Buyers of New Construction Beware: The Breach of Implied Warranty of Habitability in Illinois Further Erodes

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Historically, the purchaser of a newly constructed home took the property at his or her own risk if they failed to discover a hidden or latent defect in the home’s design or construction prior to the closing of the sale. It used to be that after the sale closed an aggrieved buyer of new construction would not be able to pursue claims against the developer who performed the shoddy work. In 1979, the Illinois Supreme Court recognized the harshness of the doctrine of caveat emptor and out of the ashes of disappointed expectations rose the doctrine of breach of the implied warranty of habitability – a legal theory that protects a purchaser’s legitimate expectation that the home will be reasonably suited for its intended use. Quite recently, an Illinois Appellate Court took steps to further erode the already fading implied warranty of habitability when the buyer, who usually purchases the new construction from a developer, tries to sue the company that performed the shoddy work – the contractor – directly.

In 1400 Museum Park Condominium Association v. Kenny Construction Company, et al, an Illinois Appellate Court held that a buyer of new construction may not pursue a claim for breach of the implied warranty of habitability against the general contractor responsible for the shoddy construction. The court’s reasoning was based in part on the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sienna Court Condominium Association v. Champion Aluminum Corporation, 2018 IL 122022 holding that a purchaser of a newly constructed condominium cannot pursue a claim for breach of the implied warranty of habitability against a subcontractor where the subcontractor had no contractual relationship with the purchaser. Because the implied warranty of habitability is a creature of contract law, the Supreme Court reasoned that in order for an implied warranty to exist, the buyer must have a contractual relationship with the subject of his or her ire – the subcontractor. Because there was no contractual privity between the buyer and the subcontractor, the Illinois Supreme Court held that regardless of the nature of the defect, no cause of action existed between the purchaser and the subcontractor.  While the unit owners and condo association in 1400 Museum Park Condominium Association could have pursued a direct action against the developer with whom they had a contract, as is often the case, once the developer sold all of the units, the developer had no assets and was insolvent and suing the developer would have been pointless. The purchasers, therefore, were left to sue the general contractor directly. Although the general contractor obviously had a contract with the now-defunct developer, that relationship was insufficient to permit the condo purchasers, with whom no contractual relationship existed, to directly sue the contractor that actually performed the work for breach of the implied warranty of habitability.

Construction law in Illinois is constantly evolving.  While general contractors and sub-contractors welcome these recent court decisions, for owners, the pendulum may be slowly swinging back to the days of caveat emptor. For more information regarding regarding these, or similar issues, please contact Howard L. Teplinsky at hteplinsky@lgattorneys.com or (312) 368-0100.

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Administrative Dissolution May Breach a Company's Third-Party Contracts

Under Illinois law, corporations and limited liability companies (“LLCs”) are required to file annual registrations with the Illinois Secretary of State in order to maintain their entities in good standing.  Pursuant to the Limited Liability Company Act (the “LLC Act”), the Secretary of State may administratively dissolve an LLC if it fails to timely file its annual registration, mirroring the requirement imposed upon corporations in the Business Corporation Act (the “Corporation Act”).

If a company is administratively dissolved, the company will be reinstated upon the filing of the outstanding annual report(s) and an application for reinstatement, along with payment of all outstanding taxes and fees.  Upon reinstatement, the actions made by the company during the period of administrative dissolution are “ratified and confirmed” pursuant to the “relation-back” provisions of the LLC Act or the Corporation Act.

Recently, a provision of the LLC Act was examined by the Illinois Appellate Court in CF SBC Pledgor 1 2012-1 Trust v. Clark/School LLC, 2016 IL App (4th) 150568 (Sep. 8, 2016).  In this case, the Plaintiff, a Delaware mortgage trust, assumed a mortgage and security interest in an eight-building apartment complex which was owned by the defendant, Clark/School LLC.  Under the security agreement, the loan was made on the lender’s reliance of the Defendant mortgagor’s “continued existence” as an LLC, including “all things necessary to preserve and maintain [its] existence and to ensure its continuous right to carry on its business.”  The Defendant unfortunately failed to timely file its annual registration with the Illinois Secretary of State, ultimately leading to its administrative dissolution in December 2013.

Due to the Defendant’s administrative dissolution, the Plaintiff initiated a mortgage foreclosure action against the Defendant for failing to “preserve and maintain its existence” as an LLC.  The lower court determined, and the Illinois Appellate Court subsequently affirmed, that the Defendant committed an event of default by failing to maintain its status in good standing and held for the Plaintiff.  The Defendant unsuccessfully argued that the relation-back provision of the LLC Act prevented the Defendant from liability under the security agreement because it validated any actions that were taken from the date of the Defendant’s dissolution through the date of its reinstatement by the Secretary of State.

The predicament in CF SBC Pledgor was a novel issue under established Illinois LLC law; thus, the Illinois Appellate Court looked to precedent under the Corporation Act.  The relation-back application of the Corporation Act only pertained to ratification of the corporation’s actions; however, it did not automatically protect the corporation from possible breaches under third-party contracts.  Looking to the Corporation Act, the Court found that the relation-back provision will not “impose a legal fiction that belies actual real world facts.”

In that regard, a company cannot use the relation-back provision of its respective governing law in order to escape liability for committing a breach in a contractual agreement whereby the contracting party is relying upon the company to maintain its “continued existence” as a legal entity in good standing with the Secretary of State.

A company should pay prudent attention to its required filings and its obligations under its third-party contracts so as not to inadvertently breach such contracts.  Otherwise, as was the case in CF SBC Pledgor  the consequences may be harsh.

For more information on this topic or how you can protect your corporation or limited liability company, please contact:

Pamela Szelung at:

pszelung@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100.

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