An opinion piece by seven Past Presidents of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland

by bregs blog admin team

PROTECTING THE CONSUMER THROUGH BUILDING REGULATIONS

In March of this year the Government introduced new building regulations in the wake of the widespread instances of defects in speculative apartments and houses which many believe were due in large part to the lack of any effective building control system in Ireland in the past 30 years. The new regulations (SI.80 of 2013) take effect from 1st March 2014.

The regulations were drafted following consultation between construction industry stakeholders and officials from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. Other interest groups, such as representatives of consumer interests, building control officers, apartment owners or building management were not included in this process.

In summary, the regulations continue with a modified system of self-certification whereby an assigned certifier appointed by the developer/builder and those involved in the design and construction of buildings will certify that the work they have done complies with the regulations. Where defects occur, it will be up to the house or apartment owner to pursue whoever they deem to be at fault through the courts. There is no significant involvement envisaged for the Local Authority, other than keeping a record of certificates and other documents related to the project. It is incomprehensible that the State should legislate for a system which relies on a home owner proving negligence by some wrongdoer in the courts after a defect has been discovered as the sole deterrent to defective design and construction and as the sole means of getting it rectified.

At a recent general meeting of over 500 members of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, (the largest number of architects ever to gather in Ireland) those present voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion which included the following statement: “The meeting believes that the said S.I. 80 of 2013 will not achieve the objective for which it has been introduced, and that the consumer will be no better protected than was the case in the recent past because of shortcomings in the said Regulations”

What is needed is a system that prevents defects from occurring in the first place and provides protection to homeowners without having to go to court, should that system fail. Such systems operate successfully in many other countries, including in Britain and Northern Ireland, with inspection of design and construction by independent private sector inspectors acting under the control of Building Control Authorities. When combined with a state controlled system of latent defects insurance it will at once improve the quality of design and construction and protect the consumer against building defects. Such a system can be achieved at little or no cost to the State. It needs little or no legislation to implement.

With just a few weeks to go until the new regulations come into force, Department officials and industry stakeholders are still working on possible minor changes to the regulations. As a result of this uncertainty and the complexity of the issues, little has been done to assess what changes are needed to standard procedures and documents such as standard government and private sector forms of contracts, sub-contracts, warranties, all of which are critical to the industry. Local Authorities are unprepared for the few administrative functions that they are expected to undertake. There is no possibility of rectifying these matters in the time available. As a result, the implementation of the regulations in March 2014 is likely to cause significant delays across the whole of the construction industry with consequent disruption of other sectors which are dependent on it.

Irish people, none more so than those who purchased defective homes, are suffering the consequences of the light touch self-regulation adopted by successive Governments in the past. The present Government has regulated financial institutions, food production, nursing homes, crèches and even septic tanks. It is surprising to imagine construction might be the only major industry allowed to regulate itself.

We are calling on the Government to do the following:
1. Review the proposed system, not only with the industry stakeholders but also with representatives of consumer and other groups affected;
2. Defer implementation of the regulations until that review has taken place;
3. Revise the proposals to provide a system that will improve the quality of design and construction and protect the consumer.

Signed: Michael Collins, Peter Hanna, Arthur Hickey, Padraig Murray, Eoin O Cofaigh, Joan O’Connor, Sean O Laoire

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