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What Is A 558 Letter, And When Is It Required?

Construction defects are a widespread reality across Florida. They occur not only in new builds, but also in repair, remodeling and remediation projects. And they can give rise to catastrophic failures, costly repairs and countless headaches.

When defects arise, associations and owners generally can't rush straight to court. Florida law establishes a specific procedure for bringing defects to the attention of the responsible parties.

This process - outlined in Chapter 558 of the Florida Statutes - provides an important opportunity for parties to resolve construction defects outside of court. However, it also involves procedural hurdles and strict deadlines. With so much hinging on this process, associations and owners shouldn't attempt to tackle it on their own.

What the statute requires

Before filing a construction defect lawsuit, owners or associations must provide a detailed written notice - called a "558 notice" or "558 letter" - to the responsible parties. Depending on the nature of the defect, the responsible parties might include:

  • Contractors
  • Developers
  • Subcontractors
  • Suppliers
  • Architects
  • Engineers
  • Surveyors
  • Design professionals

The notice must describe, in "reasonable detail," the location and nature of the defect. Destructive or intrusive testing isn't required, however; a visual inspection is sufficient. The notice must also include estimated repair costs, if known.

When is the notice mandatory?

With a few exceptions, this notice requirement applies to construction defect claims involving new builds, repair/remediation projects and remodeling projects, whether residential or commercial.

The notice requirement only kicks in once the project is substantially completed. It doesn't apply when the project is still underway.

The statute also allows parties to opt out of the notice requirement, provided they do so in writing.

What else to know about this important provision

After the notice is provided to the appropriate parties, they have a certain time frame in which to respond (45 or 75 days, depending on the number of parcels affected). If they fail to respond, the owner or association may proceed to file the claim in court.

Responding parties may request further testing (including destructive testing). They may also ask for maintenance records and other documents related to the defects. An attorney can help you respond to these requests and determine whether they might be overreaching.

The responding parties may offer to conduct repairs or to pay for repairs, in part or in whole. However, owners and associations aren't under any obligation to accept the offer. In many cases, the initial offer serves as a starting point for further negotiations.

The purpose of Chapter 558 is to give the responsible parties and opportunity to repair the problem. Owners and associations shouldn't make the repairs themselves, unless emergency repairs are needed for safety reasons.

Finally, only defects mentioned in the notice (or reasonably related to those defects) can be pursued in court. Thus, it's important for owners and associations to be thorough. Enlisting an attorney early in the process is critical. The right attorney can connect you with knowledgeable experts in the construction industry to investigate the problem, identify defects and prepare documentation, providing the groundwork for a strong claim.

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