Timing is critical in assessing a potential construction-defect case. For patent defects--those observable when construction is completed--California law sets a four-year limit from the date of substantial completion of the building or improvement for bringing suit. A lawsuit founded on a latent--or not apparent by reasonable inspection--defect must be filed within 10 years of the date of substantial completion of the construction. Whether a defect is patent or latent, though, owners must file a case within three years from the date of discovery.
If it seems as if time is running out, some property owners and managers suggest filing a lawsuit even in the initial stages of discovering problems. A surface check may provide the basis for beginning a lawsuit, said Kimberlee A. Moore, president of Exclusive Property Services, a Tarzana-based condominium-management company. If further testing reveals serious problems, the lawsuit can proceed. If the problems aren't too serious after all, she said, "you can always terminate the suit."