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Latent vs. patent construction defects: What's the difference (and why does it matter)?

If you've ever had the misfortune of dealing with construction defects, you know what a headache they can be, particularly when they affect an entire condo or residential community. Such far-reaching defects can cost a fortune to fix.

You may have also heard the terms "patent" and "latent" in reference to defects. What exactly do these terms mean? And what do they mean for owners (and owners associations)?

Patent defects

These types of construction defects are apparent to anyone who goes looking for them. Sometimes, they're obvious to even the untrained eye - leaky roofs or windows, for example. Other times, however, they might only be noticeable to an expert who knows exactly what to look for.

Examples of patent defects include:

  • Cracks in the exterior (which might actually be manifesting a deeper problem, such as structural issues)
  • Deviations from the plans
  • Leaking roofs

Latent defects

These defects aren't immediately apparent, either because they're not observable even with an expert inspection or because they only become apparent over time. Examples include:

  • Structural problems such as inadequate supports or weak foundations
  • Poor-quality roadbeds that result in premature cracks and deterioration
  • Mold growth due to water intrusion that only comes to light during a renovation project

Why it matters

The deadline for construction defect claims depends, in part, on whether they are patent or latent. For either type, the triggering event is when they were discovered or reasonably should have been discovered. That's why it's so important to enlist a well-vetted expert to conduct a thorough inspection during the turnover process. Otherwise, patent defects could get overlooked and latent defects, if discovered, may be discovered too late. By the time these defects are discovered, years or even decades may have passed. The responsible parties may have gone out of business. Further. with regard to latent defects, the defendants might try to argue that they were actually patent and therefore subject to an earlier deadline.

For more detailed guidance on either type of defect, get in touch with a Florida-based attorney who handles this niche area of construction law.

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