You are sitting in your living room of your brand new home enjoying a celebratory glass of champagne in front of the fireplace with some friends. It has been a few months since you took possession of the home, it’s winter and rains have started. Soft music is playing and everyone is enjoying some light banter. A friend goes to the window to look at the rain and suddenly calls you over. He is pointing to a small puddle that is forming on the inside sill of the window. You look a little more closely and see some previous staining there and at the window head. You mop it up and put some towels there and get back to your friends.
The next day you are headed out the door to work and your next door neighbor hails you and asks if you have had any issues with your house ie .window leaks, doors that don’t close properly, cracking sheetrock etc. You agree to compare notes that evening.
Your evening meeting with the neighbor actually has become a bit of a neighborhood gathering since your neighbor has already been in contact with others in the neighborhood about issues with their homes. The list of issues has remarkably grown and there is growing concern in the neighborhood about “construction defects”.
Construction defect litigation in California and throughout the US is unfortunately a huge business. The scene described in the previous paragraghs is an all to frequent reality for many homeowners. The dream of home ownership is often tainted by the realization that not only are you not getting the product that you paid for but now you are faced with sometimes costly repairs to shoddy workmanship and/or non performing materials.
A house is a complex product and most people are ill equipped to understand some of the nuances of owning a house. Unless you have some building experience and/or are very mechanically inclined dealing with the needs of a house is beyond the capability of the average buyer. Most people buy a house to live in for protection from the elements and want to turn the key, walk in and enjoy the protection it provides without having the need to understand how it was built. Most of us do not even want to think about it beyond the function it serves and the enjoyment it provides on many levels.
Suddely you are faced with the fact that something is not right about the “product” you purchased and now what are you going to do? In the example mentioned in the foregoing you have learned that you are not in this situation by yourself. You and your neighbors have each other to help decide a course of action. There is a ten year statute of limitations in California for most litigation concerning construction defects. That means that in most situations if the building is more than ten years old you cannot make a claim. If the home is less than ten years old you have several paths you can choose depending on the severity of the issues. No matter which path you choose be prepared to spend time and possibly money to remedy the stuation.
There is the notion that if you spend the money to buy a “Chevy” don’t expect to get a “Mercedes”. However there is what is called a “standard of care” that does apply to basic construction and no matter how much you spend on a new house it should provide “reasonable” protection from the elements and be built according to local codes with approval of local permitting and licensing agencies. Some assurance is guaranteed by the building inspection departments in your area however defects till show up.
I will address in future articles the crafty world of construction litigation and some of the ramifications of pursuing litigation. Hopefully I can help demistify some of choices homeowners may have.