David Adelstein | Florida Construction Legal Updates | October 13, 2018
Florida Statutes Chapter 558 requires a Notice of Construction Defect letter (“558 Notice”) to be served before a construction defect lawsuit is commenced. This is a statutory requirement unless contractually waived for a completed project when latent defects or post-completion construction or design defects are pursued.
A recent Florida case held that this statutory requirement is NOT intended to bar a lawsuit based on Florida’s ten-year statute of repose for construction defects IF the 558 Notice is timely served within the statute of repose period. After the expiration of the statute of repose period, a construction defect lawsuit can no longer be commenced.
In Gindel v. Centex Homes, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D2112d (Fla. 4th DCA 2018), homeowners took possession of townhomes on March 31, 2004. The homeowners discovered construction defects and on February 6, 2014 provided the 558 Notice to the homebuilder. This notice was served before the expiration of the ten-year statute of repose period. The homebuilder notified the homeowners it would not cure the defect and the homeowners initiated a construction defect lawsuit on May 2, 2014, more than ten years from when they took possession of their townhomes, and outside of the statute of repose period.
The issue was the application of Florida’s ten-year statute of repose in Florida Statute 95.11(3)(c).
The homeowners argued that its action commenced upon serving the statutorily required 558 Notice so that its lawsuit was timely filed.
The homebuilder argued that the homeowners commenced their action by filing the lawsuit after the ten-year statute of repose, irrespective of when the 558 Notice was served, meaning the construction defect lawsuit should be barred. The trial court agreed with this argument.
On appeal, however, the appellate court agreed with the homeowners that the presuit notice requirements called for in Florida Statutes Chapter 558 constitute an action for purposes of the statute of repose. In other words, by the homeowners serving the 558 Notice within the ten-year statute of repose period, the homeowners timely commenced their construction defect lawsuit. To hold otherwise would be to view Florida Statute Chapter 558 as a device to potentially bar claims when the required 558 Notice was timely served. This position makes sense considering a claimant cannot file a construction defect lawsuit without complying with Chapter 558. See Fla.Stat. s. 558.003.
When it is coming close to the ten-year statute of repose (or statute of limitations) deadline, the safer approach is to file the lawsuit and move to stay or abate the lawsuit pending compliance with the Florida Statues Chapter 558. This way this issue is fully avoided by the lawsuit already being initiated. This approach is also supported in Chapter 558 by stating the action shall be stayed pending compliance with the requirements of the statute. See Fla.Stat. s. 558.003.