When an individual enters into a construction contract, the expectation is that the work will be completed to the specifications spelled out in the signed agreement with a contractor and/or builder. But what happens when the work is defective?
Legal cases of construction dispute can be complex and cover a range of issues: defective piping, cracks in foundation, faulty deck construction, improper waterproofing, violation of building code standards and many, many more. There are numerous design and construction standards that when not followed can lead to the kind of surprises no homeowner wants to face. Roofing deficiencies, electrical and ventilation issues, and even landscaping that doesn’t meet the agreed design and material … the list of potential disputes is nearly endless.
Some of the more common construction disputes are:
- When a supplier of home construction materials is late in delivering supplies and materials to the job site, delaying the project’s completion.
- When a design professional hired by real estate developers drafts plans that don’t match the site conditions.
- When unanticipated conditions are discovered during the renovation of an existing property that should have been known from the contractor’s inspection.
- When a new homeowner finds defects in the home after living there for a short time.
- When construction violates a regulation or multiple ones in state, county or city zoning ordinances.
While there’s a host of possible disputes that can arise during the construction of a new project or renovation of an existing structure, California addresses when a homeowner may bring legal action over construction defects in SB 800 of the California Civil Code.
If you’ve ever entered into a construction contract, you know that setbacks, changes in plans or specifications, delays and costs above estimates are a common occurrence and should be expected. What construction project strictly follows its original plan?
But construction defects threaten the safety and livability of a building, and the builder, contractors, producer of construction materials, and subcontractors for electrical, plumbing and the like may be sued over these construction defects under five basic causes of action:
- Breach of contract.
A solid construction contract specifies the quality construction, design, materials, inspection and the like. They may also contain a requirement for mediation over construction defects and liability and warranty limits. However, California does place legal restrictions on the limits builders and contractors can put in place regarding their liability for defects, especially in residential construction. So, a close review of these provisions is crucial before signing a construction contract.
When a builder, contractor or design professional fails to exercise the “standard of care of reasonable tradesmen conducting the same type of work” as laid out in SB 800, California considers this negligence. Essentially, this is considered professional malpractice because the builder, contractor or design professional was negligent in carrying out their professional duties. And, if this negligence results in a construction defect, the property owner may sue for damages, even if the property was purchased from a third party.
- Breach of express or implied warranty.
Different from a breach of contract, a breach of express warranty requires that the property owner received a specific warranty from the builder or signed a contract that specified the quality or condition of the property. An express warranty is usually in writing, specifying each task and the quality of that task.
In California, the statute of limitations for a breach of express warranty is four years. This can be extended if the property owner did not know and could not reasonably be expected to know about the breach.
California also imposes an implied warranty in that new construction must be performed in a “reasonable, workmanlike manner” according to current construction practices and government regulations. It’s important to know that proof of a defect because of improper construction, design, or preparation is enough to establish liability on the part of the builder or developer and therefore a breach of the implied warranty under state law.
- Strict liability.
This applies to residential property and imposes liability for construction and/or design defects even if there was no foreknowledge of the defect on the part of the contractor or designer. It means that the builder is strictly liable for defects in residential property that results in damage to the property. One example of this would be a leaking roof that causes damage to ceilings and floors. The builder is liable for the negligence that caused the leaky roof and the resulting damage to other parts of the residence.
- Statutory violations.
If a builder violates state or federal law in constructing a building, by using, for example, prohibited construction materials like lead paint or hazardous insulation, they may be found liable of civil or even criminal violations. Here, the specific facts of the case should be analyzed to find all possible causes of legal action.
Construction disputes are generally complex. Builders and developers are more knowledgeable about contracts that benefit them in the case of a construction dispute, so having a skilled attorney review a construction contract before you enter into them is the right first step.
Additionally, if a dispute arises during or after construction, you will have a law firm already familiar with your project and contract and able to determine the best way to recover damages, through a settlement or a jury trial.
At LawPLA, our skilled business litigation team of attorneys will guide you through every step of the construction process from the contract to any issues that arise afterwards. To schedule a consultation, call either of our Los Angeles offices or use our online form. We are on your side.