What Contractors Need to Know Under the California Right to Repair Act
The California Right to Repair Act, commonly known as SB800 is a bill that became effective as of January 1, 2003 establishing a mandatory procedure that must be used by homeowners who have construction defect claims against the builder, subcontractor, product manufacturer or design professional of a new construction (for the purpose of this article, let’s refer to all parties on the side of the construction as “Builder”). It does not apply to condominium conversions. The bill is codified in the California Civil Code starting at section 895.
The bill specifically defines what is considered a defect in all aspects of a residential building. It requires the homeowner to comply with the procedure before filing a legal action for any of the defects included in the bill. Specifically, the homeowner must submit a written claim to the Builder first before being able to file a lawsuit. Then the Builder has 14 days to acknowledge the claim and if an inspection is requested, make such a request. After that, there are a series of actions and reactions each of which have set deadlines. For example, the Builder’s offer to repair or mediate must be made within 30 days of the last inspection and the homeowner’s acceptance of the offer to repair must be made within 30 days of the offer. If the Builder makes an offer to repair, the Claimant may demand that another builder complete the repairs. Then the Builder will have 35 days to provide 3 alternative contractors for homeowner’s selection.
Although the above list of events and deadlines is not complete, you can see how the deadlines can be overwhelming. If at any time a contractor fails to meet the deadlines or to take appropriate action, then the homeowner is released from the process of having to offer the chance for the Builder to make repairs and may proceed to file a legal action. As such, Builders should familiarize themselves with the deadlines associated with SB800.
Most important is the first step of acknowledging the claim within 14 days and requesting an inspection, which was the subject of a recent court decision. On February 7, 2017, the California Court of Appeals, Fourth District in the case of Blanchette v. Superior Court No. D070545 (https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case…) , ruled that the 14 day deadline for the Builder to respond to a claim letter starts running even if the claim letter does not describe the claim defects “in reasonable detail sufficient to determine the nature and location, to the extent known, of the claimed violation” despite the fact that such detail is required by SB800. The Court ruled that if the claim letter provides the name and address of the claimant, along with a statement alleging violation of building standards, the 14-day deadline for the Builder’s response is triggered. The court reasoned that that the Builder should respond within 14 days and ask for specificity, not simply ignore the claim letter. Basically, there is now no excuse not to respond within 14 days.
It is worth mentioning that the homeowner is required to serve the claim letter by certified mail, overnight delivery or personal delivery to make sure the Builder has actual notice. The courts, however, have not yet decided what, if any, consequences there will be if the homeowner does not serve in the manner required.
The lesson to learn here is that Builders should not ignore claim letters from homeowners of new construction making claims of defect, because then the homeowner is relieved from allowing the Builder to repair and can pursue litigation for damages. Obviously, the cost of repair, even if performed by another builder, will be far less than the cost of litigation which may also result in the payment of damages for the cost of repair. So pay attention to the letters and seek legal advice if you need information regarding the applicable deadlines.
Marina Manoukian is Head of Family Law at ADLI Law Group. She has been practicing in the field of construction law for 22 years. Please call her at (213) 623-6551 with any questions regarding construction law.
© 2017 Marina Manoukian