debate Stage to the Dáil
The Defective Dwellings Bill 2021 and related documents can be found at the following link: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2021/121
Full Speech Transcript:
Thank you Ceann Comhairle
I am delighted to introduce the Defective Dwellings Bill at Second Stage to this House and I look forward to seeing the progress of this Bill to pre-Committee stage scrutiny in the Housing Committee, where we can have a more thorough discussion of the Bill with the Minister, his Department, relevant stakeholders and experts.
Firstly, I'd like to thank those who assisted in the drafting of the Bill and those who have devoted so much of their time and expertise to this area to try and improve our laws around defects. Namely, Dr Deirdre Ni Fhloinn and Conor Linehan SC who have done trojan work in this area both in terms of research and for informing us, the legislators, of the gravity of the issue when it comes to defects. It would be remiss of me not to mention Pat Montague, of the Construction Defects Alliance, who have campaigned tirelessly and advocated for the thousands of homeowners across the country impacted by defects.
I’d like to make a special mention of Minister Catherine Martin and her team, namely Donal Swan, in the last Dáil term for starting the work and foundations for this Bill, which I am proud to present today on behalf of the Green Party.
We have a serious problem with defects in this country. As Dr Ni Fhloinn has established in her research, Ireland’s problem with defective properties stems from a weak building regulatory system and enforcement regime which has failed to prevent deficiencies, and secondly, the legal problem which restricts and in many cases, prevents homeowners from seeking redress.
This Bill aims to resolve some of the issues facing thousands of homeowners affected by defective properties in this country. It protects homeowners; including families, young couples, and pensioners, who, after saving and working hard to purchase a home or decide to downsize, later realise that the home they have purchased has a defect or multiple defects.
The Bill does this by firstly establishing liability and responsibility that all parties involved in carrying out construction work are liable for that work, this is based on the recommendations of the Law Commission Report of 1977. This ensures that works will be carried out in a good and workmanlike manner, with due skill, care and diligence and that the materials they use will be fit for purpose.
Secondly, It provides a clear legal redress framework for homeowners impacted by defective properties, whether they be the first or subsequent purchaser of the property. Any breach of duty which causes the defects will be subjected to the regime established by the Civil Liability Act 1961. In other words, this will ensure those involved in the construction are liable for the whole of the damage.
And thirdly, it provides for specified time limitations relating to claims. Currently, the statute of limitation only allows a person to present a claim 6 years from the date the damage took place. This Bill will introduce a new statute of limitation of two years from discovery of the defect rather than the current six years from purchase of property, providing protection for a wider cohort of affected owners, specifically if the owner of the property is not the first purchaser. This is based on the ‘Safe as Houses’ report recommendation by the Joint Oireachtas Housing Committee.
Currently in Ireland, property is bought on the basis of 'caveat emptor', or buyers beware. This means that the property is bought as is, and the buyer should assume the risk of buying the property. The seller is not obliged to disclose any defects that the buyer could not find for themselves, therefore the responsibility lies wholly with the buyer to realise the risks associated with the physical condition of the property. Homes are built on the basis of contracts between the original parties, and for various reasons, contractual remedies may not be available to the homeowner, restricting litigation especially if they’re not the first buyer of the home and not an original party to the contract.
Consequently, we have in excess of 100,000 Celtic Era properties with building defects across the State - a shocking 2 out of 3 apartments and duplexes across the country have defects, and thousands of homeowners living in homes that are quite literally crumbling from reactive materials like mica and pyrite, which has subsequently led to an inquiry committee and a scheme in which the state or should I say the taxpayer will pick up the 2.6 billion euro bill.
The type of defects that homeowners are facing can range from fire safety defects - which is the most common at 40-70% of affected homes - and can be as severe as not having an escape route or not having a fire-detecting alarm system. Other defects include water ingress defects which adversely affect roofs, this defect is present in between 20-50%.
Structural defects which make the home quite literally inhabitable, where the roof or walls of the home are defective and therefore a risk to the habitants, these defects account for about 5-25% of defective homes.
Ireland is lagging behind other countries when it comes to protecting homeowners and robust building compliance regulations. In Alberta, Canada, the warranty provided for defective issues in a property is attached to a home and not the owner. Similarly, this Bill will provide not only the current owner with protections but also any subsequent owners.
Legislation in Queensland, Australia ensures that the building industry is regulated and all standards are adhered to. This includes holding persons responsible for the safety of the products used during the carrying out of the construction works.
While I commend the Department for its ongoing work in developing state schemes for both homeowners impacted by mica and pyrite, and those impacted by defects in apartments and duplexes, it took a long and emotionally draining campaign for these families to be heard.
In August 2018, homeowners in Hunterswood, including young couples, families and pensioners were hit with a €65k bill for fire safety and balcony defect, that was not their fault, nor were they flagged prior to them buying their properties. They can’t afford to pay these extortionate costs, they cannot insure their homes and therefore cannot resell. They are stuck and the law as it currently stands does not protect them, in fact, it protects the companies that carried out these construction works.
It would again be remiss of me not to mention the apartment owners in the condemned building of Priory Hall - which was considered a fire trap - and rendered families homeless.
So the question we really need to ask ourselves and the question that the Department needs to think about is how many more disasters and scandals like Priory Hall, Park West, the Hunterswood apartments in my own constituency, are we waiting for before we take meaningful action to really get to the heart of this issue and make the legislative changes needed to resolve the deficiencies in our law?
How many more million and billion euro schemes does the State have to create and taxpayers have to pay before we change the laws that protect construction companies from building unfit-for-purpose, life-threatening homes backed by ineffective regulatory and enforcement regimes?
And more importantly, how many more lives are we willing to put at risk?