MORE than 430 people who have seen their homes plummet in value as a result of a allegedly defective building materials plan to sue for damages in an unprecedented legal showdown with the construction industry.
Hundreds of people who bought homes in three new housing developments in north Dublin resorted to legal action after cracks and other problems allegedly began to appear in their properties.
The developers have blamed the problems on defective building materials supplied by a north Dublin quarry and are repairing the defects.
That has not stopped residents from signing up with two of the city's biggest law firms, in what promises to be a protracted legal battle that will put building standards centre stage.
Arthur Cox is representing around 230 clients in Drynam Hall in Kinsealy and The Coast in Baldoyle, Co Dublin. Both developments were built three years ago by Menolly Homes, one Dublin's biggest home builders.
Solicitors Lavelle Coleman has been instructed by more than 200 clients, most in Beaupark, in Clongriffin, built by Menolly and Kiloe Developments. It will also act for a small number of residents of houses in Castlecurragh, an estate in west Dublin, which were built with the same allegedly defective material.
The scale of litigation has spiralled since problems were first encountered by residents more than a year ago.
Menolly Homes blamed the flaws on excessive levels of pyrite in the building materials used in the foundations and floors. The mineral reacts with oxygen and water to cause walls and ceilings to crack.
Menolly has promised to replace the allegedly faulty infill in all of the affected homes, a hugely expensive process that the company estimates will cost more than €20 million.
The company is already coming to terms with the downturn in the property market. It was ordered by the High Court earlier this year to pay €1,700 a month rent on property in Drynam Hall on a house that the owners couldn't sell. The company launched another 50 units in The Coast development yesterday, slashing the prices by up to 20 per cent. None of the new properties have been affected by the high pyrite concentrations.
The company is seeking to recoup those costs in what promises to be another protracted legal battle with the suppliers of the allegedly defective material, Irish Asphalt Ltd, which owns the quarry in Bay Lane, North Dublin.
The High Court case is unlikely to be straightforward, however. Irish Asphalt, which is owned by the Lagan Group, claims its own tests have so far found no evidence of "pyretic swelling" in the affected homes and blames the alleged defects in the three estates on "defects in the ground conditions, leading to subsidence, and/or defects in the design and construction of the properties. Cracks in floors were caused by settlement and not by pyrite."
As the construction companies prepare for battle over who was to blame, householders are still counting the cost.
Alan Dunne is still waiting to have his house tested for pyrite almost two years after cracks first started appearing on his newly built walls.
He bought the three-bed roomed semi-detached house in Beaupark off the plans for €299,000 in 2005 from Kiloe Developments.
Soon after he moved in, cracks appeared on the walls, the stairs began to separate from the walls, the downstairs floors swelled and the doors no longer close properly.
Frustrated that his house has now plummeted in value, he has retained solicitors, Lavelle Coleman, to act on his behalf.
"I have a hefty mortgage payment to make each month on what is basically an asset that is no use to me . at the moment."