No compensation for defective Belfast apartment owners

Owners of luxury apartments in Belfast city centre who were forced to abandon them because of structural defects have been told they will not receive a penny of compensation.

Some residents say they face financial ruin after a judge threw out their multi-million pound claim.

Patrick McKeague’s retirement dream has become a nightmare.

He ploughed his life savings of £250,000 into a two-bedroom apartment with a balcony in Belfast’s Victoria Square complex.

The 91 apartments opened in 2008 and he moved in three years later.

“I was looking forward to spending the rest of my life there,” he said, pointing up to the balcony apartment he bought.

Patrick McKeague said he felt disappointed and let down

But in 2019, the owners received letters telling them they had to move out for safety reasons due to structural defects.

“I was totally shattered, shocked really,” he recalled.

“I couldn’t believe it, that such a beautiful luxury apartment had those defects. I mean, you think that kind of thing just can’t happen when you pay so much money for a place.”

Five years later, many are still paying mortgages, service charges and rates for homes they cannot live in.

Members of Patrick’s family helped him to buy a new apartment in the city centre.

“I was lucky in a way because I had managed to save enough to buy my apartment outright, but many of the former residents are still paying mortgages, some of them can’t afford to pay the mortgages and can only pay the interest.

“We can’t live in it, we can’t let it, we can’t sell it. I mean, it’s an incredible situation we find ourselves in,” he said.

A charity that owns 54 of the apartments and nearly 30 individual owners took joint legal action seeking £25m damages from construction firms Farrans and Gilbert-Ash and a company of architects.

The companies all strongly denied liability, and asked for the action to be struck out on the grounds that a legal deadline had expired.

A judge yesterday agreed because the law in Northern Ireland states that such claims must be lodged within six years of a building being completed.

That is very different to two other parts of the UK – England and Wales – where the deadline is 30 years.

Announcing his decision to strike out the compensation claim, Mr Justice Huddlestone said he appreciated there was a lot of human pain, but said he had to apply the law and that it would be unfair to allow the claim to proceed.

“After five years it’s like walking through a tunnel looking for light at the end of it, but there is no light”

The judge refused a request to stay his ruling for six months to give politicians at Stormont an opportunity to bring legislation in line with England and Wales.

A solicitor for the claimants said they had been failed by local politicians not providing homeowners in Northern Ireland with the same legal protections.

They are now considering their options.

Mr McKeague has appealed to the companies involved in building the apartments to help those who took the legal action.

“I feel so disappointed, so let down,” he said.

He added: “We all bought these apartments in good faith and now can’t live in them. That’s just not fair.

“After five years it’s like walking through a tunnel looking for light at the end of it, but there is no light.

“I would urge the companies involved to show some compassion because we don’t deserve this.”

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