Ohio’s statute of repose, R.C. 2305.131, bars claims against professionals who provide construction or design services on improvements to real property that arise from defective and unsafe conditions more than 10 years after the date of substantial completion of the improvement.
But as the home owners learned in Tutolo v. Young (Lake App. No. 2010-L-118), 2012 Ohio 121, because of the broad language used in the statute, even builders who are unlicensed and unqualified to perform the work in the first place are protected from claims arising after 10 years under the statute of repose.
In Tutolo, the home owners purchased a house in 2005. The house was renovated in 1996 by the prior owners, who constructed a pitched roof directly over an existing flat roof. Instead of hiring a professional builder, the prior owners hired a retired industrial arts teacher whose only training in carpentry was the odd jobs that he had performed around his own house.
In 2009, after a tree limb fell and crashed through the pitched roof, the home owners discovered that a significant amount of moisture had been leaking through the pitched roof over the years, causing much of the wood in the roof to become wet and to rot. An expert in residential construction determined that the leaks were caused by errors in the design and construction of the pitched roof. The home owners filed suit against the prior owners and the builder who renovated the house, alleging negligence and fraud. The trial court granted the builder summary judgment based upon Ohio’s 10-year statute of repose. The home owners appealed the trial court’s decision arguing that the builder could not be covered by the statute of repose because he was never a duly licensed carpenter or contractor.
The Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court of Appeals noted that there was no language in the statute of repose indicating that it applied to only professional carpenters or licensed architects and held that the protections provided to builders and designers is stated in broad terms and apply to any “person” who provides services for an improvement on real property. Since the retired industrial arts teacher was the person who provided design and construction services during the renovation of the house, the statute of repose applied to him and barred the home owners’ claims.