Part of my work was as a court expert witness in matters of construction and building faults. Included were different instances such as CSST (health and security in the workplace), "Régie du logement du Québec" (tenant's court), Québec civil court, and superior court. I would like to share some of my experience as an expert-witness.

You've just received a formal notice, perhaps by a court bailiff, demanding retribution for hidden faults allegedly found in the house you just sold ?
Or, you've discovered an important problem in your house ? Suddenly, your quaint little love nest is turning into a money pit ? !

The following are suggestions to help you in your ordeal. This advice is based on forty years of personal experience as a building inspector and contractor. I am not a lawyer (ooff! I'm still human ?) I have no pretension of being an attorney (*sigh of relief*), so you should therefor supplement your research by contacting a notary or a lawyer to inform you of your rights and obligations. Be alert! Use common sense and (believe it or not), trust your intuition (gut feeling).

1- Building your case

First of all, build your case by noting everything of pertinence you can think of: descriptions, occurrences, dates, contacts, witnesses, people present, people you delt with, circumstantial evidence, weather conditions, relevant documentation, who said what etc.
It is a matter of clearly identifying the problem. Is it a serious defect ? How does this affect you, your family and your house ? Was it apparent before the purchase of your home? You must determine whether your problem is a major defect, how much will it cost to repair, in what way does it affect the occupants, how does it restrict the use or diminish the property value ? The complete analysis will aim at finding the root of the problem, rather than simply repairing it on a superficial level (symptoms or causes).

2- Quantifying the repair costs

It is necessary to identify the corrective work to be done: proper, reasonable, complete and sustainable process. You should then obtain written estimates of costs, preferably by certified building contractors and repairmen.

3- Determining liability

You must determine the degree of responsibility of each party, i.e. the sellers, the real estate agents and their brokers, the prepurchase building inspector or expert you hired, the notary, the financial institution involved, government agencies, and of course, yourself, family (don't forget the in-laws, this could be good timing (joke)), friends, etc. This is an area where a lawyer will be most helpful. Laws and the degree of liability will vary in all countries, and often within countries. For example, we use a civil code in Quebec, but the US and Canada have common law.

4- Legal advice

You should start with the notary or lawyer with whom you dealt with when purchasing your home. If you believe you need an attorney and you don't know of any (that's usually a good sign), you should speak with people you know and trust. Do not choose haphazardly! Once you have decided, discuss all the details with your attorney: fees, strategy and, most importantly, determine a realistic deadline. Should you come to doubt your attorney, find another one as soon as possible before you lose all of your assets.

5- Signifying the demands

If you think that another party is responsible for problems you have and the costs incurred by the necessary repair work, you are obliged to inform them of the situation as soon as possible, by letting them know that you became aware of the problems and intend to take action. At that point, it is in your best interest to set up a meeting of all parties involved. Keep in mind when meeting that an amicable settlement is always a better solution than going to court (apologies to the lawyers and judges out there!).
Be determined, yet calm and in control. Don't be misled by empty rhetoric or weak arguments like "it's not my fault, it’s the contractor's, subcontractors', Donald Trump, the Russians or whatever'” or the classic: "If you knew anything about construction, you would know that it’s normal to have 20 cm of water on the floor, after all, it’s only a basement”.

6- The meeting !

Have a reliable, credible and silent witness present. Avoid any aggressiveness, but demand a firm commitment and, together, set up reasonable deadlines for the repair work. In order to avoid any misleading interpretation, a written understanding and work description should be signed as quickly as possible by both parties and their respective witnesses. Producing a prepared agreement may frighten the other party. However, you should have a clear idea of your demands and be prepared for the meeting.

7- Solvency

If it is not possible to reach an agreement, presuming that we are considering a substantial amount, you should investigate the credit rating of the other party before engaging any further investment. Otherwise, you could be wasting your time and money. The defendant party could declare bankruptcy, or hide their assets. Meaning, even if you win your case in court, you may end up not getting a cent. Consider the expenses you would have to assume entirely.

8- Complete your case

This is your task. In court, a well-organized and complete case, including all relevant information, will make all the difference between success and failure. Consider that the court is mostly interested in understanding the harm and loss you have had, not so much the building codes, bylaws and technical stuff. Judges are usually smart, and can see through lies, exagerations and deceptions.
Keep everything on file: notes, dates, telephone conversations and any other interactions, witnesses, persons present, etc. Keep a copy of any document, every letter, bill and contract. If you must give the original documents to your lawyer, make copies before you give them up ! Have him sign a list enumerating all the given documents.

9- Best of luck !

Don't let this problem wreak your life, marriage and relationship. A construction defect can always be repaired, but your (mental and physical)health and relationships with others are so much more fragile and precious.