Under New Hampshire law, homeowners are generally required to provide notice of any claimed construction defects prior to filing a lawsuit against their residential contractor. The purpose of this law is to “encourage the out-of-court resolution of disputes between homeowners and contractors relative to residential construction defects.” N.H. RSA § 359-G. Assuming the contractor has preserved this right to notice (by including required language in its contract), homeowners must provide at least 60 days’ notice of any claimed defects prior to filing a lawsuit.
The process is designed to facilitate communication between the parties before they initiate costly litigation. Upon receiving notice of a defect, contractors have 30 days to respond to the homeowner’s complaint by either: (1) offering to settle the claim by making a monetary payment, repairing the defect, or some combination of the two; (2) asking to inspect the claimed defect at the property; or (3) wholly rejecting the claim.
If an inspection is offered, the homeowner then has 15 days to arrange for an inspection. Once the inspection is complete, the contractor, within 15 days from the date of inspection, must either: (1) offer to fully or partially repair the claimed defect; (2) provide a written offer to settle the claim by monetary payment; (3) provide a written offer including a combination of repairs and payment; or (4) provide a written statement stating that no further action will be taken on the part of the contractor.
If the parties are unable to agree upon a resolution (either by repair, payment, or some combination of the two), the homeowner is then allowed to proceed with a lawsuit. The law does, however, encourage homeowners to accept reasonable offers. If the homeowner rejects a monetary settlement offer and then recovers a lesser amount in a subsequent lawsuit, the contractor will be entitled to recover its costs as a “prevailing party” in the lawsuit.
While New Hampshire’s statute does not require the parties settle their dispute, it does provide homeowners and residential contractors with an opportunity to explore sensible solutions before running into court, which is always a good idea.
Homeowners and contractors involved in a residential construction dispute should be sure to consult with an attorney. New Hampshire’s “Notice and Opportunity to Repair” statue includes additional deadlines and requirements which are not discussed here. Both sides will also need to have a clear understanding of their rights as they engage in this process.
Perkins Thompson regularly advises contractors and homeowners in construction disputes. For more information, please call Joe Talbot at 207-774-2635, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.