The housing shortage in Florida has produced several changes in the laws concerning construction defects. In the past, homeowners had 10 years to file a claim for a construction defect; the ten years began to run on the day when the defect was discovered.
Changes to existing law
In the last legislative session, the legislature made several significant changes to the deadlines for commencing a lawsuit to recover damages caused by construction defects. The most significant change is the shortening of the statute of limitations for commencing such an action from 10 years to 7 years. The limitation period begins to run when the property owner discovers the defect.
Definition of material defect
The statute also defines the basis for a claim alleging a construction defect. The defect on which the lawsuit is based must be a “material defect” in construction. “Material defect” is defined as a violation of the Florida Building Code that applies to a completed building or facility and the violation of which is capable of causing physical to individuals or significant damage to the building’s performance or systems. A builder who fails to remedy a construction defect within a reasonable time faces a fine from $500 to $5,000.
The legislative sponsors of these changes claim that they will lower the cost of new homes by lowering the insurance rates charged to both contractors and owners. The senate sponsor of the legislation claims that it will streamline the legal process by shortening the time limits for commencing construction defect lawsuits.
Confusion about definitions
Some media reports of the new laws appear to confuse the terms “statute of limitation” and “statue of repose.” A statute of limitation is the time period in which a lawsuit must be commenced after the injury occurs or the defect is discovered. A statute of repose sets a deadline after which no claims of any kind can be made against the contractor, regardless of when a defect may have been discovered or an injury is inflicted by the defective condition.
A person who misses the applicable deadline may inadvertently give up any right to seek damages for negligent construction.