Can you take action against the seller, the seller’s agent or the inspector if they failed to notify you of a problem with your home? The simple answer is yes. See below for a deeper dive into the issue and what necessary steps you must take to resolve the issue.
Who is Responsible?
The responsible parties might include one or more of the following:
- The Seller. Minnesota has laws requiring sellers to advise buyers of certain defects in the property, typically by filling out a standard disclosure form before the sale is completed. (This responsibility remains even if you bought the house “as is.”) The standard form usually asks the seller to state whether the property has certain features (like appliances, a roof, a foundation, systems for electricity, water, and heating, and more) and then rate or describe their condition. Some states’ disclosure laws are more comprehensive than others, and if a feature isn’t on the list, the seller may not be required to speak up. Also, the seller isn’t usually required to scout out problems. But if there’s clearly a place where the seller should have stated a problem but denied it, your job is to try to figure out whether the seller in fact knew about it. For example, if the seller patched over or hid problem areas, or if the neighbors have told you about the seller’s efforts to deal with a problem, the evidence is on your side.
- The Seller’s Real Estate Agent. In some situations the sellers’ agents is liable for failing to disclose problems they observed or were told of by the sellers, though often their duties are fairly limited.
- Your Inspector. Hopefully, you got a home inspection before buying. In theory, the inspector should have spotted problems that the seller wasn’t aware of. If the inspector missed problems that an expert (a professional peer) should have noticed, the inspector may be liable. Read over your inspection report to see what it said about the area in question.
Do You Have a Case?
Once you’ve figured out the possible responsible parties, you should take action immediately. Time is of the essence in these situations. Keep reading to grasp a better understanding of which category your case falls into.
- The defect was there before you bought the home. Problems that started since the purchase or that are a natural result of your home’s aging or your lapses in maintenance are yours to deal with. Of course, determining when a problem started can get complicated. For example, a blockage in your sewer line may be a new problem, or it may be a recurrence of a long-time issue with roots growing into the pipes. You may need a professional’s analysis. But if the problem could have started before you bought the house, keep reading.
- It’s not an obvious defect that you could have seen yourself before buying. If there was a huge crack running across the living room ceiling at the open house and you’ve only now decided to bring it up, no dice. But if it was hidden by a false ceiling, the matter may be worth pursuing. Don’t worry if your inspector should have seen the problem. That just means you’ve got a potential claim against the inspector, too.
- No one told you about the defect before the sale, or someone actually lied to you about it.The responsible party may have been the seller, the seller’s agent, or the inspector, as explained above.
- You relied on the lies, falsehoods or inadequate disclosures. This one’s probably easy. If, for example, you took the seller’s word that a remodel job was up to code in deciding to buy or in setting your price, you acted in reliance.
- You’ve incurred monetary damage as a result. Your costs of repairs or related damages (such as destruction of your personal property due to a flooded basement, or a decrease in your property value due to an undisclosed environmental hazard) will become legally speaking, the “damages” that you may collect—even if you haven’t paid any out-of-pocket costs yet (for example, you need a new foundation but haven’t actually hired a contractor to build it). But don’t expect to collect damages that go beyond the house itself, such as for your pain and suffering.
Contact an Attorney
If you are still reading this you more than likely have a case against one the third parties listed above, please contact an attorney immediately to ensure your rights are upheld.