Protecting Your Home in Hurricane-Prone Florida: Legal Insights and Tips
Complying with the state’s building code—and dealing with construction defectsBy Carole Moore | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on October 12, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys Patricia H. Thompson, Larry R. Leiby, Stephen H. Reisman and
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Does Your Construction Project Conform to the Building Code?
- It May Call for a Professional Inspection
- Research Your Contractors
- The Future of Severe Weather Events
- Find an Experienced Floridian Construction Law Attorney
Being prepared is paramount to storm safety, especially when that storm turns into a tropical storm or hurricane.
Most Florida residents keep bottled water, a radio, a flashlight, and nonperishable foods on hand for natural disaster emergencies.
But good legal advice is also essential to hurricane preparedness. Bringing wind damage and water damage, hurricane season can be extremely costly for Florida homeowners in interior and coastal areas and shows the necessity of complying with the strict building codes the state legislature voted in after Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992.
Does Your Construction Project Conform to the Building Code?
Patricia H. Thompson, an arbitrator and mediator at JAMS in Miami, says people assume that the building code is ironclad. Not so, according to the veteran attorney. “There are still differences as to construction methods and standards, even with a statewide code,” she says.
Board-certified construction attorney Larry Leiby says it’s difficult to know whether or not a home conforms to the code, even if construction took place after the new code’s adoption. He suggests looking ahead for signs of potential trouble: failure of the roof or building exterior in wind speeds of less than 75 mph; dislodged roof shingles or tiles; leaking windows and doors; and garage doors damaged during or after high winds.
Stephen H. Reisman, of Peckar & Abramson, a board-certified construction attorney, adds that another warning sign of shoddy work is “seeing daylight coming in around doors and window frames.” Little cracks of light can indicate poor construction techniques, corner-cutting, or the use of substandard materials, all of which can lead to structural nightmares in hurricane-force wind velocities.
It May Call for a Professional Inspection
Leiby encourages consumers to hire a professional to investigate structural damage or leaking.
“While government inspections take place periodically during construction and most government inspectors do a good job, errors and omissions can be made,” he says.
An engineer will inspect the building’s exterior to determine whether the structure is sound. Leiby says roof trusses are particularly vulnerable. A home inspector is less expensive than an engineer, but carefully examine the inspector’s written agreement to be sure he or she has the appropriate skills to address code compliance and the sturdiness of the roof.
Research Your Contractors
Leiby suggests that new-home purchasers research the builder’s credentials. Visit the Florida Department of State’s Division of Corporations website and check with trade associations such as the National Association of Home Builders, Associated Builders and Contractors, or Associated General Contractors.
Reisman agrees that employing a properly licensed contractor is imperative. “Aside from having a license, which means they’ve passed the test, you want to make sure they have a track record,” Reisman says. “Ask, ‘What other buildings have you built?’ Talk to the other owners, ask them for references.”
The Future of Severe Weather Events
Construction lawyer Chris Weiss says building a new home is destined to become more complicated and restricted. “As disasters occur, they’re going to tighten down.”
Tighter regulations will make new construction more secure in the likely event of future hurricanes, but Weiss says owners of existing homes should assume their property is not up to code and investigate ways to improve its safety.
Find an Experienced Floridian Construction Law Attorney
Safety is the central issue of Florida’s building codes in confronting hurricane damage. Some structural loss is inevitable, but if the cause is substandard construction techniques or materials, you may need legal representation to litigate construction defects.
For more information on this area of law, see our construction litigation overview.
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