House Committee Passes Housing Liability Expansion Bill

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would expand liability for architects, engineers, contractors and inspectors involved in the development of single family housing and residential duplexes.

SSB 6385 was originally introduced by Senator Brian Weinstein (D-41, Mercer Island). As passed by the Senate it creates broad new legal liabilities for all design and construction professionals involved in the construction of any improvement on residential property.

Representative Pat Lantz (D-26, Gig Harbor) introduced a striking amendment in the House Judiciary Committee that replaced the text of the bill with new language. Her amendment creates an implied warranty, which cannot be waived and creates new legal causes of action. As mentioned, the language is largely taken from the Condominium Act reforms passed in 2004 and 2005 (RCW 64.34, 64.35, 64.50 and 64.55). It does explicitly apply the statute of repose and statute of limitation provisions of RCW 4.16.310. It also exempts condominiums projects (because they are covered by a separate statute) and non-profit housing developers. No clear reason was given for exempting non-profit developers.

From the perspective of AIA/WA, the bill has many negatives. It uses a few of the provisions of the Condominium Act reforms, but leaves out many of the provisions that have worked to improve construction and reduce litigation. It expands liability with new warranties, but provides little protection from meritless suits.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee. It is expected that the bill will be held in the Rules Committee and not pass the House. However, it is unclear if the changes made in the Judiciary Committee will change the views of the House leadership.

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