Putting a Modular Home on Your Property
Once you contract with a modular builder or seller for a prefab home, you must purchase or already own property that is zoned for residential use in order to have it installed. It is then brought to the site in modules, or sections, a foundation is laid, and the pieces placed together on the foundation by the use of a crane. A general contractor will then oversee the assembly.
The joining of the modules and connecting electrical, gas, and water utility services can then be accomplished in as little as a week for a 2,500-square-foot residence. Speed of construction may sometimes result in lower costs, depending on many factors, including grading of the land, utility connections, fees, permits, weather delays, custom features, and any problems found during the process.
Possible Defects or Safety Issues
Modular homes must be built to comply with California’s various Uniform Building Codes (UBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC). Inspections for defects are made before shipment of the modules, again upon arrival by the contractor installing the structure, and one last time when the home is being assembled.
Though built to state standards and inspected at least three times, a modular home can still be subject to defects that might not be discovered until it’s occupied. Common defects that may also lead to safety concerns include:
- Cracks or unevenness in the slab or foundation
- Leaky roofs or windows
- Moisture problems due to improper drainage or waterproofing
- Bowing or slanting of walls or floors
- Doors and windows that don’t open and close properly
- Cabinets or countertops that separate from the wall or ceiling
- Any condition that is “unsuitable for its intended use”
Some modular manufacturers offer warranties, while others don’t. Under California Civil Code 896 (the Right to Repair Act), the modular residence is subject to an overall one-year implied warranty, which covers both “fit and finish” of cabinets, flooring, countertops, and the like and also “manufactured products,” i.e., “a product that is completely manufactured offsite.” Appliances and other manufactured products not built by the modular manufacturer are covered by separate warranties.
Section 896 also covers other aspects of the construction for up to 10 years beyond the one-year general warranty. For instance, plumbing and electrical components are covered up to four years, “foundation systems” for 10 years.
Under the Right to Repair Act, you must first notify the contractor or manufacturer of the defect and allow them to make repairs. If they fail to do so or do an inadequate job, then further legal action may be pursued.
Explore Your Options with Skilled Attorneys
If you’re the owner of a modular home and a defect develops after you move in, you have the first year to report any defects to the manufacturer, or to the general contractor if the issue is one of negligent or shoddy assembly. If they don’t repair the defect to like-new standards — i.e., they use a “band-aid” approach — then you can take the matter to court if need be.
What if a defect develops or is discovered after the first year? What then?
It may still be covered under Section 896, but implied warranties are subject to legal interpretation, and a judge or jury must be convinced that the defect is the fault of the manufacturer or contractor, and not something that you yourself caused through negligence, misuse, or abuse.
In short, applicable laws can be complicated. You should rely on experienced construction defect attorneys to assess your situation and advise you on the optimal strategy going forward. Matters may be settled out of court through negotiation, or a claim can be brought that ends up being litigated.