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San Diego Real Estate Round-Up: Synthetic Stucco Suits

San Diego, California has seen many types of exterior coating on homes. These range from stucco to wood to stone and many other materials. Given the propensity of San Diego California homes to catch on fire given the fire damage sustained in San Diego in the past, it is important to understand the materials used on the exterior of your home. The City of San Diego Fire Department has important information on its website.

In the early 1990s, home builders began to use synthetic stucco (sometimes referred to as “Exterior Insulation and Finish (EIF) System”) as a substitute for conventional masonry such as stone, brick, and stucco. The product has the look of stucco, but underneath are layers of styrofoam, plywood, and fiberglass mesh.

For a price comparable to real stucco, the synthetic version provides better insulation, with less cracking and more flexibility. These advantages may be outweighed, however, by a drawback that has spawned many lawsuits around the country. If water gets through windows, doors, or roof lines and behind the synthetic stucco, it may have nowhere to go, causing rotting and sometimes even toxic mold. The latest EIF systems, if properly installed, allow the water to drain away, but in the meantime some court dockets are becoming crowded with litigation brought by owners of damaged homes.

Many builders are being sued for negligence in not applying synthetic stucco properly, or for breach of contract, breach of warranties, fraud, and violation of state consumer protection laws. In a majority of cases, the property damage can be traced to mistakes in applying the synthetic stucco that allow water to penetrate its surface, or do not allow water to drain, or both. Claiming that the product itself is defective, or that unqualified people are being certified to install it, some builders and homeowners are also taking manufacturers to court.

In one case, a state appellate court allowed a lawsuit to go to trial by jury after a new home was damaged by rotting wood and termite infestation. Although the builder knew of progressive damage to the house caused by synthetic stucco while the house had been rented, there was evidence that he misrepresented to buyers of the house that it was a “quality house” with only minimal past water problems and no structural problems.

In a similar case from another state, an appellate court affirmed a jury verdict of nearly $200,000 against a home builder. Whether or not the builder knew about inherent problems with synthetic stucco, was at fault in using it instead of real stucco, or installed it improperly, the failure to keep out moisture was a major structural defect for which the builder was responsible.

No attorney or law firm, including Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation can guarantee any result and these cases are used for illustrative purposes only. Please feel free to e mail us if you have a legal question.

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