After a builder is finished constructing a new home, the builder must have the home inspected by a local government authority. They will then issue a certificate of occupancy if the home meets the minimum requirements of habitability. 

The primary purpose of a certificate of occupancy is to verify that the home was built in accordance with the local housing code. A certificate of occupancy may also be used to prove that a home is suitable for living in, but only in the sense that it satisfies the bare minimum. 

Thus, it is not surprising that even after a house has been inspected and approved for a certificate of occupancy, it does not guarantee that the house was perfectly built or that everything inside it is in working order or complete. When this type of situation arises, the buyer may be able to hold the builder liable for certain defects found in their new home. 

For instance, if you purchase a new home in the summer and discover that come winter the house is not properly insulated against rain or snow, then you may be able to get the issue fixed. This can be done by either filing a lawsuit against the builder to recover damages or by enforcing any warranties that the builder guaranteed. 

To learn more about issues concerning builder liability for new home defects or to find out whether you may be able to recover damages from a builder for a particular new home defect, you should contact a local real estate lawyer for further advice on the matter.

What If My Builder Gave Me Warranties?

As indicated in the example above, a number of construction defects may not surface until a certain period of time has passed or the outside temperature has changed. In such cases, a buyer would need to consult the handbook of warranties that they received from the builder in order to determine whether they are covered for a specific new home defect and how to go about enforcing the relevant builder warranty. 

The majority of new home builders will issue a limited warranty to a homebuyer that can be found either in the sale agreement or a separate document like a warranty handbook. Also, while many warranties may not be required by law, a buyer should still check their state laws to confirm that this general rule of thumb applies in their jurisdiction.  

Depending on the incident in question, a builder warranty period may range anywhere from one full year to possibly twenty years. Thus, if a warranty only covers a one-year period for a certain home defect and that time has passed, then the buyer may need to pay for the damages. A buyer may also need to pay for the home defect if their warranty document specifies that a particular object is the buyer’s responsibility. 

In general, builder warranties will usually cover home objects, such as windows, roofing, various mechanical issues, and/or some home appliances. However, a builder warranty will not cover every item that is associated with a new home. Some common examples of home defects that builder warranties will not typically cover include the following: 

  • Standard home wear and tear issues; 
  • Damages caused by the buyer, other inhabitants, or house guests;
  • Normal decay of construction materials that are foreseeable or correspond with construction industry standards; 
  • Damages caused by acts of God (e.g., floods, storms, earthquakes, etc.) or outside parties like vandals, animals, or rioters;
  • Defects caused by other contractors who were hired to repair or improve the property;
  • Certain home or consumer appliances (e.g., dishwashers); and/or
  • Expenses that resulted from having to temporarily live elsewhere while the home was being repaired. 

How Do I Enforce My Warranty?

It is important to note that just because a builder guaranteed a new buyer certain home defect warranties, it does not mean that the builder will honor their promises. Before a new homebuyer initiates any legal actions, they must notify the builder about the defects in question and give the buyer a reasonable amount of time to remedy the issue. 

A new homebuyer should also review the terms of the builder’s warranty. Again, such warranty provisions may be found in the terms of the buyer’s sale agreement, a separate document like a warranty handbook, or within state or local construction statutes. These provisions will dictate what defects a buyer may have agreed to cover, the period to file a claim, and other various procedural requirements that the buyer may need to follow.

Although most warranty provisions will require a new homebuyer to notify the builder in writing, a homebuyer should always submit a claim in writing no matter what a warranty provision states. In the event that a dispute arises about lack of notification, the written letter can be used as proof that the buyer was put on notice and there will be documented evidence of the home defect in question. 

However, if a homebuyer is not able to locate the builder, then it may be in their best interest to contact a local real estate lawyer as soon as possible. Not only will a lawyer have more tools to use to help them locate the builder, but a lawyer will also know what to do to ensure that the period to claim a warranty does not run out before the builder makes the necessary repairs. At the very least, a lawyer will know how to preserve an unexpired warranty.

What If My Builder Sold Me the Property “As Is”?

“As is” is a phrase that is primarily used when discussing various warranty law issues. Basically, when an item is sold “as is”, the phrase will release the seller from liability. However, even if a homebuyer purchased their new home from a builder “as is”, most properties are generally sold with certain built-in or implied warranties.

For example, the majority of homes are sold with an implied warranty that guarantees the property is suitable for living in and is equipped with specific requirements, such as water lines, connections to a power supply, and sewage systems. 

Additionally, obtaining a certificate of occupancy can be used to help to prove that these conditions existed before the buyer officially purchased the property in question. Thus, there are some situations wherein the builder may not be able to assert “as is” as a legally enforceable defense against a homebuyer’s warranty claim.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Disputes concerning warranty law issues and lawsuits involving builder liability for new home defects can be complicated matters. The results of such cases are often dependent on specific state and local building laws as well as general contract law principles. 

Thus, if you need help with an issue regarding warranty laws or are involved in a dispute over a claim for builder liability associated with new home defects, then it may be in your best interest to hire a local real estate lawyer for further assistance. An experienced real estate lawyer will be able to determine whether or not you have a viable claim for damages and can discuss the types of remedies you could potentially recover if you file a lawsuit.

If you decide to take legal action against a builder, your lawyer can also help you file a lawsuit and provide representation in court. Alternatively, if you need assistance with enforcing a warranty provision and complying with the proper procedural requirements, your lawyer will be able to assist you with this process as well.