Am I Entitled to a Contractor Warranty?
UPDATED: August 16, 2013
It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.
We strive to help you make confident law decisions. Finding trusted and reliable legal advice should be easy. This doesn't influence our content. Our opinions are our own.
The contractor may be hired to do a variety of different jobs on a home, from a complete remodel to a cosmetic update. When a contractor is hired, the property owner is dependent on the contractor's knowledge, skill, and expertise in complying with all local building codes and in providing a quality finished product. As such, the owner is concerned about whether a contractor warranty is available against defects of workmanship or service. A homeowner's right to such a warranty is determined both by state law and by whether the contractor has included a warranty in the construction or remodeling contract.
State Laws and Contractor Warranties
Many states require that the licensed contractor provides a warranty against defects in workmanship. For example, in California, there is a "one year expressed limited warranty" provided under California Civil Code 900. This is a one year implied warranty for both new construction and remodeling projects. The property owner who wishes to take advantage of this warranty must file a complaint within one year.
The owner must notify the contractor in writing of any defects under California Civil Code section 917, and may then file a legal complaint if the contractor fails to act to make repairs within a reasonable time. The complaint may be filed in either civil or small claims court, but the owner is responsible for his own legal fees and costs. Alternatively, the owner may make a complaint with the Contractor's State License Board, who can help to investigate and resolve the complaint. The time limit for filing a compliant with the Contractor's State License board is the same as the legal warranty deadline.
California law also states that the licensed contractor must provide a warranty guaranteeing that items installed under the contractor's license is free from defective installation. The installation must comply with both local building codes and manufacturer installation requirements. If a product is damaged due to defective installation, the contractor may be held liable for the cost of repairs and damages. This warranty extends for four years after the completion of a job.
Finally, under California law, both the contractor and engineer who signs off on a project must provide a ten year warranty against structural defects, including latent defects such as unstable building sites, foundation integrity, and roofing work.
Laws in other states differ, but many provide similar protections to the California consumer through implied warranties and other warranty requirements. To determine what the specific contractor warranty requirements are in your state, it is always best to consult a qualified construction law attorney in your jurisdiction. In addition, federal laws including the Magnus-Moss Warranty Act provide some protection for the property owner, such as protection against defective building materials and goods. Magnus-Moss, however, is limited to "tangible personal property" and does not encompass real property like your home.
Written Warranties From Your Contractor
While state laws and implied warranties may provide some measure of protection, you should always negotiate a written warranty with your contractor for work performed. This warranty can be part of your construction contract and negotiated along with the other terms of your agreement. The warranty will then be enforced under contract and warranty laws in the state where you live.
It is also important to note that most written and implied warranties do not hold the contractor responsible for defects in materials and products that provide their own warranty. For example, if a refrigerator you purchase has a one year warranty and there is a defect in the unit, as opposed to installation, the refrigerator manufacturer is responsible for the cost of repair and/or replacement and not the contractor.