Too-Steep Slope Causes Clients’ Dream House to Move; Home Builder Required to Perform Corrective Work to Avoid Catastrophic Failure

This dispute involved a house that moved. Our clients, a retired couple, purchased a new home from a national homebuilder. The house was located at the end of the street, atop a hill with panoramic views of the city below.

Within two years of moving into their beautiful new home, however, cracks started to form in the floors, walls, sidewalks, and surrounding retaining walls. The lot on which our clients’ house was situated had been constructed by the homebuilder, using a cut and fill process. The homebuilder also constructed a riprap slope adjacent to our clients’ lot, which dropped more than 20 feet into a desert wash. Our clients retained an engineer to investigate the problem.

The engineer determined that the homebuilder had failed to construct the slope according to the grading plans, and had made it too steep. In addition, the homebuilder had failed to properly construct the runoff system, designed to divert runoff to the rear of the lot to protect the steepened side slope. As a result, the slope was deteriorating and, unless repaired, would continue to deteriorate. The slope failure caused the house to move toward the slope at an alarming rate. Despite having knowledge of the engineer’s report, the builder contended that the residence and lot had been built to plans and that the slope was stable.

Our clients filed a complaint with the Registrar of Contractors and we filed a lawsuit on their behalf against the homebuilder. The parties agreed to participate in mediation to attempt to resolve their disputes. During mediation, the homebuilder agreed to pay for and perform corrective work to the house and slope, and to monitor any movements in the house or slope for ten years. The corrective work was estimated to cost in excess of $200,000. In addition, the builder agreed to provide our clients ten-year warranties on the work. Our clients, in turn, agreed to dismiss the complaints against the builder.

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