Residents hit out over flats

Residents from a Derry flats complex have spoken of their anxieties over their living condition as work to address serious issues with the flue and gas system continues.

Friday, 1st July 2016, 9:42 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 6:37 pm
Residents from Conar's Court (l-r) Monica McKinney, Jane Ufton, Robby White and Martin McVeigh.

A group of the residents from Conar’s Court, off Northland Road, told the ‘Journal’ that they have been attempting to highlight a whole range of problems since taking up tenancy in the building two years ago.

Social housing tenant Habinteg Housing Ltd. - which took over most of the flats two years ago, was unaware of the problems with ventilation of flues and corrosive gas pipes - has apologised for the disruption caused by ongoing works to remedy the situation.

The residents, however, warned that the problems identified with the gas and flue system could have led to gas spilling onto landings - the very place they would be trying to escape via - if a gas leak had occurred, and warned that residents have previously been left feeling ill after smelling gas in the building.

Resident Monica McKinney said the system must have been in a dangeorus state for some time with the potential to blow “from the inside out like bombs going off.”

“We could have walked straight into a serious situation,” she said, while another tenant added: “It wouldn’t have been ambulances, it would have been hearses lined up out there.”

Fellow resident Robbie White said there were also issues identified with electrics, trip switches and boilers. Some of the issues have been raised with Habinteg and/or the management company.

Ms McKinney said: “Even getting assurances the pipes have been replaced, what about the electrics in this building? What about the plumbing? If the gas is like this, what about everything else?”

The residents said there were questions over why the gas problem was not identified previously, with the problem only coming to light after an engineering firm came to do routine servicing recently, resulting in the gas supply to the 47 mixed social housing and privately owned flat complex being knocked off on May 3rd. Residents have had no heating, gas or hot water since, electric showers have been installed and residents given kettles to heat water and two ring electric hobs, along with two oil heaters, after objecting to the blow heaters they were initially supplied with.

Requests for suitable alternative accommodation while the work is ongoing, they said, resulted in some people being offered damp, unfurnished and unsuitable alternatives, while their request to be transferred to a hotel was declined. Some residents say transfers have been requested.

The residents said they are still paying full rent despite the disruption caused by the issues and the works.

Concerns were also raised over exposed, outdoor gas piping underneath some first floor flats, where vandals had previously set fire to mattresses.

Martin McVeigh, said: “There’s been a lot of other underlying things before the gas came to a head and they haven’t gone away.”

Jane Ufton, added: “The way we have been treated is appalling. The noise is horrendous. Habinteg need to realise this isn’t a business, this is our homes.”

However, another resident, Gerry McCartney, the Conar’s Court, representative on Habinteg Residents’ Forum, later said he was “happy enough” with way the way the works have been carried out and that ‘Habinteg have bent over backwards for a problem that was not of their making.’

“When the gas was turned off they offered anyone who wanted it an electric shower and we still have the ovens and the hobs so cooking is not a problem,” he said.

He added that Habinteg had offered to foot the bill for additional electricity (which the other residents spoken to said would leave them out of pocket for a while) and that Habinteg would be making payment of £262 to the residents once work is completed.

A Habinteg spokesperson meanwhile, said: “We are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to our tenants and other residents while necessary work is being undertaken at Conar’s Court. Some tenants have been extremely supportive of the steps we are taking to correct the issue with the gas heating system and others are understandably upset.

“Habinteg bought the apartments at Conar’s Court in good faith, as did the many private residents who purchased properties in the complex. We did not envisage the issues which have come to light recently and it is never in our interest to have the lives of our tenants disrupted. However, it would be irresponsible for us to not act decisively in undertaking immediate remedial work and all necessary steps to bring the heating systems back into operation.

“The disruption is an unfortunate consequence of our actions to put things right and we are doing all within our power to ensure this is done as swiftly as is possible. While work is ongoing, we have - as noted by tenants - put in place a series of contingency measures to ensure continuity of core services.”

Adding that Habinteg “sympathise with tenants and understand their frustrations,” he clarified that at no time have Habinteg “received any report of a carbon monoxide alarm activation for the escape of gas or fumes from the heating system.”