Implied Warranty of Habitability Waiver Doesn’t Bind Second Home Buyer: Deconstructing Fattah v. Bim (IL 1st Dist.)(Part I of II)

Fattah v. Bim, 2015 IL App (1st) 140171 will likely be viewed as a significant victory for homeowners (and a correlative loss for builders) in residential construction disputes.

The plaintiff bought a million-plus dollar home in Chicago’s northern suburbs from the defendant homebuilder “as-is” and subject to an earlier waiver of the implied warranty of habitability signed by a prior purchaser (“Buyer 1”) who sold the house to the plaintiff.

In reversing a bench trial judgment for the defendants, the court answered some important questions concerning the scope and enforceability of disclaimers contained in the sale of real property in Illinois.

Facts:

The sale of the home from defendant to Buyer 1 included a written waiver of the implied warranty of habitability that specifically provided it was binding on the seller, the purchaser, and any successors.

The plaintiff bought the property from Buyer 1 “as is” three years after Buyer 1 bought it.  The contract’s as-is rider provided, among other things, that the seller (Buyer 1) shall not be responsible for “the repair, replacement or modification of any deficiencies, malfunctions or mechanical defects on the Property or to any improvements thereon” and that Buyer 1 makes no representation or warranty to plaintiff concerning the Property’s condition, zoning or suitability for its intended use.

Despite this broad Rider’s language, the contract still required Buyer 1 to disclose known material latent defects.

Four months after plaintiff moved in, the patio collapsed and plaintiff sued the defendant homebuilder.  The trial court found for defendant at trial on the basis that Buyer 1’s implied warranty waiver extended to the plaintiff.  Plaintiff appealed.

Result: Reversed:

Rules/Reasoning:

The appeals court found that the earlier implied warranty of habitability waiver did not bind the plaintiff.  The court’s reasoning:

– the implied warranty of habitability is a creature of public policy that aims to protect innocent purchasers of new houses who discover latent defects in their homes;

– the implied warranty of habitability recognizes that the purchaser, who is generally not knowledgeable in construction practices, has to rely n the integrity and the skill of the builder-vendor, whose business is home building;

– it (the implied warranty of habitability) applies not only to builder-vendors, but also to subcontractors and developer-vendors;

– subsequent home buyers can be protected by the implied warranty of habitability.  This is because a “subsequent purchaser is like the initial purchaser in that neither is knowledgeable in construction practice and must rely on the expertise of the person who built the home to a substantial degree.”

– the warranty of habitability exists independently of a contract between the builder and twice-removed buyer and extends only to “latent defects which manifest themselves within a reasonable time after the purchase of the house.”

– despite the strong public policy reason behind the implied warranty of habitability, a “knowing disclaimer” of the warranty doesn’t violate Illinois public policy;

– one who seeks to benefit from a disclaimer has the weighty burden of establishing that the disclaimer is (1) conspicuous, (2) fully disclosed (along with its consequences) to the buyer, and (3) mutually agreed on by the parties.

(¶¶ 23-25).

With these principles in mind, the court found that Buyer 1’s waiver of the implied warranty of habitability was valid as it appeared prominently in the sales materials and recited the waiver’s impact of the Seller’s rights.

The court then considered whether Buyer 1’s waiver of the implied warranty was binding on plaintiff – a subsequent purchaser who lacked knowledge of the earlier waiver.

Finding that Buyer 1’s waiver did not bind plaintiff, the court noted there was no agreement between plaintiff and defendant and the waiver of the implied warranty of habitability never was brought to plaintiff’s attention.

The court held that an implied warranty of habitability can only be waived where it’s done so “knowingly.”  Here, the plaintiff wasn’t party to Buyer 1’s waiver and testified she wasn’t aware of the waiver when she (plaintiff) bought the house.  Since defendants didn’t refute plaintiff’s testimony, it failed to prove plaintiff knowingly bought the property subject to Buyer 1’s waiver of the implied warranty.  As a result, the waiver didn’t bind the plaintiff.

(¶¶ 28-31)

Take-aways:

1/ The implied warranty of habitability extends to subsequent home purchaser for latent (not overt) defects;

2/ A disclaimer or waiver of an implied warranty offered by a prior buyer won’t bind a subsequent buyer where that later buyer offers evidence that she lacked knowledge of the disclaimer or waiver and that the disclaimer’s importance wasn’t pointed out to her.

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PaulP

Litigation attorney at Bielski Chapman, Ltd. representing businesses and individuals in business litigation, post-judgment enforcement, collections and real estate litigation.