A residential builder must assert insufficiency of claimant’s notice within 14 days under the California Right to Repair Act also known as SB 800.

Issue By: Sonia T. Ahmad

William Blanchette, et al. v. The Superior Court of Imperial County

California Court Of Appeals, Fourth Appellate District (February 10, 2017)

The Right to Repair Act, Civil Code § 895 et seq. (the “Act”), requires that, before initiating litigation, persons claiming defects in residential construction must give the builder notice of the alleged defects and an opportunity to inspect and repair. The Act requires the notice set forth the defects “in reasonable detail” sufficient to determine their nature and location. A builder has 14 days to acknowledge the claim and 14 additional days, if the builder so wishes, to inspect the premises. Within 30 days after completing an inspection, a builder may make an offer to repair the defects. The Act requires that its time limits and other requirements be strictly construed. This case considered the timeliness of a builder’s response which claimed the notice was insufficient for lack of specificity.

William Blanchette (“Blanchette”) owned one of 28 homes constructed by GHA Enterprises, et al. (“GHA”). On February 2, 2016, Blanchette served GHA with notice of a claim, alleging defects in all 28 homes. Blanchette’s notice used, almost verbatim, the Act’s language setting forth building standards, the violation of which give rise to actionable claims against homebuilders.

GHA responded on February 23, 2016 with a letter asserting the defects set forth in the claim were not alleged with reasonable detail, as required by § 910, subdivision (a); nonetheless GHA offered to inspect the homes.

Blanchette’s reply of February 26, 2016 asserted that GHA’s response was untimely and excused him and the other homeowners from any obligations under the Act. Blanchette then filed a construction defect class action complaint against GHA.

GHA responded with a motion to stay the action until Blanchette satisfied the Act’s pre-litigation requirements. Blanchette opposed, claiming GHA had not timely responded to the notice.
The trial court agreed with GHA that Blanchette’s notice lacked detail sufficient to trigger GHA’s obligations under the Act. The trial court stayed the action pending completion of the notice and inspection procedures and ordered Blanchette to serve a new notice to “identify each individual claimant by address,” “provide a defect list for each subject property, which sets forth the alleged defects,” “set forth the location, nature and severity of each alleged defect,” and identify “the code sections the claimants contend each alleged defect violates.” Blanchette petitioned for a writ of mandate.

The Appellate Court noted, “The statute provides that notice shall provide the claimant’s name, address, and preferred method of contact, and shall state that the claimant alleges a violation pursuant to this part against the builder, and shall describe the claim in reasonable detail sufficient to determine the nature and location, to the extent known of the claimed violation.” The Court also noted that “the builder must acknowledge in writing its receipt of the notice of the claim within 14 days after the claim is received. The homeowner is released from the requirements of § 910 if the builder does not acknowledge receipt of the notice of claim, elects not to go through the process, or fails to request an inspection in a timely manner; the builder must complete its initial inspection and testing within 14 days after it acknowledges its receipt of the notice of claim.”

The Court of Appeal concluded that the notice was served but on its face was insufficient. It simply repeated the language of section 896 but did not provide the required “reasonable detail sufficient to determine the nature and location.” The Court stated that “while at the early stage of giving notice of potential defects, the statutory process does not require a homeowner provide anything approaching an expert opinion as to the nature and extent of the defects, without some information about the nature and location of the circumstances which the claimants believe support their claims, builders cannot be expected to meaningfully engage in the inspection and resolution process required by the statute.”

But while the notice was insufficient, the Court emphasized that it was clear that GHA did not acknowledge receipt of the notice within the 14 day period prescribed by § 913. Reversing the trial court, it held GHA’s failure to timely acknowledge the notice and resolve the issue of specificity relieved Blanchette of any further obligations under the Act.

The Court stated that if a builder believes the notice is not sufficient to determine the nature and location of the claimed violation, the builder may (within the 14 day period) bring the lack of specificity to the claimant’s attention, but the requirement for specificity is not a ground upon which the builder may ignore the notice or the 14-day time period within which it must respond. Accordingly, the Court concluded that because GHA did not timely acknowledge receipt of Blanchette’s claim and set forth its objections to it, Blanchette was released from the requirements of the Act.

COMMENT

This case clarified that a residential builder who receives proper notice of a potential defect must respond within the 14-day period as prescribed by statute. If the builder believes there is insufficient specificity, it should respond to that effect. Thereafter the parties may determine and resolve any potential issues.

For a copy of the complete decision, see: Blanchette v. Sup. Ct

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