A San Francisco condo association that argued some of its owners were being “cooked” inside their homes settled with their building’s developers for nearly $10 million. The ruling, which could have an effect on future construction, blamed the designers of the high rise for failing to account for how hot the west- and south-facing units could become when sunlight hit their all-glass walls.
“We found that the condominium’s inadequate ventilation failed to purge the heat from the units,” said Steve Weil, of Berding & Weil, which represented the home owners’ association. “We further demonstrated that on sunny days when the outdoor temperature was mild the units could get as hot as 90 degrees without the ability to cool off, making the interior environment of the units unbearable.”
The settlement bars naming the development or developer, but Berding & Weil said that the building is in Hayes Valley and has over 100 units, of which about two-thirds were impacted by the overheating issue.
The building’s envelope is made entirely of glass, which is a construction style often used by developers to maximize natural light and lower energy needs. Even though the “glass curtain wall” system is fairly common, the developers failed to put in an adequate ventilation system, a violation of California Building Code, the law firm argued.
The defense said that the heat gain problem was not technically a building “defect” because the code does not specify a maximum allowable temperature inside an interior space or state what is considered a “habitable” maximum temperature.
In the end, the association prevailed because it was able to argue successfully that the long-term exposure to their overly heated homes caused an uninhabitable condition for the owners, which constituted “damage” as defined by Civil Code section 3281, rather than arguing that the property itself was defective.
“With this extraordinary recovery, the association now has the financial freedom to decide on the best possible fix to allow the residents the full enjoyment of their homes,” according to a press release on the case from Berding-Weil.