Opinion

Washington homeowners deserve a ‘warranty’

Washington lags behind other states in protecting citizens who purchase new homes. Unlike other states, contractors in Washington are not required to participate in training or demonstrate their knowledge and skills. In fact, cosmetologists in our state must demonstrate more competency than the person you hire to build your dream home. We need stronger laws to protect homeowners from defective construction, and as chair of the Senate Consumer Protection & Housing Committee, I introduced a bill this session to help protect the largest investment most of us ever make — the purchase of a new home.

The Homeowners Bill of Rights, Senate Bill 5550, would have created a minimum warranty for every new home built in Washington, and guaranteed that:

  • For two years, the home is free from defects in materials and workmanship;

  • For three years, the home is free from electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilating system defects;

  • For five years, the home is free from water penetration defects; and

  • For 10 years, the home is free from structural defects.

    An overwhelming number of Mercer Islanders contacted me in support of this bill, which passed the full Senate and a House of Representatives committee. Unfortunately, the bill was held up by members of the House of Representatives, under pressure from building industry lobbyists.

    People across the state share your concerns about defective home construction, and many homeowners told their horror stories this session to the Senate Consumer Protection & Housing Committee. One contractor failed to seal a home’s crawlspaces, causing the new house to become infested with bats, rodents and insects. The homeowner paid out-of-pocket to clean up the contractor’s mess, and, adding insult to injury, the home was even built in the wrong location.

    Sadly, this homeowner isn’t alone — a 2006 study by Criterium Engineers, a leading home inspection company, found serious defects in 14 percent of new homes in the Northwest.

    These stories are not surprising, because current law does not adequately hold homebuilders accountable for the quality of their work, and homeowners have little recourse if their new home is marred by construction defects. While many Washington homebuilders are skilled professionals, the bad apples are creating these nightmare scenarios and getting away with it.

    Most homebuyers expect the home warranty they purchased from their contractor to protect them. Sadly, these warranties do not adequately cover construction defects, and are usually riddled with exemptions to protect the builder. Furthermore, many builders require homebuyers to waive their legal rights when purchasing a home and warranty, and participate in binding arbitration with a builder-chosen arbitrator to settle a claim. The cost of arbitration falls to homeowners, who must pay to enforce the rights guaranteed by their warranty.

    No one should be able to require you to sign your rights away, and next session, I’ll continue fighting to enact a home warranty to protect the biggest investment most Washingtonians will ever make. Thank you for supporting a minimum warranty for new homes, and please continue to contact your elected officials to urge their support of this important bill during the next legislative session, in January 2008.

    Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, is chair of the Senate Consumer Protection & Housing Committee and the prime sponsor of the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights.

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