What is a Construction Defect and How Can it Be Avoided?

By Alissa Thompson
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Most homeowners, contractors, and association management companies don’t like to hear the term construction defect—and why should they? A construction defect is a deficiency in the design or construction of a building or structure. It can result from failure to construct or design in accordance with an expectation. In turn, it can cause loss of use of the property, extra expenses, and even physical injury or property damage.

It is important to understand that construction defects can occur in brand new buildings, renovations, or small projects such as installing new locks throughout an apartment complex. The biggest challenge in dealing with a construction defect is time. If a problem is ignored or goes unnoticed and the warranty period has passed, managers are dependent on a state’s statute of repose, which varies. Depending on your timeline, you may be able to file a construction defect lawsuit. In this case, contact your association’s attorney for guidance.

The most common construction defects to be aware of are:

■ Design Defects: This type of defect happens when a designer makes an error or omits something from the design of the home or building. If the defect is caught during construction, it can be addressed through the change order process. If it is found after the building receives its occupancy certificate it is often dealt with through the warranty process or a construction defect lawsuit.

■ Material Defects: This type of defect is more serious as it pertains to the actual building material. Generally, the manufacturer is the party that takes the blame, but this can lead to expensive repairs and the need to source new materials.

■ Workmanship Defects: The most common type of construction defect. It can be large, structural problems or smaller problems, such as design. This happens when the contractor gets off track and fails to complete the project according to the approved plans, code requirements, or standards of care.

Avoiding Defeats

When approaching a new construction project or managing issues in new construction, it is critical to assemble the right team. We recommend hiring a consultant or construction manager to assist you. Managers are not trained in construction, and it is rare to find one that is keeping up with the current building codes and standards in the city and state of the operations.

Make sure to do your research on the organizations or individuals that you choose to partner with or hire. If they don’t have the proper credentials, experience, or skills, your project can end up like many other homes, buildings, and structures that suffer from construction defects every day. Additionally, you should establish continuous quality control and collaboration from the start of your project. It is important to know what level of inspections are required for your project. This includes but is not limited too: building departments, federal and state occupational health and safety agencies, fire department, and manufacturers of products.

To ensure that everything goes according to plan, it’s important to document the entire construction process, no matter how trivial something might seem. This way, you can have a solid record of the materials used, as well as the practices during the process.

Collaboration, open communication, accountability and tracking of everything and everyone involved will help you ensure that your project is a success. By starting your job with the expertise needed to successfully execute, you are one step closer to avoiding a construction defect problem.

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Alissa Thompson

Alissa Thompson is the vice president of operations for Cornerstone Managing Partners with offices in San Diego and Los Angeles, Calif.