In 2002, the Washington State Legislature passed a law requiring that a property owner give notice to a contractor before the owner can file a lawsuit against the contractor for construction defects. This notice is required for defects caused in the construction of a residence (a single-family house, duplex, triplex, quadraplex, or a unit in a multiunit residential structure) or in the substantial remodel of a residence.
Specifically, according to chapter 64.50 RCW, before a construction defect lawsuit can be brought against a contractor, the owner must provide notice of the claim to the contractor at least 45 days before filing the lawsuit. The contractor is to respond within 21 days with (a) a proposal to inspect the residence and then offer a substantive response; (b) an offer to settle the claim by a payment of money; or (c) a dispute of the claim. If the contractor disputes the claim or does not respond, the owner can file the lawsuit. If the contractor offers to inspect or settle the claim, the owner does not have to accept the offer but can reject it and then file the lawsuit.
However, if the owner accepts the contractor’s offer to inspect, the contractor has 14 days after the inspection to make a proposal to remedy the defect, settle the dispute, or to do nothing. After the inspection, the owner can file the lawsuit if the contractor offers to do nothing or does not respond after the inspection. If the contractor offers to remedy the defect or settle the claim, the owner can reject that offer and file the lawsuit. But if the owner wants to accept the contractor’s offer to remedy or settle, the owner must do so within 20 days of receiving the offer.
Compliance with these requirements is important, especially for an owner, because if a construction defect lawsuit is filed by an owner before these notice requirements are complied with, the lawsuit will be dismissed and may not be brought again until the owner has complied with the requirements.
The purpose of these notice requirements is to get owners and contractors to discuss construction defects in the hope that disputes can be resolved before a lawsuit is filed. That may not work in every case. But if the owner and contractor are both committed to resolving the dispute, listen to each other, communicate well, and undertake the process in good faith, the notice requirements can help resolve disputes before they reach the point of formal litigation in court. Avoiding litigation reduces costs and time for all parties involved.
If you are an owner who has a dispute with a contractor who has built or substantially remodeled a residence, carefully review the requirements in chapter 64.50 RCW on your own or with an attorney to make sure you comply with the notice requirements before filing a lawsuit. And be willing to work with your contractor to resolve the dispute. If you are a contractor who receives a notice of construction defect, take the notice seriously and promptly respond to the notice in an attempt to resolve the dispute to avoid a costly and time-consuming lawsuit.
Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.
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