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I found a construction defect on my property -- what can I do?

Whether you're the owner of a single-family home or a multi-story building, there are few things more unsettling than finding a major flaw in your property's construction. Perhaps you've just discovered a leak in a relatively new roof, or dry rot in the floorboards. If you're a homeowners association president, you may have fielded calls from angry tenants. Especially if a defect is a safety hazard or is causing further damage to the property, you need to act quickly.

But what recourse do you have? Whom should you contact first, and what's the legal time frame to do that?

A key factor will be the age of the property. Problems you notice as soon as you take ownership are referred to as patent defects. These are often easier to resolve, especially if no one has moved in yet. You may still be in close contact with your contractor or developer, who may be willing to remedy the problem without litigation.

A latent defect is one that surfaces further down the road. You or a tenant may have occupied the unit for several years by the time a serious problem becomes apparent, making it less clear who's responsible -- particularly if the flaw has begun causing other problems.

How much time do you have to claim a defect? In Florida, you have four years from the date you take possession of the property, are issued a certificate of occupancy, or discover a patent defect, whichever comes last. Latent defects have a longer statute of limitations: up to 10 years.

Regardless of when the problem surfaced, the general contractor or developer is typically responsible for handling it and covering any associated costs. These might include temporary housing expenses, legal fees and fixes to any subsequent damage. If the claim turns into a dispute, you'll want to contact an attorney who focuses on construction law. Because this area of law is so complicated, hiring an experienced lawyer is key to mitigating further damage and emotional stress. 

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