Nevada homeowners crowd hearing on construction defects

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Homeowners crowded a legislative hearing Wednesday on a plan to reduce construction defect litigation by redefining defects and requiring homeowners to take several steps before suing.

More than 100 men and women from two opposing homeowner groups -- most wearing distinctive yellow T-shirts and jeans -- packed a Senate Commerce and Labor Committee meeting on the bill from Nevada's construction industry.

All said legal action should be a last resort.

"We all want the same thing," said Dave Duritsa of North Las Vegas, who heads a group against the bill. "We don't want lawsuits. We want our homes built right the first time."

Sprawling housing developments sprout quickly from the desert that surrounds booming Las Vegas. But defect lawsuits, mostly class action claims by homeowner associations, linger in courts for years.

Builders backing SB241 say many claims shouldn't be in court at all. They say they often don't get the chance to repair leaky roofs or cracked walls before claims are filed.

They're joined by southern Nevada residents wearing yellow "Protect Consumers. Let's Fix It" shirts who testified that aggressive lawyers pushing expensive defect lawsuits have manipulated homeowner associations.

The Nevada Trial Lawyers Association and Duritsa's group -- whose shirts read "Build Our Homes Safe & Sound" -- say the nearly 100 construction defects lawsuits pending in Las Vegas courts stem from shoddy workmanship and aren't frivolous.

But after hearing testimony from both sides about pushy lawyers and "nightmare" homes with fungus-filled floors and shifting driveways, lawmakers were skeptical that SB241 is the right fix.

"We seem to be going backwards, not forwards," said Senate Commerce and Labor Chairman Randolph Townsend, R-Reno. "This is only part of the solution."

Townsend said he would ask the committee to first reconsider three defect bills that were discussed but not approved in the 2001 session.

Earlier this month, a state task force released its final report recommending changes to Nevada's construction defects laws. The task force composed of contractors and homeowners was deeply split, and only a few recommendations were unanimous.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, has proposed two separate measures limiting home defect lawsuits. He said the industry bill leaves too much room for litigation.

"They've got their hired liars, and the builders have their hired liars. This doesn't solve the problem. People just want their homes fixed," Schneider said. He wants to create a governor-appointed commission to screen out frivolous lawsuits before they get to court.

Two Assembly measures tackling construction defect problems are expected within days, said Scott Canepa of the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association.

Unlike the state's medical malpractice lawsuit reform, the industry measure discussed Wednesday doesn't cap jury awards. It requires written notice of a defect be sent to builders and any known subcontractors involved, and sets out a timeline for a response.

The homeowner could only file a lawsuit if the builder did not fix the problem within five months or did not respond to the complaint within three months.

The definition of construction defects also would be modified under the bill. It would block claims against contractors for "normal" wear and tear, settlement, or other deterioration.


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