First recognized in 1972, the implied warranty of habitability protects building buyers and owners from latent construction defects by permitting recourse from builders and sellers. In a case of first impression, the Illinois Appellate Court recently held that this theory does not extend to the work of an architect. The decision significantly impacts the defense of design professionals in Illinois and is worth considering for all design professionals and the attorneys who defend them.
The Illinois Supreme Court first adopted the implied warranty of habitability in a tenant-landlord case. This was a stark departure from the historical doctrine of “caveat emptor,” or buyer-beware liability theory. At the time, the court extended warranty into the construction field for three public policy reasons: (1) fairness; (2) the buyer’s dependence on the honesty and integrity of a builder; and, (3) the significance of the single investment. Since first recognized, the courts have expanded the implied warranty of habitability to various parties involved in new construction projects, including the builder-seller, the developer-seller, the contractor, and the subcontractor.
In Board Managers of Park Point, a condominium association made claims of implied warranty of habitability against multiple defendants, including the architect of the condominium complex. The condominium association argued that the work of a subcontractor, who is subject to the implied warranty of habitability, was sufficiently similar to the work of an architect. The plaintiff argued if either party does not adequately perform its job, latent defects may occur in the new structure. Thus, holding architects liable would fulfill the core purpose of the theory of implied warranty of habitability and an extension of the theory is natural. The Illinois Appellate Court rejected the association’s argument, and found architects are not subject to the implied warranty of habitability. The court decided it would be a “considerable extension of the law” to make architects liable under this claim. The decision focused on the architect’s non-physical contribution to the “tangible structure.” It further reasoned that architects provide “professional services,” not “workmanlike” services—an important distinction.
This decision sets a clear limit on the professional liability of an architect in Illinois. The decision is consistent with several other jurisdictions (such as Minnesota, Wyoming, New Jersey, and Michigan). The court reasoned that liability will attach to architects “only when the architect’s conduct falls below the standard of skill and care exercised by others engaged in the same profession, and in the same locality.” In other words, professional malpractice claims and not beyond. Additionally, the decision discussed the similarities of architects and engineers, implying that a similar implied warranty of habitability claim against an engineer would also be rejected.