Housing and Construction Defects
If you’ve been injured because of a construction defect, or you discover a defect that affects the value of your property, you may have legal remedies available to you. Typically, this will mean taking your contractor or related parties to civil court to sue for monetary damages. You could potentially recover the costs of fixing your property, bringing it up to code, restoring it to a value promised in your construction contract, or medical costs for injuries.
Each state has its own rules for bringing construction defects to court, so you’ll need to understand the laws of your jurisdiction.
What is a Construction Defect?
Construction defects are flaws in the design, structure, or quality of a building you own or some kind of structure erected on your property. Construction defects can include:
- Poor craftsmanship
- Faulty designs and architecture
- Building code violations
- Substandard or incorrect building materials
- Unstable foundations
- Malfunctioning plumbing, wiring, or HVAC systems
- General instability
These and other issues can greatly reduce the value of your property, pose safety risks, put you in violation of local laws and ordinances, and could mean you’ve dramatically overpaid for the materials you were given compared to what you were promised.
Recognizing and Preventing Construction Defects
Unfortunately, the average person doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to recognize all construction defects on their own. Knowing what to look for before, during, and after a construction project can strengthen your case if anything goes wrong. For one thing, you’ll need to have a detailed, legally-sufficient contract outlining the work that’s should be done, the materials being used, and payment agreements. Keep a copy of this, as it can be very helpful when proving a breach. Your construction team will need to have certain permits, licenses, surety bond certificates (insurance), and other documentation proving they’re qualified and allowed to do the work they’re planning to do on your property. Always ask to see these and be very wary of a construction crew that can’t or won’t produce them for you. Once work starts or finishes, look for signs of defect. These include:
- Moisture and mold
- Frequent and substantial cracks in walls and foundation
- Improper sealing around doors and windows
- Low points that flood, or could lead to flooding
- Water stains
- Uneven floors
- Electrical switches that don’t work
One of the best things you can do to identify construction defects is to hire multiple independent home inspectors. It can be easy for even seasoned inspectors to miss something on their first pass through, so getting a second or even a third opinion can help you document any significant flaws. When choosing inspectors, verify their credentials, check their reviews, and ensure they are bonded and insured. While your real estate agent or construction company may recommend an inspector to you, hiring someone with no connection to your project may help you get a more unbiased report.
Remedies for Construction Defects
Once you’ve identified substantial defects that impact the value and safety of your property, you can start to work toward remedies.
Speak to the Contractor’s Insurance Company
In some cases, contacting the company that insured or bonded your construction team can lead to a quick resolution. You’ll need to do some research, however. Insurance companies will look to save money. Make sure you have proof of the contractor’s errors and know what those damages are worth. Negotiate if the insurance company gives you too low of an estimate.
Arbitration may be an option (or depending on your contract, a requirement) for mediating a construction dispute. Appointed arbitrators will hear both sides of the disagreement and review the evidence. The process essentially mimics a private trial; the arbitrators will make the decisions on which side is right and what the remedies will be. Arbitration may be legally binding, or non-binding, in which case both parties will need to agree to the terms. Many arbitrators are lawyers and must have substantial knowledge of the legal system.
If you don’t get a binding arbitration agreement, or if you want to skip arbitration all together, you may consider suing the contractor and taking them to civil court. Every state outlines a statute of limitations, or deadline, that you’ll need to start your constructive defect suit by. These can range from two years or less to ten years or more from the date you discovered the defects. Waiting too long to file your claim could prevent your case from ever going to court, so you’ll need to act quickly and file the appropriate petitions and paperwork as soon as possible.
Getting Legal Help
Construction defects can result in complicated legal proceedings. You’ll need to do in-depth research on the issues of your case and the relevant state laws, review contracts and insurance policies, and potentially navigate the arbitration or court processes. Working with your own attorney could help you understand your rights and options more clearly and help you build a stronger case.
Speak to an Experienced Construction Defect Attorney Today
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified construction defect lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local construction defect attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.
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