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Construction Defects – Really?
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Minnesota Community Living March/April 2010

Construction Defects – Really?

By Joni Stulac of Servpro of Brooklyn Park/Champlin; Scott May and Jeff Nonhof of Engle Martin and Associates

We all look forward to Spring being just around the corner, being able to get out and enjoy the sunshine and warm weather and longer days. As we can hardly wait to have some fun, we also remember that this is the time for the cleanup and repair of our property from the previous winter.

With construction can come some unforeseen defects. What are some of these defects? How do they occur and what can we do to help prevent them? What are the damages that can result from construction defects?

Some examples of possible construction defects would be fire suppression systems, leaky windows, roof collapse, and cracking of the foundation or walls due to the earth moving and settling. Basically, you could encounter problems with every component of a building as well as the equipment inside of the building.

Construction defects can occur during the construction process of a new building, an addition to an existing building, or in maintaining the building. What are some of the reasons that this happens?

  • Were the building and repairs designed correctly, taking in all of the elements of the entire building as well as the climate that it was constructed in?
  • Was the building constructed and/or repairs completed correctly? Was there some reason why the general contractor or a subcontractor had to deviate from the original design?
  • Were the correct building materials used as specified for that type of construction? Was the correct material or product specified by the architect? Did the building materials themselves have any inherent defects?
  • Were the manufacturer requirements and recommendations met for maintaining the equipment or property to prevent breakdowns in the system?
  • Were the repairs and/or construction made in conjunction with current building codes?

As you can see, there are many things that can contribute to the breakdown of the building.

What can you do as a property management company or a developer of new construction?

  • Make sure that when you hire the company(s) to design, construct, repair and install what is needed in your building that you check them out. Do they have all the credentials required to do the job correctly? Licenses, permits, and insurances certificates? Request from your General Contractor or sub-contractors a certificate of insurance. This certificate should come directly from the contactor’s insurance agent, as they are easily copied and dispersed. Also request copies of the inspection records, showing that all major building items have been approved and signed off on. Hiring a construction management company and or consultant for expertise in the area needed can also be considered.
  • Make sure that you maintain your property in the spring and fall according to the recommendations. Repairing roofs, caulking windows, repairing cracks, cleaning out gutters, clearing out those air ducts, inspecting insulation, furnaces and exchange systems, just to name a few.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Make sure that the owners/tenants of each unit know the requirements and expectations of how and what needs to be done.
    1. Do you have a requirement in your bi-laws governing what is to be done when a tenant vacates the property for a long vacation or go south for the winter? A good idea would be to take exerts from the bi-laws and send them out to each tenant or owner in a newsletter each fall.
    2. Are the required and/or systems in place to have someone from the management company to have access to the unit, so that during one of our long, nasty and very cold spells you can check to make sure there are no problems? One of the biggest issues that we face every winter is frozen pipes bursting from either the heat being turned off or turned down too low. Based on the physical characteristics of the building and the climate, the heat in the building typically cannot fall below 55 – 60 degrees. Have you ever seen the outside of a building in the winter where it looks like a frozen waterfall coming from the eaves? More than likely the heat was set to low to maintain the warmth needed to stop this from happening.

If your building does encounter such a tragedy, call in the professionals to take care of the issue immediately, stop the cause of the problem, and develop a plan to prevent further damage to your building from occurring. Have a professional give you an assessment of damage and DO NOT throw anything away until this has been done. If the cause of loss was found to have occurred from a manufacture or construction defect, such as a frozen pipe or faulty sprinkler head an investigation may be conducted by an insurance adjuster or other professional to protect possible subrogation opportunities.

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