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Apartment Owners in Swords have been warned that if they do not pay a percentage of the €15,000 necessary for fire safety modifications, they may face legal action. The Broadmeadows residential complex is one of hundreds of post-World War II structures with faults in fire protection. According to the Journal, owners of flats in the complex were told last year that they would have to pay €5,000 for fire safety remedial work each year for three years, for a total of €15,000. Despite the fact that they are not responsible for the fire safety faults, apartment owners must pay for the work.
This payment was agreed upon by the owner management company (OMC), Broadmeadows Property Management CLG, which owns and manages the common areas in development and is made up of the property owners.
A vote was held in February last year in which apartment owners voted to pay the levy over three years. The first payment was due in July 2022, with the second payment being requested last month. However, some apartment owners said they are now unable to afford to pay the amounts requested due to the cost of living crisis and the ever-increasing mortgage interest rates, which have led to significantly higher mortgage repayments.
In June, a letter was sent to owners saying that their account would be handed over to solicitors for debt collection if they did not arrange a payment within seven days. The letter seen by The Journal was sent by Lansdowne Partnership, a residential sales, lettings, and asset management agency acting on behalf of Broadmeadows Property Management.
It begins by addressing the owner and noting that a payment plan has not been arranged for the €5,000 levy issued in July 2022. “At this stage, we must insist that property owners engage with us and arrange a payment plan for this outstanding levy,” the letter reads. “If an agreed payment plan is not put in place within 7 days of the date of this letter, then we have no option but to hand your account over to the company's solicitors for debt collection.
Debt collection services will incur additional costs on your account. I would like to emphasise the importance of arranging a payment with our account department immediately. ‘Can’t afford to pay. Speaking to The Journal, one apartment owner, who did not want to be named, said they are “very concerned” that they are unable to pay the initial €5,000 levy, as well as the additional €5,000 that was requested in July, and any potential legal costs on top of that.
The owner stated that it was becoming increasingly difficult to live, let alone afford to pay a fire levy that was not our fault. "Mortgage interest rates are increasing every few months, flat management fees have increased, and prices, in general, are increasing," the owner said.
Then to be faced with legal fees because we cannot afford them is completely unjust. One of the primary worries for property owners is that the fire safety upgrades are likely to be covered by a restitution system introduced earlier this year by the government. The government authorised a €2.5 billion repair programme for owners of damaged flats in January, with up to 100,000 homes potentially affected. Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien stated at the time that the cleanup work would be "fully funded" and that there would be no cost cap.
However, the system is unlikely to be fully operational until at least late next year. Laws must be developed and enacted via the Oireachtas houses; rules must be drafted; and the necessary apparatus must be put in place to allow the programme to work correctly. A Housing Department representative stated that a code of practice has been developed to complement the approach to correcting fire safety problems in units and to guarantee consistency across the nation.
The spokesperson also confirmed that details of an interim fire safety measures scheme to cover serious defects (like fire safety alarms or fire escapes) will be published in the autumn. Old works covered
The spokesperson said that works that began after January 18 of this year will also be retrospectively covered by the Government scheme, meaning owners will be reimbursed the amounts they pay (subject to terms and conditions).
The owner of Broadmeadows said they want to wait until the Government scheme comes into effect as they cannot afford to pay for the work. The OMC (Broadmeadows Property Management) is acting on behalf of the apartment owners, who voted in favour of the works being carried out and the levy being charged. However, the property owner said that they had initially voted against payment of the levy last year during an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) before the Government scheme was announced, but that the vote “narrowly passed”. “If we had another vote, I have no doubt it wouldn’t pass this time,” the owner said.
In May of this year, an owners' information meeting was conducted regarding the remediation works, with officials from Lansdowne Partnership, an insurance broker, and others in attendance. Concerns were expressed over the renewal of the apartment complex's insurance, according to meeting minutes obtained by The Journal. According to the existing insurance broker, in order to gain a renewal, a plan for the building's fire safety remedial work had to be given to the building's insurer.
According to those present at the meeting, payments of the tax have been frozen "across the board" since the introduction of the Government restitution mechanism. The conference resolved that the works should be completed as soon as possible, that owners would be called to secure the levy, and that anybody who did not participate "may then receive a legal letter."
Legal action will be taken. Pat Montague of the Construction Defects Alliance campaign organisation stated, speaking generally and not specifically about the Broadmeadows development, that under present rules, if a tax is agreed upon and voted on at a public meeting, then all owners in a complex are obligated to pay it. If an owner fails to pay, the owner management company (OMC) may pursue legal action, which could eventually lead to a court hearing where the OMC can obtain an attachment order (not always guaranteed), which means that when the property is sold, the OMC may be able to recover the money.
“This process is far from ideal for all concerned,” Montague said. It causes stress and tension, breakdowns in relationships between neighbours, and is costly and time-consuming. But, as it stands, under the law, this is the only way forward at present. The future Commenting on the Broadmeadows development, local Labour TD Duncan Smith said that “no resident should have to bear the cost of fire remediation works”.
“These residents have worked very hard in difficult circumstances and are dealing with fire safety issues, not of their making,” Smith said. Debt collection should not take place. We need this scheme to be rolled out ASAP, it is designed precisely for apartments such as Broadmeadows. The Broadmeadows property owner said that another vote on the fire safety work should take place and that taking legal action against owners “just shouldn’t be allowed”. “Government TDs and Ministers should also voice their opinion in public that this is unfair and should not be happening,” the owner said. Also, the Housing Minister needs to pull his finger out and fast-track the redress, as owners need it to happen soon.
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30 November 2023
05 September 2023