When you purchase a home, you expect to acquire a well-built, defect-free structure that will offer shelter and protection for a long time. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Construction defects that may not be immediately obvious can cause long-term damage and compromise the safety of your home, costing thousands of dollars to repair. Construction defects can range from scratched or chipped tile to a sinking foundation. More broadly, courts have ruled that conditions that reduce the value of a home may be considered construction defects.
Insurance companies have their own definitions of construction defects in the policies they sell. According to one company, construction defects are composed of four categories: design deficiencies, defective building materials, poor workmanship, and lack of maintenance. Subsurface deficiencies are sometimes considered a fifth category in construction defect law.
Design Deficiencies: A construction defect may be considered a design deficiency if the plans developed by an architect or engineer resulted in a building that does not work as expected. One example is an improper design that allows for water intrusion.
Defective Building Materials: Construction defects may also be caused by damaged building materials. These can become troublesome because the defect comes from the manufacturer and the construction company might not detect it until after they used the material. This could make it more expensive to replace the defective material.
Poor Workmanship: Poor workmanship may include improperly installed plumbing or electrical systems. It is the most common perception about work defects and takes place when there is an error made by those conducting the construction. Not all poor workmanship can be a severe problem. In some cases, it involves aesthetic problems, such as the wrong siding on a building. However, there can be more expensive mistakes, such as those involving the structural integrity of a building. The complexity of that situation entails dolling out liability among workers.
Lack of Maintenance: Once construction is finished, if the owners do not properly maintain the property, defects such as frozen pipes or other issues may arise. It is imperative to review proper maintenance with the owners of what they constructed to ensure its longevity.
Subsurface Deficiencies: Subsurface deficiencies occur when houses are built on hills or areas of expansive soil where it is difficult to ensure a stable foundation. The soil must be properly compacted, and adequate drainage must be ensured to avoid future problems, including settling of the structure or even landslides.
Any type of major construction deficiency may significantly reduce the value of your home. Whereas some defects are obvious, others may not become apparent until years later. Defects that are obvious are sometimes called “patent,” and those that are hidden may be labeled “latent.” Some defects present obvious signs, including the following:
- Leaking doors, windows, skylights, and roofs
- Uneven floors
- Slanting walls
- Cracks in the foundation
- Cracks in driveways and sidewalks
- Leaking rain gutters
- Poor drainage
- Dry rot
Other defects may be less apparent, such as an abnormal deterioration of stucco or siding, subtle cracks in ceramic floors and countertops, roof leaks that slowly increase over time, and drainage problems in hardscaping.
Major defects and damages include but are not limited to the following:
- Improperly compacted soil
- Soil subsidence
- Slope creep
- Sinking, cracking, and failing foundations
- Pinhole copper pipe leaks
Subsidence is a major problem in certain areas of California, including San Bernardino. It occurs when large amounts of groundwater accumulate over time and the rock underneath collapses on itself. California, Texas, and Florida have experienced millions of dollars of damage as a result of subsidence.
Soil Problems and Water Intrusion
Soil problems and water intrusion are two main defects that cause long-term damage to your home, affecting its stability and structural integrity. Soil problems can cause the foundation of your home to shift, sink, and crack. This can wreck the framing and compromise the connections between the framing members and the foundation. Signs of soil and foundation issues include the following:
- Cracking in the drywall and stucco, especially around windows and doors
- Windows and doors that stick and are difficult to open and close
- Cracked or popping tiles
- Sloping floors
- Excessive cracking or shifting of exterior flatwork
Water intrusion into the building envelope can occur through multiple sources. Common leaks are through decks, balconies, roofs, windows, and doors. Deck or balcony to wall transitions at and around doors are prime locations. Signs of water intrusion include the following:
- Staining of drywall around lower corners of windows
- Separating door frames
- Crown molding and baseboards separating and pulling away from walls
- Windows and doors that stick or are difficult to operate
- Staining or cupping of wood floors near doors and windows
Water intrusion may be due to damaged building materials, poor workmanship, or defective design.
Pinhole Copper Pipe Leaks
Pinhole leaks are tiny, destructive openings in copper pipes. Although many plumbers now use PEX piping, millions of homes still have copper pipes. Pinhole leaks can cause the entire plumbing system to fail. They happen when corrosion inside a pipe gets severe enough to reach the pipe’s exterior. It can occur if the velocity of the water going through the pipe is very high, or when pipe fittings are too close together.
