Legal Questions Answered By Griffin & Murphy, LLP

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Griffin & Murphy, LLP, is a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. concentrating its practice in real estate law (including development, finance, leasing, zoning and condominium conversions), as well as estate planning and probate, civil litigation, and business law. The attorneys of Griffin & Murphy, LLP are licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Griffin and Murphy, LLP was founded in 1981.

Please send any legal questions relating to real estate, rentals, buildings, renovations or other legal items to princeofpetworth (at) gmail (dot) com, each week one question will be featured. You can find previous questions featured here.


I recently moved into a brand new condo building. It’s small, with only 12 units. The problem is that the lights dim significantly and often, sometimes when I plug in the iron or the HVAC kicks on, other times for no apparent reason. This is very bad on refrigerators, electronics, and the life of everything electrical in the house. I’ve asked the developer about it who assures me it’s “normal” for this to happen. I’ve never lived in a home where this happens, and I don’t know anyone else in the city who has this problem, so I’m not finding it too normal. My question is: How long are the developer and builder responsible for making good on fixing the problem if an independent electrician rebuts the “it’s normal” argument? Thanks. David


We are not sure what you mean when you describe your building as a “brand new condo building.” Is your building a fully renovated older building which was completely gutted and rehabilitated, or is your building one that was built new from the ground up? As you will see later, this distinction may be relevant in determining why you are now experiencing electrical problems. In either case, your building should have adequate electric service. The electrical problems you are experiencing are not normal and are not acceptable. The more pressing questions are (i) what is causing these problems, and (ii) what recourse you have against the developer to force him to correct these problems?

If your building is a fully rehabilitated structure rather than one that was newly constructed, then the problem may be that the original electrical service to the building may still be in place. When buildings are renovated, a new and upgraded electrical service is ordered from Pepco. It often takes a long time for Pepco to come and put in this new and upgraded electrical service. It is not unheard of for a developer to sell condo units and allow occupancy with the old electrical service in place while waiting for the new and upgraded service to be installed by Pepco. If this has occurred in your building, then this would explain the diminished electrical service to your unit. Continues after the jump.

We suggest that you do several different things. First, call Pepco and ask them if a new electrical service was installed at your building, and if so, ask when. Second, have a licensed and qualified electrician come to your building and confirm that a new and upgraded electrical system has, in fact, been installed and connected. Make sure to ask the electrician if your unit or your building is at any risk of electrical fires if the electrical service at your building is inadequate in any way. Third, check the Public Offering Statement (“POS”) which you received at the time you entered into your contract to purchase your unit and see what the POS says about the installation of a new electrical system in the section that describes the renovation.

Once you have determined the nature and extent of your problems, you are then ready to see who should be responsible for fixing these problems.

Condominium units in the District of Columbia are governed by the Condominium Act of 1976. The Act requires developers to give unit owners specific protections and warranties regarding the structural elements of the unit and the common elements of the building. When you purchased your unit you should have received a POS that includes a description of the developer’s improvements to the property as well as his warranty for these improvements You should review the warranty language in the POS to familiarize yourself with the developer’s obligations.

The warranty language in the POS usually states that the developer will repair or replace any structural defects in the unit for a period of two (2) years from the settlement date of the first sale to a bona fide purchaser. With regard to structural defects in the common areas, the developer’s warranty runs for two (2) years from the completion of the common area or from the first sale to a bona purchaser, whichever is later. These times periods are set forth in the Condominium Act. You stated that your condominium is “new.” In a newly constructed building, the warranty covers all structural defects; however, in a converted building, the developer may sell the units “as is” and the warranty only covers elements of the building that were upgraded or improved by the developer.

There is also the issue of whether or not the electrical problems you are experiencing are considered a structural defect. The warranty usually defines “structural defect“ as a flaw in a component that reduces the stability or safety of the structure below standards commonly acceptable in the real estate market or otherwise restricts the normally intended use of all or part of the structure. As you would expect, developers and unit owners have long debated what this language really means, with developers interpreting the definition very narrowly and unit owners interpreting it broadly. Significant dimming seems to indicate a larger problem with the electrical system and thus should qualify as a structural defect.

The POS and/or your purchase agreement should specify the process you must follow in order to submit a warranty claim to the developer. If you follow the process outlined in the documents and the developer still refuses to address the issue, then you can notify the Rental Conversion and Sale Division at the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (the “Agency”) and they will work with you to pursue the claim. If you no longer have a copy of your POS, then you may review a copy of the POS on file with the Agency, whose address is 1800 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20020. Developers are required to post a warranty bond with the District of Columbia, and this bond can be released by the District if the developer fails to repair or replace a valid warranty claim.

This response was prepared by Mark G. Griffin and Patrick D. Blake of Griffin & Murphy, LLP. The material contained in this response has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as a substitute for a consultation with a qualified attorney. Nothing in this response should be considered as either creating an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Griffin & Murphy, LLP or as rendering of legal advice for any specific matter.

3 Comment

  • Interesting. I don’t suppose there’s any similar recourse for someone who bought a house from a flipper that turned out to have a leaky basement?

  • Whether the building is new or rehabbed, it should have had an electrical upgrade.

    HVAC kicking in could cause lights to dim slightly in any residential wiring scheme. Things with big motors or compressors (like HVAC units) will cause a major short-term power draw. It wouldn’t be unusual to see a slight voltage drop when it kicks in, causing the dimming you are seeing.

    Likewise, if your overhead lights are on the same circuit as your outlets, then turning on a high-wattage appliance like an iron could cause dimming.

    I would be surprised someone would put some lights and outlets on the same circuit in a new or remodel job, but I don’t think it’s illegal generally.

    Anyway, if I were you I would start just by taking a look at your breaker box to see what kind of service your unit has — e.g. 100 AMPS — and how the various circuits are organized on each breaker. Make a list of every light/receptacle and figure out which one is connected to which circuit.

    You would at least then be able to understand what’s on the same circuit and why this might be happening. And you would then have the information you need to determine if the wiring in your unit meets code at a basic level (e.g. too many receptacles or fixtures on each circuit, and separate circuits as required for hvac, fridge, dishwasher).

  • If you haven’t already you need to figure out what is running on each of the circuit breakers in your apartment, and how many amps are going into your apartment in total. It is possible that you have too many loads on one particular circuit. It could be that your lights are on the same circuit as a major load.

    You are right to be concerned about your appliances. It is never good to run electronic equipment and motors at voltages that are below those spec’d by the manufacturer. However, it is also possible that your refrigerator and other kitchen appliances are isolated on their own circuit.

    Your particular apartment could have an inadequate amount of electricity. It depends on the size of your apartment and how much of a load there is from your appliances.

    Also it is possible that your building never had the main lines from Pepco upgraded during the renovation. It costs thousands to upgrade the power. Now that the building has been redone, it is likely that the total energy usage in the building is much higher than it was, and that the service is inadequate. A good electrician will be able to help you answer these questions.

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