SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) - A recent case in the 4th District Court of Appeals in California has possibly set the precedent for the legal relationship between homeowners and builders.
The case involves William Blanchette, who, along with 28 homeowners, filed a class action lawsuit against GHA Enterprises Inc. Blanchette owns a home constructed by GHA and sent a notice of claims of alleged defects concerning his home through a letter via the Right to Repair Act “no later than” Feb. 2, 2016, according to the lawsuit.
It hasn’t been revealed what the letter actually said, but it did not meet the minimum standards in which a homeowner has to contact a builder about an alleged defect. Under the law, GHA had to respond with 14 days. GHA responded 21 days after getting the letter. Its late response excused the homeowners from prelitigation procedures.
But GHA filed an appeal stating Blanchette’s letter didn’t give “reasonable detail sufficient to determine the nature and location, to the extent known of the claimed violation,” according to the court.
Essentially, GHA said it’s as if Blanchette didn’t even file the claim.
Still, under the Right to Repair Act, because GHA did not respond in 14 days, “the homeowner is released from the requirements of this chapter and may proceed with the filing of an action.”
“I think the court had a pretty easy time looking at the statute,” Garret Murai, a partner at Wendel Rosen Black & Dean LLP and who wrote an article on the case, told Legal Newsline. “In this case, it focuses on the issue of what happens if a homeowner sends a notice to a builder, but it’s not clear what the problems are. In such situations, is the builder required to respond? The court said, yes, you need to respond within 14 days of receiving the notice. Even if the builder finds the notice inadequate, they still have an obligation to respond. If they don’t, the homeowner can file a lawsuit.”
While there is nothing surprising about the ruling, Murai said it does set a precedent for similar future cases.
“I do think there’s some language in the case that may create some ambiguity. That can make it somewhat difficult, depending on the scenario, for cases coming about after this conclusion," he said. "For example, I thought the plaintiff’s information portion is a little ambiguous. The homeowner can send an email that says, ‘Hey, I have a problem with how you constructed my house.’ This doesn’t give the builder any notice at all. But an attorney can say, ‘That’s the proper notice under Blanchett.'”
Things might not be as cut and dry for other homeowners who want to take legal action under the Right to Repair Act, he pointed out.
Murai warned, “Many steps have to be taken in the process. If you don’t understand the process as a homeowner or a builder, things can get very confusing.”
He noted the law has helped to reduce the number of residential construction defects.