By Matthew Power

A recent California Supreme Court decision (Aas vs. Superior Court) may help protect builders from a type of lawsuit that had been gaining steam for some time. According to the court, homeowner associations may not collect damages when construction defects do not bring demonstrable property damage. "The decision in the Aas case states that recovery for construction defect litigation can only be made where there's property damage or personal injury," notes Paul Joelson, of Joelson Vail Associates, an architectural consulting firm. The decision is important, he says, because many homeowners had been using non-official reference books to make their case against builders. For example, they would try to collect for plastering errors based on a book by an expert in the field--not based on anything in the building code. The judge ruled however, that even deviation from these "sound trade practices" does not entitle the plaintiff to damages.

Know the enemy

Most common types of construction defects:

Plumbing, drainage, and other leaks, 21%

Building structure: foundation, walls, siding, floors, masonry, decks, balconies, earthquake, roofing, and termites, 19%

Infrastructure: landscaping, erosion, subsidence, parking structures, roads, asphalt, driveways, lighting, and sewers, 17%

Roof leaks and defects, 12%

Internal systems: electrical, heating, security, elevators, solar panels, and recreation facilities, 10%

Other: paint, stucco, soundproofing, childproofing, and everything else, 21%

Unhappy customers: One-third of all homeowners reported major defects in their original construction, with 10 percent reporting defective roofs, in a report published by the California Department of Real Estate.

Source: Percentages based on "Barton & Silverman Report," from California Department of Real Estate