In a new decision, the Court of Appeal has strictly construed the deadlines imposed by SB 800 for builders to respond to a notice of claim. In doing so, the Court found that a notice of claim that contained only vague, boilerplate language describing a homeowner’s allegations will nevertheless trigger the 14-day period in which the recipient must respond under the Right to Repair Act (Civ. Code §895 et seq.) Failure to do so waives the pre-litigation procedures under the Act.
In the case, William Blanchette v. Superior Court, GHA Enterprises received the homeowners’ notice of claim regarding construction defects in 28 homes. The notice, which must describe the claimants’ allegations “in reasonable detail” according to the Code, basically mirrored the building standards listed in Civil Code section 896 without providing specific detail of the claims.
GHA responded to the notice 23 days after receipt, which the homeowners argued constituted a waiver of the Act’s inspect-and-repair processes. The Code states that a builder must acknowledge a notice of claim within 14 days of receipt and may thereafter conduct an inspection and offer to repair the alleged defects. GHA countered that the homeowners did not meet the statutory notice requirements, and thus moved to stay the case to compel compliance with SB 800’s pre-litigation procedures. The trial court agreed with GHA and stayed the case.
The Court of Appeal, reviewing the trial court’s decision, agreed with the homeowners and vacated the trial court’s order. The Court reasoned that the homeowners had no obligation to fulfill the act’s inspect-and-repair requirements because GHA had not timely responded to the notice.
The Court acknowledged that the apparent boilerplate language of the notice was, on its face, insufficient to provide the sort of notice required under the Act. Nevertheless, the recipient of even a legally insufficient notice of claim still requires a response within 14 days if the builder wishes to preserve its right to inspect and repair the alleged defects. The lack of specificity may, of course, be raised within the 14-day response period triggered by the claim, but it does not toll the relevant time period.
This case emphasizes the need for builders to act promptly in responding to a notice of claim. Counsel should be contacted immediately to assist in responding to a notice of claim, even if the notice of claim is vague or non-specific. For more information about the case or other requirements under SB 800, contact Danica Brustkern in LGC’s San Diego office.