Urban communities encompass mid-rise, high-rise, and mixed-use developments with a complex set of legal issues and building systems. An experienced legal and forensic team is essential to help Urban Owner Associations successfully navigate through the construction defect claims process.

The Miller Law Firm will assist Urban Owner Associations abide by their fiduciary duties to their association members by providing them with the necessary information to act decisively, and in a timely manner. We can audit an association's violations of building performance standards, which can begin as early as 1 or 2 years after the date of completion, under the SB 800 legislative structure.

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We will also assemble the best experts in their respective field who understand the unique construction and maintenance needs of systems, such as, subterranean parking, exterior surfaces, commercial and retail spaces, the complex mechanical systems (elevators, boilers, and HVAC's). Below is a discussion of common defects found in these types of urban structures as provided to The Miller Law Firm by Simpson Gumpertz & Heger.

Common High-rise Construction Defects

Modern high-rise construction is subject to a number of design and construction shortfalls that can lead to problems including:

  • Water Leakage
  • Excessive Air Leakage
  • Material Disintegration
  • Insulating Glass Seal Failure
  • Loss of Attachment
  • Brittle Fracture
  • Condensation
  • Inadequate Noise Control
  • Staining, Discoloration and Non-Uniformity of Color and Reflectivity
  • Excessive Heat Loss or Gain

Problems with high-rise construction have also increased with the increase in the use of materials traditionally only used on low and mid-rise construction, such as stucco and other siding materials. [Photo 1; Photo 2]

Exterior Wall Leakage:

  • Stucco, masonry, and concrete cladding materials are not impermeable and are rarely uncracked. For example, stucco and concrete panels crack due to stress concentra­tion at re-entrant corners (i.e., window openings), and due to normal structural deflections, thermal movements, shrinkage, and creep. [Photo 3]
  • Cracking in EIFS wall assemblies is a direct leakage path that can lead to significant underlying material deterioration and damage. [Photo 4; Photo 5; Photo 6] 
  • External joint sealants, alone, do not provide highly reliable and durable water­proofing because of the following:
  • Organic sealants have relatively short lives due to heat aging, UV breakdown, strain-induced cracking, and degrada­tion due to chemical reaction with adjacent materials. [Photo 7] Inorganic sealants (silicones) have greater resistance to material degradation but are still limited by adhesion durability.
  • Sealant substrates are often incapable of maintaining a watertight bond with the sealant even if the sealant is good; watertight bond requires meticulously cleaned surfaces, absence of weak surface layers (e.g., mortar), absence of contaminants that can destroy adhesion (e.g., moisture), absence of cracks in the substrate (e.g., brick/mortar separa­tions), and adequate surface area. The probability of consistently avoiding all these pitfalls is low. [Photo 8; Photo 9]

Incomplete waterproofing membrane and sheet metal flashing for stucco, metal panel, and similar siding materials. [Photo 10; Photo 11]

Window and Glazed Curtain Wall Leakage:

Like their low rise and mid-rise counterparts, tall buildings include glazed openings in the exterior walls. These may be in the form of windows in an opaque wall, or monolithic glass and metal curtain wall assemblies. Problems with the design and construction of these assemblies include the following:

Glazing System
  • Frame corners not reliably watertight:
    • corner seal may be missing [Photo 12]
    • corner seal may rupture due to frame distortion during transportation and installation
    • seal may fail due to normal sealant degradation and loss of adhesion
    • shrinkage of plastic thermal breaks[Photo 13]
    • missing or incomplete end dams [Photo 14; Photo 15]
  • Penetrations - fasteners through sill allow leakage [Photo 17]
  • Inside glazing stops - allow water in glazing pocket to seep to inside if the glazing stop is at the same level as water in glazing pocket

Photo 1

High-rise construction, particularly residential construction, often includes numerous discrete openings in the exterior walls that must be designed and constructed to be reliably watertight.

Photo 2

Modern mid-rise and high-rise construction often includes a variety of materials such as stucco and metal panels alongside more "traditional" curtain wall systems.

Photo 3

Cracks in concrete and masonry wall panels can allow water to bypass perimeter sealants

Photo 4

Cracks through the relatively thin EIFS lamina allow water entry.

Photo 5

Corroded light-gauge metal framing for EIFS wall assembly.

Photo 6

Water damage and biological growth on interior gypsum wall board from leaks through EIFS wall assembly.

Photo 7

Material degradation of urethane sealant.

Photo 8

Chemical incompatibility; butyl sealant migrating into adjacent polyurethane.

Photo 9

Sealant adhesion problems.

Photo 10

Sealant adhesion problems.

Photo 11

Incomplete flashing and waterproofing of exterior wall opening.

Photo 12

Un-sealed joint between window sill flashing and adjacent brick panel.

Photo 13

Incompletely sealed frame corners/joints.

Photo 14

Open joints at frame corners due to incomplete or shrunken thermal breaks.

Photo 15

Curtain wall and associated windows typically include end dams at the sill to collect and direct water to the exterior. These corners must be sealed in a durable and watertight manner.

Photo 16

Incompletely sealed end dams allow water to leak into the wall cavity.

Photo 17

Sealant adhesion failure due to inadequate bond surface.

Photo 18

Unsealed fastener penetrations at window sills allow water intrusion