14
Jan2019

When Flipping is a Flop: Tort Actions Against Home Improvement Contractors in MA

By: Attorney Kevin C. Costa | Associate

From Fixer Upper, to House Hunters and Property Brothers, perhaps it is a result of the abundance of HGTV programming on home improvement projects that have Americans more eager than ever to invest in their own home improvements.   In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that Americans were anticipated to invest over $315 billion in home remodeling for 2017.

For those who have recently completed home renovation projects or plan to do so, recent Massachusetts case law may impact your ability to pursue a lawsuit against a contractor or subcontractor who negligently performed a renovation.

In August of 2018, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the statute of repose, M.G.L. c. 260 § 2B, bars tort actions arising from home improvements to real property from being brought after six (6) years of completion of the improvement.  In the case in front of the Supreme Court, a contractor and subcontractor replaced ceiling light fixtures in the homeowner’s premises.  Neither the contractor nor subcontractor obtained a permit to replace or repair the ceiling light fixtures, as required by federal, state, and local law. Further, neither the contractor nor subcontractor gave proper notice to the town inspector, or provided for an inspection by the inspector, of the electrical wires used to replace the ceiling light fixtures before the wires were concealed.

Fifteen years (15) after the work was completed, the concealed wiring caused a substantial fire in the homeowner’s premises, resulting in damage to the property.  Despite the homeowner not being aware of the concealed faulty wiring work until the fire, the Supreme Court nonetheless held that the action was barred as the suit commenced after the six (6) years permitted under the MA statute of repose and the “gist of the action,” while brought under the MA consumer protection law, M.G.L. c. 93A, was an action in tort.  Had the action been brought under contract law rather than under a tort claim (negligence), the action would not have been barred by the six (6) year statute of repose.

Therefore, it is important when undertaking such home improvement projects to ensure that those performing the work have obtained the proper permits and that proper notice to the town inspector has been given. Additionally, it is important to be aware of your rights under contracts with those performing the renovations as you may be to pursue a breach of contract claim past the six (6) year limit for a tort claim.

If you have any questions or if you need guidance, please call the attorneys at Wynn & Wynn, P.C. at 1.800.852.5211 or request a free consultation.