Homeowners in Washington state deserve a bill of rights
March 6, 2009 · Updated 2:52 PM
By ANDREW VILLENEUVE, Northwest Progressive Institute
Every year, thousands of Washingtonians take ownership of new single family homes.
For most families, it's a joyous occasion — the realization of a lifelong dream. But for too many families, that dream turns into a nightmare when they discover their builder didn't put the home together properly.
When a builder takes shortcuts, the inevitable result is a leaky roof, or a cracked foundation, or unconnected joints that make the dwelling unsafe, or any number of other problems.
Astonishingly, Washingtonians currently have no recourse if something goes wrong with their home. When a family signs the papers that allow them to take possession of a home, what they are signing is a sales agreement - not a construction contract. The sales agreement is almost always a “take it or leave it offer." The terms can't be changed; only rejected.
Often hidden in the fine print is language stating that the home comes without a real warranty. There's no assurance of any kind that defects will be corrected by the builder if they materialize. And sadly, Washington courts have ruled that our existing laws don't allow us to recover damages for negligent construction. That means no justice for victimized homeowners and no penalties for unscrupulous builders.
State law currently affords a family greater protection against a defective car or toaster than it does for a new home. It sounds outrageous. And to those families whose savings have been wiped out, to those parents who have lost the ability to pay for their kids to go to college, and to those children whose safety has been at risk because they were living in unsafe homes, it is outrageous.
Eastside legislators are working on a proposal that would address this situation. Senate Bill 5895, prime sponsored by Sen. Rodney Tom of the 48th District, would require that newly built or renovated homes come with a warranty to protect new home buyers and subsequent owners from construction defects and builder negligence. The Legislature passed a law several years ago to provide a warranty for condominium owners that has worked well. Now, if SB 5895 becomes law, owners of single family homes will get similar protection.
SB 5895 would also make cities and counties liable if municipal inspectors fail to check whether a builder is in compliance with building codes. And it would require contractors to provide more information about themselves and their business as well as file a surety bond when they register with the Department of Labor and Industries.
For years, the Legislature has contemplated passing a Homeowner's Bill of Rights, but has always failed to act. Now lawmakers have an opportunity to protect homeowners and boost the economy in one stroke. Families can feel less nervous buying a new home knowing that state law will protect them in the event of a catastrophe. That will help builders sell more homes, strengthen the industry's reputation, and ultimately lead to greater profits. Everybody wins.
Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a Redmond-based grass-roots organization. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.