Misplacement of pipefittings may be considered a construction defect due to poor workmanship. Dripping noises or higher water bills are indications of pinhole leaks. Mildew or water stains on walls, as well as areas of mold, are another clue.
When pipes burst in a home, especially on an upper floor, the water damage can be expensive and may run into the millions.
How Common are Construction Defects?
Construction defects are more common when there is a building boom, along with a shortage of qualified labor or supplies. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there was a widespread shortage of drywall. More than 500 million pounds of substandard, contaminated drywall were subsequently imported from China. This caused serious health conditions, such as asthma and breathing difficulties for people living in newly constructed homes throughout the southeastern U.S. In August 2019, manufacturers of the drywall agreed to settle a lawsuit that claimed their product was defective.
In California, the rapid population growth and subsequent building boom in the 1980s and 1990s wreaked havoc on the construction industry, according to the Casualty Actuarial Society. Many contractors could not find enough skilled laborers; they allowed unqualified workers to complete projects without proper supervision. Even today, approximately 80 percent of construction companies report that it is difficult to find enough skilled workers.
Determining the Cause of Defects and the Extent of Damage
Unfortunately, some developers and contractors still cut corners when building homes. Laws exist to protect innocent homeowners from unscrupulous businesses; however, it is often difficult to determine the cause of defects in court, as well as to provide evidence of the full extent of the damage.
Filing a Successful Construction Defect Claim
According to California Senate Bill 800 (SB 800), homeowners have the right to bring legal action against builders for construction defects. Also known as the Right to Repair Act, SB 800 outlines a specific process to follow. For example, a homeowner must provide the builder with a written notice of the defects. Homeowners must also maintain their properties; failure to do so may jeopardize their right to seek compensation for defects. The bill also defines different types of construction defects, as well as various types of liability. The bill is complex and subject to updates.
In order to win a claim, a plaintiff must file before the statute of limitations expires. In California, there are different statutes of limitations, depending on the type of defect, ranging from several years for obvious defects to 10 years for hidden problems. Success also depends on the effectiveness and credibility of the testimony of construction experts. These experts can investigate the defect, determine the cause, and provide testimony regarding the process and cost of fixing the defects.
What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered?
Plaintiffs who sue builders for construction defects can often obtain compensation for the cost of repairs. They may be able to recover money for any decline in the home’s value, as well as “loss of use” of the home during the time it was being repaired. If the construction defect caused a catastrophic injury, the plaintiff may also be able to obtain compensation for medical bills and lost wages.
Homeowners may be able to recover damages for repairs made while the lawsuit is pending because the homeowner is responsible for protecting the property from further damage. Homeowners are also allowed to sell their homes while a lawsuit is pending, but they must disclose to a potential buyer that the property is involved in litigation.
The builder’s insurance company will likely be responsible for paying the damages. However, subcontractors or suppliers of defective building materials may also be deemed liable. If the construction defect was determined to be caused by a flawed design, architects and engineers may be held liable. Electricians, plumbers, roofers, and other building professionals may also be deemed negligent if their workmanship failed to conform to applicable building codes or standards outlined in SB 800.
Construction Defect Cases are Often Complicated
Many parties may be involved in the construction of a home. All these parties may have their own separate insurance policies. Each insurance company will use its own set of lawyers in defending their clients against a claim. In addition, there may be umbrella policies providing coverage, further complicating the situation. In a construction litigation case, each policy must be carefully analyzed to determine the amount of compensation legally due to the homeowner. The complexity of construction defect litigation calls for experienced, skilled legal representation by attorneys who are intimately familiar with insurance law.
Los Angeles Property Damage Lawyers at Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP Protect the Rights of Victims of Construction Defects
If you or someone you know is living in a home with construction defects, the Los Angeles construction defect lawyers at Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP offer aggressive legal counsel regarding property damage claims and are not afraid to take on complicated cases. To arrange for a free initial consultation, contact us online or call 833-ACTS-LAW today. From our offices in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Los Angeles County and Orange County, including Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Calabasas, Encino, Foresthill, Hidden Hills, Long Beach, Malibu, Newport Beach, Pasadena, San Marino, and Santa Monica.