PrintThe new Multi-Unit Development Act does not go far enough, says PAT McGOVERN.

Building surveyors through the years have been perplexed by snagging and trying to get developers to finish the common areas of multi-unit developments, such as the sealing of doors/windows to reduce draughts, completion of roof flashings to ensure a watertight roof, proper weathering of details, openings to underground car parks, etc.

The passing of the Multi-Unit Development Act by the Government in December 2010 is a welcome development, but for building surveyors it does not go far enough. It does not include the 5% retention provision requested by the Irish Property and Facility Management Association (IPFMA), nor does it incorporate performance bonds/prescribed defects liability periods. Instead it requires there to be a contract between the developer and the management company, which, in addition to contractual requirements to build and complete, will also mandate independent legal representation. How will this be policed and enforced? When you consider that there are a number of developments that are less than 10 years old, and that now require a re-roofing project at a cost in the region of 15% of the original building cost, 5% seems a very reasonable contribution at this stage.

Serious concerns
As a building surveyor, I remain concerned about how the provisions for assuring completion and standards of construction will operate, in particular to facilitate snagging and a more efficient and successful handover. I believe that developers will continue to ignore the snag lists issued by the building surveyor on behalf of the management company and will continue to do what they deem reasonable on the snag list. I remain concerned that the management company will still be worn down and accept a sub-standard building, and will have to deal with all the inherent defects in the early stages of the building’s life, i.e., the five- to 10-year period.

In terms of certifying compliance, this is a difficult area given that the current building control system of self-certification is, quite frankly, not working. It will be interesting to see who and what qualifications are required to be “a suitably qualified person” to certify compliance, but I assume that it will be either a registered building surveyor or a registered architect. Unless the current system of certification is improved or there is a level of independence, e.g., an independent inspector for such certification such as a registered building surveyor or registered architect, we will continue as we have been, but that’s another day’s work and outside the scope of the Bill.

What can be done?
I see this as an opportunity missed, and for now purchasers must shop with their feet and request details of the contract in place and, in particular, if there is a voluntary agreement to include the 5% retention. Buying a unit in such a development will ensure a better finished unit and reduce the risk of any future levies in the early years of the development.

Equally, managing agents should associate themselves with developers who are willing to enter into such a voluntary agreement to include 5% retention in the contract with the management company. This is a difficult thing to do, as the developer has the ‘client power’ when tendering for a property manager. The developer can simply choose to only deal with a property manager they can bully. A solution to this situation is that all Society/IPFMA members sign up to a code of conduct whereby they will only accept developments with the retention fund and a prescribed defects liability period. This could be marketed so that the public are aware of it, and know that a development managed by a Society/IPFMA property manager is a quality development.

Unfortunately, I remain of the view that the provisions for assuring completion, maintaining standards of construction, and facilitating a more efficient snagging and successful handover, have not improved sufficiently. As a result the war between the site foreman and the building surveyor continues.

Pat McGovernPat McGovern FSCS, FRICS
Pat is Managing Director of McGovern Surveyors