Homebuyers facing defects should know their rights


January 07, 2001

Dear Mr. Azrael:

I read your column about new home defects, and I've followed your advice, but I'm at an impasse.

The background: I moved into a new townhouse in June 1999. I was not given a walk-through by the builder. As problems were discovered, I began a list. I gave this list, and periodically spoke, to the general contractor (who lives near my home) about the problems.

The contractor sent a handyman (one time) to fix some of the smaller problems, but not the major one, a leaky basement. This is my first house, and I don't know my rights, the regulations or procedures. I have a new home warranty. I've sent a certified letter to the builder asking when he is going to fix the problems. It has been over two weeks with no reply. What do I do now?

David B. Metcalf Baltimore

Dear Mr. Metcalf:

Since the builder has failed to correct new home defects, you may sue for breach of one or more of the implied warranties, applicable under Maryland law. A Maryland statute requires generally that a new home is free from faulty materials, constructed according to sound engineering standards, constructed in a workmanlike manner and fit for habitation.

You should file a suit no later than two years after the defect was discovered or two years after you took possession of your new home, whichever occurs first. The implied warranties cannot be enforced if a suit is not filed in a timely way.

A new home warranty provides limited rights for limited times. For instance, a new home warranty typically covers defects in materials and workmanship for a year from settlement. Defects in electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems are covered for two years. Certain structural defects are covered for five years.

It is important to give a timely notice to the warranty company as well as to the builder. The notice should be in writing and describe the defects. Notice should be given by certified mail, return receipt requested. Residential Warranty Corp., a major provider of new home warranties in Maryland, requires in its current warranty booklet that "a written request for warranty performance must be postmarked no later than [30] days after the expiration of the applicable warranty period."

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