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Water Damaged House

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

REM #LAW 669

By Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Summary: After buying a home, the buyer discovers that there are some plumbing problems that the seller never disclosed. Is the seller liable for the damage to the house? In their weekly column about real estate law, Sam Tamkin and Ilyce Glink discuss seller disclosure laws.

Q: We purchased our home a couple of years ago. Shortly after we bought, I noticed the paint on the baseboard of the second bathroom was bubbly.
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When I pulled the boards away I saw water and discovered that the master shower was leaking. I called a plumber and he said the drain and trap were rusted out and that water was draining directly under house and floor.

The seller's failed to disclose this to us. Do I have a case against the seller?

A: Most states have seller disclosure laws. These laws require a seller to disclose to a buyer known material defects in the home. The first issue is to determine whether the seller knew of the leak.

Did the seller paint the bathroom right before putting it on the market to hide the water problem? Did the neighbors see plumbing trucks come to the house prior to the house going on to the market? Did the seller do anything to hide the damage from being discovered?

If you inspected the home prior to the contract or as part of the contract, did your inspector see any evidence of a problem in the bathroom? If your inspector didn't catch the problem and the sellers did not hide the problem, its probable that they did not know of the issue and you most likely don't have a case against the seller.

On the other hand, if the seller hid the problem, called plumbers to look at the issue and decided to hide the problem by painting over the baseboards and conceal the problem in the floor, you may have a case against the seller.

Unfortunately, you said that you closed some years ago. Some seller disclosure statutes may require you to sue the seller within a year of the closing to recover damages from the seller. You will need to check with an attorney in your state that has litigated seller disclosure issues to determine whether it's too late to go after the seller even if you would have had a case against them.

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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