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Residents of a council-owned housing complex in Stoneybatter continued to log concerns about glitches in their electricity supply and water leaking into their electricity system, even after an electrical fire that some were concerned had the same root cause.
On 27 September 2019, less than two weeks after the fire in the Marmion Court block, a resident there reported water in a fusebox. “Tenant states that the fuse box is damp, the tenant can hear water flowing in fusebox area,” says the maintenance log, released by the council under the Freedom of Information Act.
“Tenant states there is no power in property – tenant heard sizziling / sparks from socket,” says an entry from November 2019, also for the Marmion Court block
On 14 September 2019, a large electricity meter box outside one of the apartment blocks caught fire. It was terrifying, Antoinette Ormsby, who lives in the block affected, said later.
None of the fire alarms went off, including those nearby on the ground floor. “There was black smoke everywhere,” she said that October.
The ESB investigated the fire but they said they were unable to say for sure what caused it.
Since then, residents have continued to complain about water getting into the buildings and electrical problems, but the council said in January of this year that the Queen Street complex isn’t in the queue for regeneration.
“There were never any structural problems”, a Dublin City Council spokesperson said in January.
Some local councillors say they nevertheless still worry about whether the Queen Street complex is safe.
Another council complex, Ballybough House, has a similar problem with leaks, says independent Councillor Christy Burke.
“Thus far we have been lucky that there has been no inferno and no tragic loss of life,” he says, of both complexes.
Water and Electricity
After the September 2019 fire, residents of the homes in the Queen Street complex wanted to know what had caused it.
“While it is difficult to determine what started the fire, some possibilities include: ingress of water, rodents eating into the insulation of the service cable, vandalism or failed connections in the fuse-unit,” said a spokesperson for the ESB in December 2019.
Residents worried that the electrical fire could have been caused by water getting into the electricity supply.
Water gathers on the roof and then cascades down the walls, they said, and there are multiple leaks inside the apartments that also get into the electricity.
One resident said that in the weeks before the fire her lights were flickering a lot and in February 2019, a resident in a different block had made the same complaint. “Tenant states that her lights keep flickering,” says the recently released maintenance log.
The council tenants have complained about their apartments being flooded, water getting into the electricity supply, damp fuse box and lights flickering, according to maintenance requests released by Dublin City Council under the Freedom of Information Act.
Residents said water frequently pours down from the roof beside the outside metering cabinet that caught fire and wondered if this was a factor in the fire. A resident said recently that this was still happening.
Email correspondence released under Freedom of Information includes more information about the issues with water coming from the roof.
Staff in the housing section in Dublin City Council wrote in January of this year that “There are ongoing issues with some water tanks located on the roof, that overflow on occasion, resulting in water cascading from the gable end of the blocks.”
This doesn’t happen near the electricity meter box though, says the email.
No Structural Issues
There were 590 maintenance reports logged about the Queen Street complex over the three years, from the start of 2019 to the end of 2021.
Most of these were normal complaints like leaking taps and toilets, heating on the blink, broken cookers and the like.
But some of the complaints seemed to indicate deeper issues. Around 50 of them refer to major leaks through the walls and ceilings in the complex or water mixing with electricity.
The 13 January 2022 email from the housing section says that water on occasion gets into the flats through small cavity cracks in the wall.
In a different block of the complex, there were similar issues. “Tenant States leak in her sitting room ceiling fell down,” says an entry on 21 December 2020.
“Water leak in ceiling and into electrics from flat overhead,” says an entry from February 2021.
“Tenant states multiple electric faults throughout following flood from upstairs, electric inspection req.” November 2021.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to follow up questions on these issues submitted last week, asking why it doesn’t regard these multiple serious leaks as structural issues.
Looking for Regen
Some councillors have been trying to highlight issues with the Queen Street complex, which is not currently on a list of council complexes that have been scheduled for regeneration.
Labour Party Councillor Joe Costello says that the council may be reluctant to add the complex to the list for regeneration because it refurbished it 20 years ago.
Residents said that that attempt at regeneration made the problems worse. Sinn Féin councillor Janice Boylan, says that the complex was “built mentally”.
“I wouldn’t like to live with water running through my flat every now and again,” says independent Councillor Christy Burke.
There are also serious leaks in Ballybough House too, he says and that complex isn’t on the regeneration list either. The council has done a pilot to test if it can retrofit the homes in the protected building.
A flat there was recently retrofitted very successfully, says Burke. He viewed it and it looked great but the funding is not in place to upgrade the other homes in the complex, he says.
People try to redecorate their flats by wallpapering over after major leaks and dampness but that doesn’t work for long, he says.
All the flat complexes in the north inner-city need to be regenerated, says Burke. “They are all the same as each other.”
Burke has tabledmotions calling on the central governmentto release the funds to regenerate the council’s housing complexes in the north inner-city, he says. “There is no great political will to address our [past-the] sell-by-date complexes in the city centre.”
The Minister for Housing and the Minister for Finance need to explain why the council complexes “are allowed to go so low, deep and dangerous as regards maintenance, flooding and everything”, he says. “Why is that allowed?”
In January a Dublin City Council spokesperson said that they carried out an audit of all their properties in 2010 and 2011.
Then in 2020, “City Architects were asked to report on options for addressing reported issues at the Queen Street housing complex.
“The options to be considered included major retrofit, demolition and new build. Their report concluded that the problems complained of are of a maintenance and repair nature.”
The Freedom of Information request looked for that report. A council staff member said that the report doesn’t exist: “This was not a written report and that discussion on Queen St were verbal.”