Right of complaint beyond the statutory period of 5 years

| Insight

In Norwegian consumer law there often is a deadline of 5 years to make a formal complaint to a seller. In certain circumstances this deadline does not apply and makes it possible to make claims for a longer timespan than 5 years.

All contract legislation in Norway specifies time limits for filing a complaint. Put very simply, a complaint in this context is the process whereby a party to an agreement complains about a defect and asserts a claim within a defined time limit. Once the specified time limit has expired, the right to bring the claim will be lost.

The logic behind the rules on complaints is that the parties to an agreement must be able to define the end point of, for example, a sale or delivery. As time passes, the parties must be able to expect that the product or service delivered was of the agreed quality or quantity. This rests on the principle of loyalty between contracting parties and that the established legal conditions will persist.

In the field of consumer law in Norway, time limits for submitting complaints are defined in the Consumer Purchases Act, the Craftsman Services Act, the Housing Construction Act and the Sale of Real Property Act. The provisions on complaints in these Acts specify two time limits: one relative and one absolute. The absolute time limit is five years from handover / takeover. The relative time limit is that a complaint must be submitted within a “reasonable period of time” after the defect was or ought to have been discovered.

These two deadlines run in parallel, and the relative time limit for complaints entails that it is important to be active and file a complaint as soon as a defect is discovered.  In one judgment, a complaint filed three months and 12 days after the defect was discovered was allowed, but these kinds of circumstances must be assessed specifically in each individual case.

Additionally, all the aforementioned Acts of law provide for exceptions to the time limits for complaints. If the seller has acted with gross negligence or otherwise dishonourably or in bad faith, the seller cannot then plead that the time limit for submitting a complaint about a defect has expired. In other words, in these kinds of cases the time limits for complaints no longer apply. The background for and logic behind this is that it would be unreasonable for a seller who has acted dishonourably to benefit from the protection afforded by the time limits for complaints.

A practical example of this is a case that Simonsen Vogt Wiig brought in the municipality of Sandnes in spring 2022. A property developer had built 30 homes in 2012, which had been sold in accordance with the Housing Construction Act. Leaks were later detected in the façades of 18 out of a total of 30 houses. The issue in this case was that the property developer had not adhered to standard good building practices and expectations with regard to water table sills and window fittings, among other things. The district court found that the property developer had acted with gross negligence, such that there was no time limit for complaints depriving the buyers of the right to claim compensation from the property developer. The property developer has stated that he will appeal the judgment.

This judgment is illustrative of the type of cases where time limits for complaints do not apply. It is highly unacceptable that a professional property developer does not follow the norms for good building practices, installation instructions, SINTEF Building Research Design Guides, etc. – even more so in cases where the non-compliance results in serious damage to buildings.

When the time limits for complaints do not apply, only the Limitation Act and the rules on inaction place restrictions on the life of a claim. The Limitation Act provides an opportunity to bring claims far beyond the main rule of the Act and in certain cases with additional time limits beyond the general time limit (of three years) of up to 10 years in certain cases based on lack of knowledge of the grounds for the claim.

In summary, in some cases sellers may be liable for defects far beyond the absolute five-year time limit for complaints. Simonsen Vogt Wiig has extensive experience with the kinds of complicated legal questions raised by this type of issue. It can therefore be a good idea to contact us to find out whether it is possible to bring a claim after the expiry of the general five-year time limit for complaints.