Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 12
By Alan Schimmel
Potential home buyers spend countless hours canvassing neighborhoods, evaluating school districts, and viewing crime rates as part of the process of choosing and purchasing a home. Whether you are investing in your first starter home or settling into your “dream home,” the stability and integrity of the dwelling you choose is of tantamount importance.
Most homeowners go through the process of buying a home without ever having to worry about construction defects; however, many brand new homes including single family residences and condominium projects have been built over the last decade, and the more they age, the more likely it is that defects will present themselves.
What are construction defects?
Defective construction means deficiencies are present due to the failure to design or construct the dwelling in a reasonably workmanlike manner. Some common examples of construction defects seen in homes include cracked stucco, leaking roofs, windows and doors, drainage issues, plumbing problems, and electrical malfunctions. These are known as “patent” or “known” defects –problems that can be plainly seen and identified by a homeowner; however, a more insidious problem exists with “latent” or “hidden” defects, which can include structural cracks/shifting or water intruding into the walls of a home. If left undiscovered, latent or hidden defects can seriously compromise the integrity of your home and your investment.
How do I know if my home has construction defects?
Property sellers are required to disclose all known defects to prospective home buyers. But what happens if defects have not yet presented themselves in brand new construction? And what do you do if you bought your home from a bank as part of a foreclosure sale? Banks are exempt from the duty to disclose and more likely than not, you have purchased property in “as is” condition.
If you think you have construction defects in your home, it is recommended that you hire a licensed contractor to perform a walk-through. A professional, who works for you (and not for a developer), can provide you with their unbiased assessment of your home’s structure, and can check for signs of water damage or intrusion and other symptoms of defects that may be hidden from the average unsuspecting homeowner.
Will my insurance cover construction defects?
Most first-party insurance claims for construction defects will be denied based on construction defect exclusions in the average homeowner’s policy. What may be covered is damage that occurs as the result of construction defects. For example, if your roof is improperly waterproofed and leaks, the leaky roof and necessary repairs thereto will likely not be covered. If the roof leaked onto your hardwood floors however, and warped them, the warping becomes resultant damage of your roof leaking. Because insurance companies are known for denying coverage to homeowners in these instances, it is recommended that you contact an attorney familiar with construction defects and insurance law to help you navigate the insurance claims process and help you avoid bad faith by an insurer.
Most construction defects can be fixed, but homeowners have a limited window of time in which to bring claims against a home builder and must follow strict pre-litigation procedures before they may file lawsuits in the State of California. It’s critical that homeowners educate themselves and, if necessary, take action within the statutory period in order to protect their most valuable asset.
Alan I. Schimmel, managing partner of Schimmel & Parks, a professional law corporation, a Los Angeles-based plaintiff and consumer complex civil litigation firm. Alan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 464-5061.