While the vast majority of owners' complaints involving construction work on their home or building can be classified as "cosmetic" in nature, other seemingly minor issues should be considered defective work which can be problematic. Not only can they be costly to repair, but they can lead to more serious issues such as window or pipe installations that could cause damaging water intrusion; electrical problems can cause excessive energy consumption and possible fire hazards; and in rare cases innocent looking cracking could be a sign of structural failure or foundational problems.
Consequently, it's important to know what to do to find a solution when these types of red flags are identified. Depending on what the terms of the contract provides for, a few possible ways to reach a resolution include:
- Talking it out - In some cases, resolving a defect could be as straightforward as itemizing potential issues and discussing them with your contractor. In fact, in California the owner must give the contractor the opportunity to resolve the issue as a prerequisite to taking legal action.
- Alternative dispute resolution - If giving the contractor notice and the opportunity to resolve fails, then the best thing to do next is find a reputable construction defect attorney, whose expertise in construction defect claims in California may be able to persuade a favorable resolution. If informal resolution efforts do not satisfactorily resolve the problem, then the attorney can work with a neutral third-party (such as a retired judge, and attorney specializing in construction law, or a construction expert) to mediate the dispute to help the parties reach an enforceable agreement.
- Going to court - If the other measures are unsuccessful, then it may be necessary to discharge your rights through filing a claim for either arbitration or in court. Both avenues of relief have their advantages and disadvantages, but some contracts require the parties to file for arbitration instead of going to court.
In a future post, we'll discuss the many California laws regulating the content of construction and home improvement contracts, including the items required to be contained in the contract and provisions that provide the most protection to you, whether you're an owner of commercial or residential property, or a general contractor, subcontractor (specialty trades such as electricians, plumbers, framers, tilers, glass installers, etc.), or supplier.