Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, January 19, 2007

It's time for a Homeowners' Bill of Rights

"A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.”

- Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Each year, hundreds of unsuspecting Washingtonian homeowners discover deficiencies with their new home. These problems include (but are not limited to) faulty design, code violations, cracked foundations, moisture problems that lead to toxic molds, substandard workmanship, and structural issues.

Many have already suffered great losses: their life's savings, their physical and emotional health, and home value depreciation.

Better regulations are needed to ensure the quality of homes and guarantee building contract security. Under current law, building contractors can be licensed in one day without passing qualifying tests, and Washington ’s building code enforcement process does not prevent lax inspections that overlook major building flaws. Once homeowners find defects, there is often no recourse.

Washington is one of the few states that does not recognize a common law cause of action for negligent construction. Therefore, losses can only be recovered if a building contract explicitly guarantees non-defective performance.

Buyers of older homes are doubly disadvantaged – not only do they lack legal recourse for construction defects, but they are not entitled to continue a home’s initial warranty to protect themselves.

Washingtonians have a right to expect to purchase a quality home and builders' compliance with the building code. The Evergreen State needs a homeowner's bill of rights. An overview of what's been proposed in the State Senate this session:
Negligent Construction Cause of Action: Creates a cause of action for residential construction defects and extends the statute of limitations for a right of action against a builder from six years to ten years – a more likely time period in which home defects are discovered. (SB 5046)

New Home Warranties: Creates a minimum standard for new home warranties and extends original buyers' home warranties to subsequent purchasers, regardless of when the buyer sells to the next purchaser. (SB 5049)

Notice to Cure Clarification: Clarifies the statute of limitations in condominium construction defect cases. If a claimant’s case is dismissed without prejudice for failure to give notice and opportunity to cure, the statute of limitations for the construction defect action will toll. (SB 5048)

Contractor Licensing/Surety Bonding Requirement: Requires builders to be licensed, to pass certain competency requirements, to be financially accountable for defects in work performed, and requires that they carry insurance for negligent construction. Rather than a mere $12,000 surety bonding requirement, bond amounts would reflect a more realistic estimate to ensure performance. (SB 5045; will be heard in the Labor, Commerce, Research & Development Committee.)
At a work session earlier this week, Senator Brian Weinstein and Democratic lawmakers heard stories from victimized homeowners while representatives from the ultra right wing BIAW tried to insist that new regulations were unnecessary. A recap and audio clips from the work session are available from the Spokesman-Review.

Hearings on the bills in the package are scheduled for January 18th, 23rd, and 25th. Most of the bills are coming before the Consumer Protection & Housing Committee. To get details on a hearing, follow one or more of the above links.

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