Few recent home buyers suspect that their newly-purchased house could harbor dangerous construction defects. Issues in design or workmanship, however, are not uncommon. In fact, construction defects are one of the leading causes of litigation in the construction industry.

Defects In Home Design & Construction

Builders and architects make mistakes. Some contractors cut corners, hoping to keep their expenses low. As in all industries, home building is driven by profit, a motivation that doesn’t always benefit customers. Throughout the Northeast, construction defect lawsuits are actually increasing, driven by an epidemic of low-quality stucco construction and water damage. New reports suggest that homes with other types of siding may be at a similar risk.

New Home Under Construction

Own a home built within the last two decades in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or New York? It might be time to look through your house for signs of damage. Chances are good that some of your neighbors have already found problems in their homes. It may only be a matter of time before a construction defect threatens the value and safety of your own residence.

What Is A Construction Defect?

As a matter of law, every state has its own particular definition of a construction defect, which controls what sort of problems are worthy of filing a civil lawsuit. While these statutes can differ, most states follow a model that includes mistakes made both by architects and contractors.

Note, however, that many construction defect cases come down, in the final analysis, to contracts. It’s likely that almost every construction project entails dozens of contracts, between property owners and builders, architects and engineers, contractors and subcontractors and so on. Most of these contracts will include clauses designed to assign blame, determining who should be held liable for specific sorts of defects. In practice, everyone’s trying to pass the buck. Owners shift responsibility to a general contractor and general contractors shift responsibility to their subcontractors.

Defects In Design

Contractors are strictly bound by the terms of their own contracts, which usually require them to build along the lines set forth in the plans prepared by an architect, engineer or designer. When those plans or specifications are inaccurate or incomplete, leading to a design defect, most states assign liability to the designer, rather than the contractor. After all, it’s not really the contractor’s fault. The architect or engineer messed up.

Defects In Workmanship

When contractors fail to build according to the plans or specifications provided by a designer, we call the resulting problem a defect in workmanship. Improper installation is most common. In Pennsylvania, we’ve seen a particular problem with the installation of flashings, water-resistant barriers applied to joints around walls, chimneys and windows.

A third category of defect, defined by most state construction laws, relates to the specific materials chosen to construct a home.

Real Consequences

Not every construction defect will lead to a viable lawsuit. In order to file suit, most homeowners will be required to show, not only that a defect is present, but that the problem led to some actual damages. In short, the problem has to actually become a problem, causing damage to person or property. This may not be very hard in your own case. Most people only notice a construction defect once it’s started to cause more wide-ranging issues.

Water damage, for example, isn’t easy to identify early. Chances are that if you can see signs of water damage, the moisture has already come to affect underlying structures in the home, creating the risk of structural damage. Even the most minimal construction defects will require some expense to fix the problem. This is a legally-recognized form of damage.