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Seller Disclosure Laws

Ask the Real Estate Lawyer: Real Estate Law Q&A

REM #LAW 695

By Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Summary: A reader purchased a home that has turned into a nightmare. The seller lied about the condition of several thing, including the roof. Ilyce and Sam explain about seller disclosure laws.

Q: I bought a home early in 2005, and that’s when my nightmare started. At the settlement table, my agent included a clause in the contract that the seller would pay for some electrical work which was undone.
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The work will cost more than $2,700 and the seller has skipped town and we can’t find him.

The seller had given me a document that listed the roofer that repaired the roof as certified and that the roofer claimed that the roof was "in excellent condition.” I have since found out that the roofer was not licensed and that the roof was in horrible condition and leaking.

Two weeks ago, I found out that the water heater was placed over a hole in the floor to conceal water seeping in from the ground. I have respiratory problems which have been aggravated by these problems and I don’t have the money for all of the repairs. What are my options?

A: Most states have seller disclosure laws that require the seller to disclose to you material defects that affect the home. Simply put, if the seller lied to you and you find the material defect in the home, you can sue the seller to recover your damages. In some cases you can even recover your attorneys’ fees in suing the seller.

If the seller believed that the roofer fixed his roof, you might have a hard time recovering anything from the seller. However, you may be able to sue the roofer for his shoddy workmanship and lying about being licensed. You may be able to file a complaint with the agency that licenses roofers in your state and hope that they prosecute the case and you recover some money.

However, state agencies are rather pressed for time and money and unless the agency has received enough complaints about the roofer, they may not act against him.

If the seller has truly disappeared, you will have a hard time suing him. To the extent the real estate agent actively participated in the concealment of these issues, you might be able to go after the real estate agent. But just because the agent represented the seller, the agent may not have had actual knowledge that would rise to a level to have him pay you for the problems with the home. If you have other information that proves that the agent knew the roof was shot and he hid this information from you, you might want to pursue a case against him.

For more information, you will have to consult with an attorney and go through your issues with him or her. If the statute in your state allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees and the attorney feels you have a great case, you might want to go that route.

As far as the water heater is concerned, you should talk to a plumber and determine whether the heater is properly installed. If you find out it was not installed properly, you might be able to call the plumbing company that installed it and have them fix the problem.

Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Ilyce R. Glink’s latest book is 50 Simple Steps You Can Take To Sell Your Home Faster and For More Money In Any Market. If you have questions for them, write: Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, IL 60022 or contact them through Ilyce’s website




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