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Florida District Court Of Appeals Affirms That A Condominium Need Not Be Uninhabitable To Breach The Implied Warranty Of Habitability

In D.R. Horton, Inc. v. Heron’s Landing Condo. Assn. of Jacksonville, Inc., No. 1D17-1941, 2018 WL 6803698 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App., 1st Dist. 2018), the First District Court of Appeals of Florida affirmed a Florida Circuit Court’s ruling that a breach of the implied warranty of habitability did not require a condominium to be uninhabitable.

D.R. Horton was the developer and general contractor of Heron’s Landing, a condominium project comprised of 240 residential units in twenty buildings. The Condominium Association at Heron’s Landing brought suit alleging that D.R. Horton violated the Florida Building Code, breached warranties, and was negligent in its construction of the project.

At the trial, Heron’s Landing had several of its residents testify to various issues, including, but not limited to, wet carpets, drywall issues, mold, wall cracking, roof leaks, and increased noise coming through the walls from nearby units. One of Heron’s Landing’s expert witnesses, Mr. W. Ron Woods, testified that the stucco did not meet standards of the Florida Building Code, and that the stucco defects should have been caught and remedied during construction. Mr. Arthur Newcomb, D.R. Horton’s construction supervisor for Heron’s Landing, acknowledged defects in the stucco application after seeing photographs of the issues at trial, and testified that had he seen those issues, he would have corrected them during construction.

D.R. Horton argued that none of the unit owners or experts testified to an inability to inhabit the units, and there could likewise be no breach of the implied warranty of habitability. However, there was no case law supporting a contention that a unit must be uninhabitable to constitute a breach of the warranty of habitability. The Court held, “although the defects did not force homeowners to abandon their homes, the testimony certainly supported the jury’s determination that the units did not meet the ordinary, normal standards that were reasonably expected of living quarters of comparable kind and quality.”

This case demonstrates that the implied warranty of habitability requires not just the basic needs of a shelter, but also a satisfaction of conditions in which one could reasonably expect to reside. It emphasizes the necessity for developers and contractors to maintain a reasonable standard of care.