It is untrue to say that our local authorities have a system of self-certification of buildings in Ireland. The reality is there is no mandatory requirement for the issuing of certificates of compliance with Building Regulations. In most cases the opinions of compliance with Building Regulations are only issued on request of lending institutions in the conveyance of a property. The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland and the Law Society have an agreed standard format for the issuing of ‘Architects Opinion on Compliance of an Apartment Dwelling with Building Regulations’ where ‘Periodic Inspection of the Work under construction did not form part of the Service’. This permits a situation where a developer once granted planning permission need not employ anyone to provide supervision or periodic inspections until the dwelling unit is ready for conveyancing and at this stage a professional can be employed to provide a visual inspection at completion. Unfortunately, this option is adopted only too often by the developer as a means of compliance with the Building Regulations. While the professional very often seeks confirmations from the developer that the building is constructed in accordance with the Building Regulations the reality is that some developers during the Celtic Tiger would not have sufficient knowledge of the Building Regulations to provide such confirmations but do so regardless.
It is this situation that leads to situations like Priory Hall. This is not the fault of Dublin City Council but rather a fault of the legislation which permits the construction of developments without a mandatory requirement for periodic inspection by professionals and the issuing of Certificates of Compliance on completion.
In Britain it is standard practice that the Building Control Authority issue a Completion or Final Certificate upon the practical completion of each building project, to state the work meets technical requirements of Building Regulations.
In the States a Certificate of Occupancy officially verifies a building is in full compliance with current building codes, and is safe for occupancy.
Since the introduction of Building Regulations under the Building Control Act of 1990 there is a statutory obligation to comply with the Building Regulations in relation to the construction of a habitable building or the material alteration of an existing building. The Building Regulations set out performance standards for developments which include structure, fire safety, energy conservation, ventilation and access for people with disabilities. Under the Building Control Act there is a requirement for proposed developments to be in receipt of a Fire Safety Certificate for apartments or commercial developments prior to commencement on site. There is also a legal requirement for a Commencement Notice to be issued for proposed developments between 14 and 28 days prior to commencement on site. After this is completed the Building Control Regulations are silent with regard to ensuring compliance with regulations. In reality the local authority with limited resources monitored developments by way of spot checks by Building Control Officers. In general the local authorities in the larger urban areas fared better as they had inspectors in place since the introduction of Bye-law approval as early as the Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878. The other local authorities outside the urban areas had neither sufficient staff numbers nor expertise to deal with the pace of development in the Celtic Tiger era. So while the Building Control Authorities had a right to enter buildings to check for compliance the reality was that most sites were not entered at construction stage.
A change of legislation is required to ensure that every development which takes place is legally required to undergo periodic inspection at the pertinent stages of the development to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations prior to occupation. If this is to be carried out by way of certification by a professional employed by the developer, then legislation should also ensure that the professional carries professional indemnity insurance commensurate with the work which is being carried out. Alternatively, periodic inspection could be carried out by the local authority, following notification, at the various states of development and at a cost to the developer to ensure compliance.
So what do we have in Ireland? We have a Building Control Act since 1990 which provided for the enactment of the Building Regulations on the 1st June 1992 at a national level. The Building Regulations 1997 superseded these on 1st July 1998 and provide for compliance with codes which are divided under 12 parts: A – Structure; B – Fire Safety; C – Site Preparation and Resistance to Moisture; D – Materials; E – Sound; F – Ventilation; G – Hygiene; H – Drainage; J – Heat; K – Stairs; Ramps and Ladders; L – Fuel; M – Disability. Specific amendments have been made to these codes between 1997 and today. Our Technical Guidance Documents provide detailed requirements for compliance with the Building Regulations. Compliance with the Technical Guidance Documents is prima facie evidence that the Building Regulations have been complied with. The Building Control Authority has the power to serve an enforcement notice on the owner or person carrying out the works if they are of the opinion they do not comply with Building Regulations. The Building Control Authority also has the power to enter the works and carry out any action required by the notice and recover the costs.
The introduction of mandatory periodic inspection and Certificates of Completion would help prevent the re-occurrence of situations like Priory Hall. Surely in these cases the prevention is better than the cure where the cure involved the displacement of 240 residents from their homes this Christmas.
Paul Hogan Dip. Arch., B.Arch. Sc., M.R.I.A.I. Dip Physical Planning, M.Sc. Spatial Planning