Consumer protection is casualty of current housing law and policy in Ireland

Monday, 15 May 2006

An absence of regulation in the Irish housing market means there is a severe lack of protection for consumers, according to Dr. Padraic Kenna, a lecturer in law at NUI Galway and author of the newly published Housing Law and Policy in Ireland.

"The massive imbalance in power between producers and consumers in Irish housing is breathtaking. Indeed, Irish State approval is symbolised by the lack of support for any consumer organisation devoted to housing, or representing house-buyers, private or social housing tenants. In this era of participation, partnership and inclusion, it is truly remarkable that the organised lobby of producers and suppliers largely influences legislation, policy and subsidy schemes. The Irish consumer is faced with a housing market that lacks effective competition, consumer protection or regulation - widely accepted controls on any properly functioning market system," comments Dr. Padraic Kenna.

He continues, "Many Irish housing laws are rooted in centuries old legal principles. It is vital that concepts of property law are modernised to suit the needs of a global economy, but also to encompass consumer rights and indeed human rights. Effective legislation could ensure proper consumer protection, real competition, truthful descriptions, high standards and speedy, inexpensive remedies for defects."

Dr. Kenna points out that, despite recommendations from the Law Reform Commission and others, consumers remain vulnerable to unfair contract terms and price fluctuations in the pre-contract stage of purchasing a new home. Further down the line, should individual consumers discover defects in their properties – walls which resonate with neighbours music, leaks, and other general defects, remedies can only be effectively pursued through lengthy and expensive court action. A more recent illustration of the weak position of consumers is the imposition of compulsory management agreements covering grass cutting, lighting etc., often with no limits on the exorbitant contributions payable".

"There is now a growing culture and legal progression of housing rights across the world. In market economies where new housing is largely provided through the market, however, these housing rights standards often incorporate many consumer rights. Issues of equality in access, exploitation of vulnerable people, affordability, facilities for children, lack of segregation etc., are powerfully linked with consumer rights issues. Clearly, advocates could advance consumer rights as part of the promotion of housing rights.

We need to re-examine the role of law in the housing arena. Is it enough for law to remain particularly supply-side oriented, (although solicitors remain the primary individual housing consumer rights champions)? Law provides the enforceable framework for the housing and mortgage market to operate. However, in modern societies it can also advance equality, consumer protection, competition and social inclusion within that same market system. In researching this book all the evidence shows that traditional housing law and policy approaches, based on simple property law concepts are being transcended by people-centred approaches. Strengthening the power of housing consumers would be an obvious move in this direction", added Dr. Kenna.

Housing Law and Policy in Ireland, the first book on housing law and policy for the Irish market, offers a timely and important contribution to this hotly debated issue in Ireland today. Drawing on legislative, case law, policy and human rights norms, it offers a clear description of the origin and current status of Irish housing law and policy. Property rights, mortgages, planning, building standards, regulation, rural housing, private renting, State housing supports and subsidies are explained and analysed.

Indirect measures which impact on housing law and policy, such as consumer rights, human rights, family and equality law and other developments are revealed, along with the emerging European dimension to all aspects of Irish housing law and policy.

Housing Law and Policy in Ireland is published by Clarus Press and is available online www.claruspress.ie or by telephone order on 0567790 052 or 014150 439. The official launch of the book is taking place at NUI Galway on Thursday 18 May.

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For further information please contact Dr. Padraic Kenna, Faculty of Law, NUI Galway, Tel: 091 493230.

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