The JCL Law Firm recently won a landmark decision at the California Court of Appeal on behalf of California homeowners in Blanchette v. Superior Court (GHA Enterprises), 8 Cal.App.5th 521 (2017). The Court of Appeal held that a Superior Court judge erred in staying a construction defect action under the Right to Repair Act in a case where the builder failed to respond to the homeowner’s notice of claim within the statutory time limit.
The Right to Repair Act, found at Civil Code Sections 895 to 945.5 grants homebuilders the absolute right to repair their substandard new construction before a homeowner is permitted to file a construction defect lawsuit. The Right to Repair Act obligates a builder to acknowledge receipt of homeowner’s written notice of claim of a construction deficiency within 14 days. The builder then has 14 days after that to inspect the premises and is allowed 30 days after that to make the offer to repair. The act requires strict construction of its time limits.
In Blanchette, the builder waited more than three weeks to respond to the homeowner’s claim. The builder insisted that the notice lacked the necessary detail, but nevertheless offered to inspect the home. Blanchette, the homeowner, replied that the builder’s response was untimely under the Right to Repair and filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court for construction defects against the builder. The builder responded with a motion to stay pending Blanchette’s compliance with the act’s prelitigation notice requirements.
Superior Court Judge L. Brooks Anderholt agreed with the builder, stayed the action and ordered Blanchette to list all of the alleged defects and describe their “location, nature, and severity,” and to identify the statutory basis for each alleged defect.
But Justice Patricia Benke, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with Blanchette that the builder’s failure to acknowledge receipt of the claim within 14 days excused Blanchette from all of his prelitigation duties under the act. To rule otherwise, she said, would contravene the statute’s strict construction requirements and its essential purpose.
“Contrary to GHA’s argument, the act’s goal of promptly resolving claims without resort to litigation cannot be achieved by permitting homebuilders to serve tardy responses to claims or to ignore them entirely,” the justice wrote.
Blanchette’s notice of claim, Benke elaborated, was sufficient to trigger the 14-day limit because it contained what the statute required—his name and address and a statement alleging violation of building standards. If GHA believed the notice was inadequate, the justice added, it was obligated to bring the lack of specificity to the plaintiff’s attention within the 14 days, rather than ignore the notice and the time limit.
“[A] developer who unilaterally concludes the level of specificity in a notice is insufficient, and therefore concludes it need not respond within the 14-day period prescribed by statute, acts at its peril if later, it wishes to employ the inspection and settlement process otherwise mandated by the statute,” the jurist wrote.
This landmark decision is another example of the JCL Law Firm’s efforts to protect and advance the rights of California consumers and homeowners. If you believe your home or property suffers from construction defects, call the experienced San Diego construction defect lawyers at the JCL Law Firm for a free consultation at 888-498-6999.