The annual move is under way to pave an express lane to the courthouse doors.
Legislation has been introduced in Olympia, under such appealing names as the homeowner’s bill of rights, to make it easier for dissatisfied home buyers to sue contractors. For a decade, state lawmakers have considered and ultimately rejected similar proposals. There is no reason this year’s version – or versions – deserve a more favorable fate.
What? Should unscrupulous or incompetent home builders be free to victimize consumers and turn the American dream into a tormented nightmare?
No, they shouldn’t. And they aren’t.
A new remedy isn’t necessary because various avenues already exist for resolving disputes over construction defects.
A former state senator championed the homeowner’s bill of rights because, he insisted, builders were immune from lawsuits; however, he had successfully sued his own builder. This week the state attorney general’s office announced a consent decree under which a Spokane contracting business must pay nearly $50,000 in restitution for alleged conduct much like the kind of complaints witnesses described on Wednesday to the House Judiciary Committee.
Justice is not out of aggrieved home buyers’ reach.
That’s not to say the system doesn’t break down sometimes. Many consumers do have legitimate tales of woe.
But the benefits of any legislative proposal need to be weighed against its drawbacks, which in this case are significant. Conspicuous among them is a broadly and ambiguously worded explanation of the circumstances under which the law would kick in. Buyers who are “adversely affected” by construction flaws would have standing to sue under House Bill 1045, one of the measures under consideration. Such flaws must be, in the language of the bill, “more than technical and … significant to a reasonable person.”
Whatever that means.
The unpredictability created by such language widens the opportunity for litigation and sounds an alarm to insurance underwriters, thus driving up the costs for builders – including those who construct low-income housing – and buyers alike.
In this harshly recessionary economy, that risk can’t be justified when other means of recovery exist for buyers with valid complaints.
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