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Construction Defect Time Limit for Bringing Claims at Risk of Being Shortened

A very troubling bill moved one step closer to reality on February 17, 2015, when HB 501 passed a subcommittee vote by a margin of 7-6. HB 501 proposes, among other things, to shorten the time period to bring claims for latent construction defects from the current time limit of 10 years to a mere 7 years. This should be very alarming for homeowners throughout Florida as it demonstrates efforts to further nullify the ability of homeowners to seek compensation for wrongs done to them that simply do not manifest themselves for greater than seven years.

The very nature of home building makes this time limit unreasonable. It can take years for water to fully infiltrate cracks, rust the lath, and then cause stucco to begin the delamination process. When this is coupled with the lack of expertise of most homeowners to recognize a serious problem, the time frame of 7 years is woefully insufficient.

In 2006, the Florida Legislature did the very same thing when it reduced the time limit from 15 years to 10 years. We at BWR are receiving numerous calls from those who have homes dating back to 2003 who are just now starting to see major water leakage problems. Unfortunately, there is little that we can do for them. Now, the Legislature is considering moving even further away from the interest of homeowners and taking Florida into the minority of states with respect to its statute of repose (for those non-lawyers, a statute of repose is the ultimate last date that a person can bring a claim for a latent construction defect).

There are now approximately 32 states with statutes of repose of 10 years or longer. In fact, two states including New York do not even have statutes of repose. For a state that constantly claims to be on the side of the consumer and the homeowner, this is a very troubling development for Floridians. While certain representatives argued during the hearing that the bill would ultimately support small businesses (“mom and pop” builders primarily), and therefore the “little guy,” this is intellectually dishonest. This bill unabashedly hurts the homeowner, who clearly is the real “little guy.”

According to Tom Miller, an engineer from Structural Engineering and Inspections, Inc., 75% of stucco defects manifest between years 7 and 10 after a home has been built.  At the hearing, Mr. Miller testified, “I estimate there is over a billion dollars in damages as a result of  improper stucco installation that has yet to be found.” Thus, the claim that the bill is actually for anyone other than big business is ludicrous.

One fairly ridiculous argument propounded by those in favor of the bill is that modern technology makes it easier than in the past to discover a latent defect. This flies in the face of reason when one understands that a latent defect is just that – latent.  Latent literally means that something is hidden. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines latent as “present and capable of emerging or developing but not now visible, obvious, active, or symptomatic.” How would a homeowner know to look for a latent defect and where exactly would this homeowner look with this “modern technology?” Also, is the homeowner supposed to bear the expense of peeling back layers of the home in order to attempt to find something that may or may not be defective… especially when there is no known problem at the time? It is almost as if the bill’s sponsor (Rep. Jay Fant (R)  from Jacksonville) literally wants homeowners to seek out defects in their homes.

We encourage everyone to contact their representatives to put a halt to this bill as it moves towards becoming a law. While the bill still has several hurdles to clear before it becomes law (the next being the Judiciary Committee), this hearing was a significant step towards decreasing homeowners’ rights in Florida.  If you would like to view the video of the hearing, please click here. The relevant portions occur between approximately the 7:18 mark and the 50:56 mark. Please contact your state representative and let him or her know your strong opposition to this bill. The Florida House of Representatives directory can be found here. If you would like to read the full language of HB 501, you can click here.

By the way, those who voted in favor of the bill were as follows:

Colleen Burton (R), Vice Chair Walter Bryan “Mike” Hill (R), Larry Metz (R), Chair Kathleen Passidomo (R), Cary Pigman (R), Charlie Stone (R),John Wood (R).

Those in opposition to the bill were the following:

Lori Berman (D), Dwight Dudley (D), Kionne McGhee (D), George R. Moraitis, Jr. (R), Cynthia Stafford (D), Jennifer Sullivan (R)

We will keep you posted on the development of this very important issue to homeowners throughout Florida.