Leaking roof? A common occurrence in Florida where we endure heavy rains during the year, compounded by a season of five months for potential hurricanes. A product of our weather is roof leaks.
What happens when a newly installed roof leaks? If the new roof leaks how long can you wait, including negotiations, before filing a lawsuit against the contractor?
In a recent decision, a Florida appellate court ruled that a Church that hired a contractor to install a new roof could not hold the contractor liable for allegedly constructing a deficient roof because the Church waited too long to file its complaint in violation of the four year statute of limitations. The facts in Covenant Baptist Church, Inc. v. Vasallo Construction, Inc., 44 Fla. L. Weekly D 1340 (Fla. 3rd DCA, May 22, 2019) indicate that the Church had knowledge of the roof leaks by 2006. Nonetheless, the Church did not file a complaint against the contractor until 2011. The trial court entered judgment for the contractor.
The Florida appellate court agreed with the trial court judgment for the contractor based on the application of Florida’s statute of limitations. Florida, just as most states, has statute of limitations which bars claims after a defined period of time. The time limit for filing a claim is to avoid stale claims from clogging the courts, and to allow a potential defendant to move forward without an ever-present cloud or fear of old claims. The concept of a statute of limitations harkens back to the ancient laws found in Leviticus.
Thus, the Florida appellate court held that the statute of limitations for a claim against a roof contractor based on a leaking roof begins to run when the roof owner has knowledge of the “first” roof leak. In this case, because the roof owner had knowledge of the first roof leak in 2006, the Church waited too long in filing its lawsuit.
This decision emphasizes the importance of knowing your deadline to file a lawsuit well before the deadline. If a newly installed roof leaks, the first step will likely be to try and fix the problem, and speaking with the contractor. But remember, as with a roof leak, the statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit begins to run when the first leak is detected, and evidence of the leak normally must be retained.
Of course, the best prescription is to create reasonable expectations before a project begins, starting well before a work contract is even signed. An initial step is creating a complete set of specifications, normally drafted by an engineer. Complete specifications are necessary to help ensure that bidding is not only fair, but also efficient, allowing an association to evaluate bids that are based on the same terms, literally “comparing oranges to oranges”! This process also helps minimize change orders that raise contract costs and undermine budgeting and the bidding process.
If you have any construction problems that have not been resolved satisfactorily, or if you are considering a work contract, then you may want to contact your association’s counsel.