New Build Guru in the Sunday Times again
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We bought a new-build house in 2017, but discovered that floor tiles were laid defectively by the builder’s subcontractor. We alerted the builder, Linden Homes, within the two-year warranty period. To our surprise, it requested that we contact the NHBC. The subsequent NHBC report and another report by an independent tiler cited the same issues: debonded, loose floor tiles; lack of a decoupling layer; spalling grout; and failure to remove laitance prior to tile installation. Linden Homes has informed us it only proposes to replace cracked tiles and the defective grouting. But the whole floor needs replacing after correct preparation has been completed.
If the whole floor is replaced, the kitchen appliances and skirting boards will need removal and reinstallation, and some redecoration will be required. Furniture will need to be moved and housed elsewhere.
We’ve been told the NHBC has given the builder a deadline to work to, and that if the builder does not co-operate, the NHBC will provide a cost estimate for the works, then it would be up to us to arrange the contractors. We don’t want the hassle. Could you advise us how to persuade the builder to carry out all the works necessary and to co-ordinate all the trades?
Identifying defects is relatively easy, particularly with expert advice, as you have already obtained. The real challenge and single biggest area of dispute between new-build owners and developers concerns the scope of works needed to put those defects right properly.
The cost of putting things right properly can be high, so there is a lot to play for in terms of the developer seeking to minimise the works it does. Developers will naturally look to do as little as possible, even if that means leaving owners with a home that is still defective.
Linden has offered only a minimal scope of works, involving replacing cracked tiles and regrouting between them. That will not address the debonding, which is likely to continue to worsen over time.
The NHBC will not usually direct how the developer should put something right, leaving it to them to decide. That means that if you want more than the developer is offering, you will have to take them on, possibly through legal action. As a first step in the legal action, you would need expert evidence of the underlying problem and the appropriate solution. You will also need to get the remedial works costed. This will enable the legal team to present the claim for damages and negotiate a settlement.
Common outcomes to this approach include the developer agreeing to do a full scope of works; payment by the developer of sufficient money to allow the owner to procure works themselves; or possibly a cash settlement with the NHBC. You should also claim your legal and expert fees, plus related losses such as alternative accommodation. Your legal team will advise on what losses can be claimed and ensure you settle on fair terms that preserve your rights in relation to other possible latent defects, as necessary.
Geoff Peter, founder, Wingrove Law (wingrovelaw.co.uk), which specialises in class actions against housebuilders, and managing director of New Build Guru, the UK member organisation for owners of defective new-build homes (newbuildguru.com)
Linden Homes responded: “We’ve committed to complete the repairs entirely in accordance with the NHBC’s findings and requirements by replacing the damaged tiles and rectifying the grouting issues that have appeared. We strive to deliver quality homes and services and our customer care team has been in regular contact with the customer; we hope they are able to accept our offer to complete the repairs.”
Linden’s response to the article offers scant reassurance that they will replace the tiles entirely and make good, which is what we understand Linden’s own experts have said is needed. Their response infers that they still intend to do what they - not their experts - decide needs doing to meet “NHBC’s findings and requirements”. The owner is in no better position for having had Linden’s experts on site to investigate. They will need to instruct their own experts, and then pursue the matter possibly through legal action if they are to enforce their right to a proper fix. Note NHBC’s role in the Resolution process which invariably preserves the developer’s ability to decide for itself what works it offers to do. Homeowners who rely on NHBC to help them achieve a proper fix and fair outcome on defects in their home are liable to be disappointed.