New home construction is rarely problem free. Sometimes the issues are minor: an electrical outlet does not work or a door will not latch properly. But in other cases, the problems are structural and potentially dangerous. Owners of newly constructed homes are protected under warrants required by California law. However, a recently enacted statute places time limits and procedural strictures on filing lawsuits when construction defects are discovered.

The Right to Repair Act, enacted in 2022, is designed to help settle many construction defect cases before they go to court. The law established a mandatory process that homeowners must follow before filing a new home construction defect case regarding individual homes sold on or after January 1, 2003. The homeowner must send written notice of any defects to the builder, who then has a right to inspect the premises to evaluate the claimed defects. The builder may offer either to make the necessary repairs or to pay the homeowner a reasonable amount in cash compensation. If the parties are unable to agree on the defect and on appropriate repairs or payments, the homeowner may then bring the matter to civil court.

A homeowner who seeks to recover damages for defects is limited to claiming violation of one of more construction standards listed in the new law. Though the list is extensive, these violations generally fall into these types of construction defects:

  • Design — The architect/engineering team put together design plans that are either non-functional or are easily compromised by the environment or normal usage.
  • Materials — The home is built with materials that deviate from the design or legal specifications. This can lead to damage or create dangerous situations.
  • Building — Improper construction methods or sloppy work at the jobsite can lead to a wide variety of problems.
  • Foundation/surface preparation — A contractor uses improper methods in preparing the grounds or constructing the foundation. This can result in the structure being unstable or having cracks/leaks in the foundation.

In some respects, the Right to Repair Act makes it easier for homeowners to bring a successful lawsuit against a builder. The act allows the homeowner to sue for conditions that violate the standards set out in the act, whether or not the conditions caused physical damage to the property. The act also eliminates the requirement that the homeowner prove the builder was negligent. 

If the builder fails to comply with its obligations under the Right to Repair Act, then the homeowner can bring an action with traditional negligence claims as well as breach of contract claims.

However, the Right to Repair Act imposes strict time limits on actions required in the pre-litigation process. A property owner who discovers construction defects in a new home should consult a qualified construction litigation attorney without delay.

Penrose, Chun & Gorman has a busy real estate practice serving clients throughout the Santa Cruz, California region. If you bought a new home that you believe has defects, feel free to contact us online or call us at 831-515-3344 for an initial consultation.

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