Building Defects in Italy. Who Is Liable?
A professionally drafted contract is your best protection against any faults with Italian construction work
Building defects include the use of shoddy materials, poorly executed work, deviations from an agreed plan or a request for additional money.
The best advice we can therefore offer before you enter into any arrangement with a construction, building or renovation company is to call your legal advisor.
A professionally drafted contract in both English and Italian will prevent a lot of problems, reduce stress and often save you a considerable amount of money.
A summary of Italian legislation covering building defects
The contractor is responsible for defects and unauthorised variation of construction work. If there are visible defects, you should not accept the work. If you do, you lose the right to claim on the guarantee (art. 1667, first paragraph of the Italian civil code).
In order to formally contest the construction work, you should request your legal advisor to notify the contractor through a formal letter of default. If you accept work with visible defects and/or unauthorised variations of work, you will lose the right to trigger the guarantee unless the defects and variations were caused with malicious intent. A contractor is considered to have acted with malice if, despite being aware of the defects and/or variations, the contractor fails to point these out to the client.
Hidden building defects
The acceptance of work does not compromise your guarantee in the case of hidden defects. You can contest hidden defects when you discover them. A client will need a lawyer to take action in order to make a claim on the guarantee.
– Report the hidden defects within 60 days of their discovery.
– Take legal action within 2 years from the completion of the work.
If a client does not comply with both of the above mentioned obligations the client will lose the cover of the guarantee. In cases where the contractor not only neglects to point out the defects but also acts in a malicious manner to hide the faults, the time limit for legal action extends to 5 years.
Fault of the contractor
Once the client proves the defects and/or the unauthorised variations, there is a presumption of fault against the contractor. It is then the contractor’s responsibility to prove any absence of negligence.
According to article. 1668 of the Italian civil code, in the case of visible or hidden defects the client has 4 possible courses of action.
– Request correction with the contractor bearing the total cost.
– Request a price reduction.
If variations or building defects are serious the client can:
– Request the termination of the contract and,
– Request compensation for damages.
Responsibility of the contractor for new build properties
Article 1669 of the Italian civil code provides particular regulations for new buildings. For new builds, the contractor is liable for collapse (total or partial), evident danger of collapse or serious defects in construction.
Jurisprudence extends liability to renovation work which can be expected to be durable. This, for example would include roof waterproofing and floor and wall tiling. The contractor’s responsibility increases to a period of 10 years from the date of completion of the work. Any faults should be contested formally with a letter of default drafted by your lawyer to the contractor within 1 year of discovering them.
Italian Law stipulates that the client has one year from the recorded delivery of a letter of default to starting legal proceedings against the contractor. Once the client has highlighted serious defects, there is a presumption of liability against the contractor. The contractor must prove the contrary.
Examples of serious building defects
There is significant jurisprudence defining the meaning of “serious defects”. In broad terms, the definition of serious defects is work that seriously compromises the use of the property or has a significant impact on essential structural elements such as stability, efficiency and duration of work. Here are some examples of serious building defects classified in Italian jurisprudence:
– Detachment and rupture of a significant number of tiles.
– Defects concerning the roof of the property causing infiltrations of water.
– Faulty heating system.
– Inadequate thermal insulation.
– Faulty plumbing system.
– Defects of the chimney or flue.
Inspecting construction work
Article 1665 of the Italian civil code provides the client with the option to inspect completed work before signing-off on it. This right of inspection also extends to work in progress. We would recommend that you involve your lawyer and an independent surveyor in this process before accepting any work.
Article 1665 par. 4, states that where the client accepts the work at the point of signing-off without requesting an inspection or without contesting work, there is a presumption that the client has accepted the work. If the client accepts the work without any formal objection, this constitutes an implicit acceptance. As a consequence, the client loses the guarantee for visible defects or unauthorised variations. There is however an exception for malicious or undeclared issues. In addition, acceptance of work means the client must pay the contractor for the work.
For problems concerning your Italian property renovation or construction work, please do not hesitate to contact De Tullio Law Firm. We are Italian property law specialists. We offer legal assistance throughout Italy. While it is always best to engage independent legal services prior to starting a renovation or construction project, contacting a lawyer as early as possible in a dispute can often lead to a settlement thus avoiding lengthy and costly litigation in the Italian courts.
You may also be interested in Off-Plan Property in Italy: Insurance And Guarantee. In addition, we have a number of info videos that you may like to watch.