I like lawyers as much as the next guy. But like good catfish bait, they should be used sparingly. If your Builder’s attitude changed just after you handed him that big check at closing, the following suggestions may help. I recommend trying them in roughly the order presented here. I’ll assume that you’ve already notified the Builder of defects and he’s blowing you off.
Write a brief summary of your disagreements
Keep it friendly. It should recap your past correspondence of unresolved issues. You should identify the specific area of disagreement for each item. Is there a dispute of physical fact? For example : “The inspection report states that the soil is higher than the framing. The Builder states that it’s not”. Or, is the dispute about acceptability? Example : ” The inspection report says that the soil should not be higher than the framing. The Builder states that this is allowed”. This clarifies the situation. It also ensures that you and the Builder understand each other’s position.
Send this to your Builder (via Certified mail). Explain to him that this is your understanding of your differences. Invite him to correct any misconceptions and tell him that no reply within 10 days will indicate that he is in agreement with your position. This letter may come in extremely handy later on.
If you get no response within the required time frame, notify the Builder via Certified Mail (all further communications should be via Certified) of your intention to pursue the matter.
Refer to previous communications. Explain that your requests are reasonable (make sure that they are) and that you are now forced to utilize other measures and will not give up the fight. Then don’t. Many times, who is right or wrong has no bearing on the outcome. It is simply a matter of will, and the stronger will wins. Your builder probably understands this and may have lots of practice. The process is not difficult, but it can be frustrating and time consuming. Many builders count on this and figure you will get tired and go away. Be tenacious.
Contact neighbors to discover similar difficulties with problem resolution
You may have more in common than you think. There is power in numbers and you can share tasks to lighten the load. Remember that the quality of construction in your neighborhood will affect your resale value and possibly your safety.
Contact your warranty company if applicable
Your house may be covered by third party warranty company and they may be of some help on certain issues. They also may want you to jump through various procedural and financial hoops. You can decide if it’s worth it. They will usually send one of their inspectors or arbitrators to try and settle the issue. Keep in mind who this person represents and that they will only discuss issues covered under the warranty. Remember, on may items the warranty company is not the final authority. Building Codes, manufacturer’s instructions, and other industry standards supersede your warranty and may in fact be State law. The question is – Where does the ultimate responsibility for the repair lie? With your Builder or the warranty company? In the end, it is the Builder’s responsibility to ensure that the house meets minimum industry standards, whether or not he is reimbursed by a third party company.
Ask for help from your local municipal inspection department
Some are more help than others. They have the ability to apply pressure to the Builder in a number of painful ways…If they choose to. Remember that the vast majority of municipal Inspectors are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances. Mention to them that you are aware of their budget and time limitations and that you are not trying to lay the blame on them. However, their opinion on specific items raised in the private inspection report would be helpful. Typically , they will only address Building Code violations. At the time of their inspection, ask for their opinion in writing. Insist that any contrary opinions are in writing. More often than not, they will lean to the conservative side when they are signing their name to an opinion. Notify your inspector of any items that are contrary to the report.
Complain to your local elected officials
If your local inspection department is no help you should contact your elected representatives. Explain your problem and the poor attitude of the local inspection department. Try a City or County Commissioner, the Mayor, the City or County Attorney, or any other elected official who’s job it is to represent you. The key word here is elected. Smart elected officials are sensitive to the needs of their constituents.
File complaints with local, state, and national home builders associations.
This may or may not be of help. However, a number of similar complaints against the same Builder tends to attract their attention. It is embarrassing to them and usually their stated goal is to have reputable Builders as members. Some may provide arbitration procedures. Make sure the rules are fair. Ask for a copy of their “Code of Ethics”. This may also come in handy later.
Write a letter of complaint to the Builder’s lender.
They may be interested in the future salability of the houses that they are financing.
File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau
They may have pre-agreed problem resolution procedures set up with the Builder. If nothing else, it may prevent someone else from experiencing the same problems.
File a complaint with the GA Dept. of Community Affairs
They are in charge of Building Code enforcement in GA and can also offer interpretations.
File a complaint with the GA dept. of Consumer Affairs
They are charged with protecting GA citizens from fraud.
File a complaint with the neighborhood developer
Most developers are sensitive to the satisfaction of the home owners. They may exert some pressure where needed.
File a complaint with the selling Real Estate Broker
Good Brokers don’t want to be identified with bad Builders
Contact the media
There are several “Consumer Action” type advocates and reporters who may be interested in your plight.
Have your attorney send a letter warning the Builder of dire consequences
Sometimes this is enough to finally get their attention.
Consider a suit in Magistrate’s Court
In GA you can sue in this forum for up to $5000.00. It’s inexpensive, usually less than $50.00. You are not required to have an attorney and the Clerk of the Court can help with the procedures.
Hire an experienced construction defect attorney to litigate
This is the last resort but sometimes it’s the only one that makes sense. Pick your attorney carefully. They should have experience in this type of litigation to be effective. Prior experience also prevents you from paying for their “on the job training”.