Builder plays games with warranty

Q: I purchased a new home less than one year ago and expected to be covered by the builder's warranty. But the builder refuses to repair any of the defects I've reported to him. For example, black mastic has seeped through the tile joints in my bathroom counter. He says I should have noticed these conditions during my final walk-through inspection, prior to purchase. Since I did not see this condition then, he says it's not covered by the warranty. What should I do?

A: Your builder appears to have a large number of soiled neurons - a condition commonly known as "dirty nerve." Since when is a warranty limited to the defects you notice at the time of purchase? What does your builder think a walk-through inspection is, a reality game show?

He needs to wake up to the laws and ethics that apply to his profession. He is responsible for construction defects that occurred on his watch, as prescribed by law. That includes all defects that took place during construction or that manifested during the warranty period, not just the ones you were lucky enough to see during game time.

This situation illustrates my repeated emphasis on the importance of hiring a qualified home inspector when buying a new home. Even when builders are honest and forthright, the only way to take advantage of the warranty is to discover the defects. A professional inspector is more likely than the average homebuyer to discover errors in construction.

My advice is to find the most thorough and experienced home inspector in your area. A qualified inspector will find additional defects: problems of which you are not yet aware. If the builder does not agree to repair all of these, you can file a complaint with the state agency that licenses contractors, or you can file an action in small claims court.

However, before taking any legal actions, be sure to get some advice from an attorney who specializes in construction defect law.

Q: We've been very concerned about sloped floors and cracked walls in our condominium and have asked the homeowners association to have them evaluated. They called the HOA handyman who does most of the repairs in our complex. He said the building looks structurally sound, but we're not reassured and would like someone with more expertise to review the condition of our property. How should we address this situation?

A: Asking a handyman to render an opinion regarding the structural integrity of a building is equivalent to asking a nurse's aide to diagnose a malignant carcinoma. In either case, the opinion is unreliable, and its rendering is illegal. Structural evaluations, the same as medical diagnoses, can be lawfully and reliably provided only by duly credentialed and adequately schooled individuals.

Accordingly, your homeowners association should have a licensed structural engineer evaluate the floors, walls and any related irregularities in your home to determine whether the problems are cosmetic or structural.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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