In a very recent decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Blanchette v. Superior Court affirmed the plain language of the Home Builder’s Right to Repair Act, holding that even a facially insufficient notice of defect triggers the obligation of a builder to respond within 14 days.  The statute, Civil Code section 895 et. seq., was “expressly designed,” as the court pointed out, “to permit the parties to resolve claims without resort to litigation.”  Therefore, the court stated that allowing the builder to ignore the deadline and not raise objections within that early timeframe would not further the purpose of the statute.

The court also stated that by the very terms of the statute itself, courts are obligated to strictly construe its terms.  In this case, the court strictly construed the builder’s obligation to “acknowledge” notice – even a deficient notice – within the 14-day window after the builder’s receipt of the claim (which is typically no more than 19 calendar days under California law).  In Blanchette, the builder did not acknowledge the claim until 24 days later, well beyond 14 days from receipt.  When the builder failed to respond, the claimant filed a class action. The builder sought a stay of the lawsuit until the homeowner complied with the requirement to describe the defect in “reasonable detail.” While the trial court granted the builder’s request for a stay, following a writ to the Fourth District, the stay was ultimately lifted to allow the class action to proceed due to the builder’s failure to timely respond.

Takeaway for builders:  As I have reiterated before to my clients and in presentations, such as recently at the Forward Planning Seminar of the North State BIA, prepare at the beginning of a project to be sued so that (1) you know how to respond when you do receive such a notice or lawsuit, or (2) even if you never face a claim, you can rest easy that you won’t be caught off guard.