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Hillside Home Appears to Be Sloping Downward, Owners Sue Contractor, Insurer

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Asotin, IDAs a prospective homeowner, you trust the qualifications of your contractor with the expert construction of your home. This is especially true if the nature of your construction is a bit more complicated than merely plunking a bungalow down on a piece of flat real estate. It is the more unique construction projects, such as building into the side of a hill that warrants home warranty insurance after the fact.

Case in point is a home warranty lawsuit brought by Kent and Teresa Criss, of Clarkston, Idaho. The plaintiffs contracted with Fortney Construction to build their home on a hillside lot the Crisses owned. The plaintiffs decided to litigate after the home experienced several serious problems following construction, or so it is alleged.

It is not known how long the home had been inhabited prior to the lawsuit being filed. However, the complaint identifies several issues with the home, including a basement floor that appears to be sloping downwards together with an attached porch, a crack in the basement, molding that is pulling part and a door that no longer aligns correctly in its frame

According to an account published in the Lewiston Morning Tribune (5/16/14), it appears as if the foundation supporting the home is not sound, and parts of the home are giving way to the effects of gravity. To that end, the homeowners claim in their home warranty lawsuit that the hillside property was not prepared properly for construction, necessitating the addition of a retaining wall to shore up the property.

The retaining wall cost the homeowners $43,871.73, according to the claim. But it didn’t end there. According to the report, a portion of the retaining wall was built over a public right-of-way under the auspices of Asotin County, thereby posing a risk to the public. The plaintiffs were required to purchase additional property from the county to make the retaining wall legal, and install barriers to prevent vehicles from potentially slipping over the retaining wall.

Slip, slidin’ away…

The plaintiffs allege that Fortney Construction misrepresented the facts and committed an “unfair and deceptive act” when general contractor Trent Fortney warranted that he could build a sound home on the hillside lot.

The home warranty lawsuit alleges breach of warranty and violations to the Consumer Protection Act. Damages were not specified. A co-defendant is Western Surety Company.

Newly constructed homes are warranted to be habitable, and against construction defects, for the first few years by the general contractor or builder. The length of time can vary by state. Home warranty insurance, over and above what is in force after a home has been newly built, is often recommended by experts for additional protection.

“Buyers should consider purchasing a warranty at closing if the seller does not offer one,” says Warren Frerichs of Realty Executives, in comments published in Argus (6/18/14). “Every house will undergo a use pattern change when the new owners move in. The new owners may take more showers, do more laundry or simply turn the heat up higher. All of these changes push the systems to new limits, and failure, is inevitable,” Frerichs continues.

“The warranty will eliminate costly repairs and potential system failures in the early years when the new homeowner is most sensitive to unforeseen financial setbacks.”

That said, having an extended warranty is sometimes not a guarantee against headaches, either. Various home warranty lawsuits have alleged bad faith insurance after an extended warranty company waffled on a claim or denied the claim altogether. Many homeowners have had to turn to a home warranty attorney to help with an insurance claim denied.

Just as there is no guarantee that a house will be built properly just because the contractor says he will, there is no guarantee that home warranty companies offering extended coverage will not waffle and try to get out of paying a claim, in spite of language in your policy contract that speaks to that commitment.

The message is, be careful out there. Keep your eyes open, your wits about you, consider getting an extended warranty on your home, and have the number of a good home warranty insurance attorney under the fridge magnet, just in case.

The Criss lawsuit was filed in Asotin County Superior Court earlier this spring.

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