(Blanchette v. Superior Court, 8 Cal. App. 5th 521 (2017))
On February 10, 2017, the California Court of Appeals vacated a trial court
order granting a builder’s motion to stay a construction defect
action pending a homeowner’s completion of a new pre-litigation
process. The trial court agreed with the defendant builder that the homeowner’s
original notice of claims lacked sufficient details and did not trigger
the homebuilder’s obligation under the Right to Repair Act (“the
Act”). The Court of Appeals disagreed and found that the builder’s
failure to respond to the homeowner’s notice of claim within 14
days released the homeowner of his obligations under the Act, even if
the notice of claims was insufficient on its face. Thus, the homeowner
was entitled to file suit against the builder without pursuing any further
pre-litigation procedures required by the Act.
The Act requires that before initiating litigation, construction defect
claimants must give a builder notice of alleged defects and if a builder
wishes, an opportunity to inspect and repair the defects. The notice is
required to list the defects “in reasonable detail” sufficient
to determine the nature and location of the alleged defects. A builder
has 14 days to acknowledge receipt of such notice even
if the builder believes the notice to be insufficiently specific. It is within the 14 day acknowledgement window that a builder must bring
the lack of specificity to the claimant’s attention so that the
parties may resolve the dispute before the claimant resorts to filing suit.
In this case, Blanchette was an owner of a home built by the defendant
builder. Blanchette served the builder with a notice of claims that provided
a list of alleged defects. The builder responded
later claiming that the defects set forth in the claim were not alleged with
reasonable detail as required by the Act, but the builder offered to inspect
the homes regardless of the insufficient notice.
Blanchette responded by arguing that the builder’s response was untimely
and therefore excused him and the other homeowners in the action from
any obligation under the Act. Blanchette then filed a class action construction
defect complaint against the builder. The builder responded by moving
to halt the action until Blanchette satisfied the pre-litigation requirements
under the Act.
The Court of Appeals held that Blanchette’s compliance with the Act
was relieved by the defendant’s failure to timely acknowledge receipt
of Blanchette’s notice of claim. Because the Act requires that its
time limits and other requirements be
strictly construed, a builder loses its privilege to repair defects in a non-adversarial
manner by failing to respond to the claim in a timely manner.