With SB 270 (and its companion, HB 21) progressing through the legislative pipeline, Florida lawmakers are on the cusp of reforming the way construction defect claims are treated in the state. If these bills pass, expect some “material” changes in the way these cases are handled by this summer. The chief purpose of SB 270 is to revise and expand the mandatory procedures that govern how construction defect disputes are resolved. Some of the proposed changes are as follows.
Defects Must be “Material”
SB 270 will limit lawsuits for building code violations to those alleging a “material” violation of the code. With this provision, a claimant must experience a “material” violation in order to have a cause of action against a violator. The bill defines material violation as a violation that exists within a completed building, structure, or facility which may reasonably result, or has resulted, in physical harm to someone or significant damage to the performance of a building or its systems.
Preliminary Requirement to Exhaust Warranty Claims
The statute requiring a property owner to first serve notice and provide an opportunity to repair before filing suit would be amended to require the property owner to first exhaust any warranty claims before serving a notice of claim. Under this new provision, a claimant (owner) must first submit a defect claim to the warranty provider for correction. The claimant may proceed with a notice of claim if the warranty provider either denies the claim or does not offer a timely remedy that is satisfactory to the claimant.
Requires Additional Information in the Notice of Claim
SB 270 makes significant changes that relates to the contents of the notice of claim. Notably, under the penalty of perjury, the claimant must:
- Describe in specific detail each alleged construction defect.
- Have personal knowledge of the alleged construction defect.
- Identify the specific location of each defect.
- Include photograph(s) of the defect or evidence of the defect if it is visible, as well as any repair estimates or expert reports relating to the alleged defect, and a description of the damage or loss that results from the alleged defect if that information is known.
Duty to Serve a Notice of Claim on Others
According to changes made in the bill, a person served with a notice of claim would now be required to serve a copy of the notice of claim on others who might be responsible for the defect, such as: subcontractors, suppliers, or design professionals. Currently, the statute only permits service of the notice of claim.
Additional Persons Authorized to Inspect for Defects
This bill provides contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, or design professionals served with a copy of the notice of claim the right to reasonably inspect the alleged defects.
Notice to Mortgagee or Assignee
Prevailing claimants receiving a monetary settlement or judgment will be required to notify a mortgagee or assignee who has a security interest in the claimant’s property of the specific nature of the defect, the outcome of the claim (disclosing the amount of any monetary settlement reached or any judgment awarded), and any repairs made or plans to repair the property.
Conclusion For better or worse, this legislation is poised have a game-changing effect on construction defect litigation; and will undoubtedly impact the practices of attorneys, many professionals in the construction industry, and especially homeowners. We will keep track of these bills throughout the legislative process. Our law firm handles construction defect cases and can provide you with legal services in these matters.