An apartment block in Rialto, sold by Kennedy Wilson to Dublin City Council (DCC) in lieu of providing social housing in two of the US real estate firm’s high-end developments, is uninhabitable due to fire safety defects, according to the council.
Four years ago the council reached agreement with Kennedy Wilson to acquire 39 apartments at Herberton, Rialto, instead of having social homes in Capital Dock at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and in Clancy Quay, the former Clancy Barracks development at Islandbridge near Kilmainham.
The Herberton scheme, built on the site of the former Fatima Mansions flat complex near the Grand Canal, was part of a distressed property portfolio acquired by Kennedy Wilson in 2014. Capital Dock, the State’s tallest apartment block, was at the time of its completion in late 2018 one of the most expensive places to rent, with prices starting at €3,850 a month. Clancy Quay, completed in mid-2020, was advertised as a “premium rental community”.
Under Part V of the planning acts, developers were at that time obliged to sell 10 per cent of residential schemes to their local authority at a discount for use for social housing tenants. However, councils could in exceptional circumstances accept homes or land “off-site” to satisfy the social housing obligations.
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The council’s previous head of housing Brendan Kenny, in February 2019, said that while the off-site option was “not ideal”, the Rialto apartments would represent better value for the council. “Normally we would prefer to take units on site, but that is very difficult in the docklands, because the costs involved do not represent good value for money,” he said.
However, despite having reached agreement on the swap four years ago, the apartments were not transferred into the council’s ownership until August of this year.
The council said it had been aware that as the apartments “had been unoccupied for a number of years they would require essential maintenance works” before they could be allocated to tenants, but it said in a briefing note to councillors in recent days: “Following recent inspections we have now been advised by Housing Department that the works required to bring these units up to fire and safety standard regulations are extensive, and this in turn means the delays may be significant.”
A spokesman for Kennedy Wilson said that, at the time of the agreement in February 2019, it had already addressed fire-related issues and the apartments were “ready for occupation” and fully refurbished when offered to the council.
“The fire-related work was signed off by [Kennedy Wilson’s] specialist fire consultants, and DCC as purchaser would have had sight of and the benefit of these certificates of compliance at the time of acquisition,” he said. The council had “the opportunity to conduct full due diligence on the units prior to acquisition” and the company had received “no correspondence with DCC on such matters since the transaction closed” in August, he said.
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The council’s head of housing, Coilín O’Reilly, said he expected the necessary works would be completed and the apartments ready for occupation at the end of February. While the amount paid to Kennedy Wilson was “commercially sensitive”, the work required “was reflected in the price”, he said. The remedial work has been estimated at about €1.56 million.
Local Sinn Féin councillor Maire Devine said it was “inexplicable that serious fire safety issues are only now coming to light” in the complex.
“It was 2019 that the council agreed to take the block in Herberton. In January of this year we were told the apartments were ready to be allocated and it was only a few snag-list items that needed to be dealt with. Now we are hearing there is a serious fire compliance issue. Why were these inspections not done before now?”