More dog wardens than building inspectors in Ireland- Self Builders to be made extinct

by Bregs Blog admin team

Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, S.I. No. 9 has been signed into law by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, TD. This replaces the previous draft version SI8. Initially presented as a response to remedy disasters like Priory Hall and the pyrite scandal this particular piece of legislation has ignored submissions from the Priory hall residents and key recommendations of the Pyrite Panel. Other consumer groups such as the National Consumer Agency made similar submissions calling on the Department to introduce comprehensive Local Authority Building Control Inspections to no avail.

Owners will have to pay their engineers, surveyors and architects and more under the new system because of the amount of paperwork and administrat ion required but at a price. Senior Counsel Opinions obtained by stakeholders confirm there are serious problems regarding wording in the legislation and the Architect’s representative organisation, the RIAI, are the latest stakeholder to signal caution to members regarding new Certifier roles. Repeated requests to postpone the introduction of SI9 have fallen on deaf ears and the Department have signed the new legislation today. Unless revoked within 21 sitting days this defective regulation comes into force in March. There is a widespread belief among the professionals that the new regulations do nothing to improve the currently inadequate level of consumer protection that we already have under our current self-certification regime and as the industry is not ready will cause a significant hiatus delay and confusion in construction activity.

Currently there is no register for builders. This would take primary legislation, a Bill to be passd by both the Dail and Seanad and it will be some time before this is introduced. Under SI9 an unregistered builder can still complete projects. Indeed they can use their own employees as certifiers ensuring that independent inspections of building sites does not happen and the procurement process remains firmly under the direct control of developer builders.

One group that may be surprised at SI9 are the self-builders who currently comprise 60% of all homes built in the state (source IAOSB).

BRAB, a board of 25 stakeholders (including consumer groups) was specifically established in 1992 to inform and debate any changes to the building regulations. Interestingly BRAB was suspended after a meeting in May 2012 when the proposed building regulation amendment was robustly criticised. Since that date there has been no representation by consumer groups in the formation of the new regulation. Groups represented have been professionals (engineers, surveyors and architects) along with the house builders (CIF). According to the representative body for self-builders (IAOSB) most people doing self builds do so out of financial necessity and tend to manage sub-contractors themselves, adhering to all current health and safety protocols etc. The intentions of the minister in ensuring adequately qualified professionals has been welcomed by this organisation, but the current draft has a sting in the tail.

The Department in a briefing session to Engineers Ireland on 17th January confirmed that anyone nominating themselves as builder may be deemed to be not compliant under the new regulations. Under the current regulations a “competent person” must be nominated by a building owner to undertake qualifying projects. The department and CIF representatives indicated that a competent person must be the Director or Principal of a Building Company with a minimum of 3 years building experience. On project completion the new regulation specifies that a “Principal of a Building Company” only may sign the builders completion certificate. The local authority can decide that the Completion Certificate is invalid if not signed by the Director or Principal of a Building Company and has the power to prohibit the owner from occupying or using the building indefinitely.

The real-world implications of SI9 would suggest that as there are less than 70 inspectors for the whole country (there are more dog wardens than building inspectors in Ireland) enforcement of SI9 will be non-existent. The chances of triggering any risk parameters and getting an inspection are, in reality. remote. However the problem will surface when a property is being sold and/or re-financed and the completion paperwork and validation from the local authority is not there for the solicitors.

The long term risk for the self-build home owners is that if they wish to sell or re-mortgage their house at some time in the future and it has not been certified properly, it will not be on the register in the Local Authority as being compliant, which in turn will make it difficult if not impossible to sell or mortgage.  There is no provision within the Building Control Act to rectify the position if that were to occur.