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Structural warranty of buildings should protect home buyers

By Nashon Okowa | Oct 20th 2018 | 3 min read

Nothing worries a house buyer more than purchasing a structurally defective house or office space, especially in recent wake of building collapses and demolitions.

No doubt it is many people’s dream to own a house and families put a lot of effort through savings or even mortgage to realise this dream. Yet tragedies of building collapses and demolitions continue to bedevil the construction industry.

In past years, I have had the opportunity of advising several people on suitability of a house they wanted to purchase. In all cases, aesthetics towered high in persuading their decision. In fact, there was no scenario any of these clients inquired on the structural suitability of their units. Also, I have interacted with clients who sought advice on a structural issue they were experiencing in their house and how they can obtain redress. Memory of their teary eyes still linger when you break the news to them that they may have a real structural challenge to handle.

Some of these clients were young families or couples still paying their mortgages and other had plunged all their life savings into these investments. Lately, I have received a constant identical question; how do I tell that the house I am about to buy will not collapse? Honestly, I have never had a guaranteed answer to this. Reasons? - that is a discussion for another day.

In our construction industry, it is a norm that a contractor is liable for repair of latent defects up to six months after receipt of architect’s certificate of practical completion. Beyond that the house buyers are normally on their own, yet there is possibility that a latent defect can arise just one month or even a day after expiry of the defect period. The several ongoing court battles between home buyers and developers is a testament that there is no guarantee of defects repair after expiry of defect period. In most cases, buyers don’t even bother to know when the defect period lapses or whether it has lapsed until they have closed the deal. What then is the remedy to secure home buyers?

In several advanced countries, insurance has been the answer to this uncertainty. In the United Kingdom for example, there is an insurance policy in existence for some time now called structural warranty or new home warranty. This warranty provides building owners with ten years of protection from ‘latent defects’ to the structure of a building (defects that occur during the build period but are not discovered until after completion).

It is usually bought by the developer but the warranty itself will provide cover for the person who purchases the completed building. Any insurance company issuing this warranty carries out thorough inspection of the new development to determine among other things its structural suitability.

This is done throughout the construction period at agreed milestones or at the end of the development depending on what stage the insurer was engaged. Every buyer demands to see this warranty before deciding on whether to buy or not. With this requirement, developers have become strict while constructing knowing that failure to meet the required standard will result in being unable to obtain the warranty and ultimately not selling. There is no two way around it!

In face of unscrupulous developers and consultants, I believe this can be a solution to defective buildings. Counties need to enact legislations that require all new buildings to have at least ten years structural warranty from recognised insurance companies to protect home buyers. This will also ensure developers take seriously construction of their buildings.

Knowing that failure to obtain a warranty due to a defective building means the end to their investment. It is time we have radical changes in the construction industry that curtail unscrupulous developers who seek to squander investments of hard-working Kenyans. There may be other ways to address this but I don’t see a better one than this – Structural warranty of all new buildings is the way to go. Let’s do it.

- The writer is a project manager and Chairman of Association of Construction Managers of Kenya

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