Proposed Bill in Florida Tackles Builder Liability Timeframe

If defects are found with construction more than seven years from its completion, should a Florida builder still be liable for damages? House Rep. Jay Fant doesn’t think so.

The Republican lawmaker from Jacksonville has introduced a bill that reduces builder liability exposure from 10 years to seven years after a job is finished. This would include any defect in the design, planning or construction of an improvement to a property—including issues, or perceived issues, with fenestration.

The state changed the liability limit from 15 to 10 years in 2006, but Fant says that’s not good enough given the obscure date on which the timing starts.

“Especially when public entities are involved, this can push the timetable out further and further,” Fant said during a publicly televised debate. “Contractors are facing litigation for not just a 10-year period from the end of the construction period, but really, 10, 11 or 12, depending on what the nature of the entities involved are.”

According to the current bill, the timeline starts after the latest of these dates:

  • The date of actual possession by the owner;
  • The date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy;
  • The date of abandonment of construction if not completed; or
  • The date of completion or termination between the professional engineer, registered architect or licensed contractor and his or her employer.

Fant explained that defects that show up after seven years are largely due to a lack of maintenance. Call & Gentry Law Group’s Chip Gentry, who has a lot of experience in construction defect lawsuits, particularly as it relates to the building’s fenestration, agrees.

“At some point in time, in my opinion, maintenance and building repairs absolutely should fall upon the owner,” he tells USGNN.com™. “Personal responsibility to care for a building should not hang over a builder (or subcontractor or supplier) for a decade or more. I have seen far too many cases where window and door manufacturers are sued where the owner failed to perform any maintenance or repairs whatsoever. We are all expected to take care of our own health. Our own homes. Our own belongings.

“Builders are charged with the duty on the front end to build a good building, complying with codes and other regulations. It is inherently unfair to allow owners to rest on their laurels for a decade or more, only then to cry ‘foul’ when they seek to refurbish their property. Particularly when normal routine maintenance and repairs would have disclosed a defect that could have been remedied before damage occurred.”

Fred Dudley, a representative of the Association of Construction Consumers, spoke in opposition to the bill. “This is not about blatant construction defects,” he said. “This is about hidden defects,” or ones that appear due to water damage or other occurrences.

“When we all supported this in 2006, it was because most states were at 10 years,” he said, explaining that contractors would build their buildings to only last seven if the new bill passes.

Richard Watson of the Association of Builders and Contractors followed Fred Dudley with comments in support of the bill.

“Twenty states have seven or less years in the statute of oppose,” he said. “We think this bill brings us more in line with the other states. What contractors need is certainty.”

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