What Can I Do About House Defects After a Sale?
Buying a home is the biggest investment most people will ever make in their lifetime. With home prices nationwide now averaging about $400,000, the stakes are pretty high. You generally have to come up with a hefty down payment and then take on a monthly payment obligation for 30 or more years.
What happens, however, if once you move into your dream home, you discover that things weren’t as advertised and you have costly defects that need repairing? Can you hold the seller, the real estate agents involved, or even the home inspector responsible?
Like many other states, Connecticut requires the seller of a home to complete a disclosure form in connection with any home sale. The form consists of 38 questions about the condition of the property and provides the seller with three options: yes, no, or unknown. A yes answer is the only one that requires elaboration.
If you’ve purchased a home in or around Stamford, Connecticut, only to discover undisclosed defects after moving in, contact the real estate attorneys at the Law Offices of Peter V Lathouris LLC to pursue your legal options.
We have more than four decades of combined experience in real estate law, and we can guide you through the process of correcting any deception in the sale process. In addition to the Stamford area, we also proudly serve clients in the surrounding areas of Fairfield County, New Haven County, and anywhere south of Hartford.
Common Defects in Homes
You may purchase a home that on inspection looks fine, but come the first rain of the season, you suddenly notice the ceiling is showing signs of leakage. A fresh coat of paint may have covered up the problem when you purchased your dream home, but now reality is setting in.
A leaking roof may be one major type of hidden defect, but others may also exist and even escape inspection. Common defects include:
Bad sewer lines or rusted pipes
Termites or rotten wood
Cracks in the foundation or the driveway
Bad ventilation or old and worn windows
Septic tank system or heater issues
Outdated wiring or electrical problems
Connecticut’s Disclosure Law
As mentioned earlier, Connecticut does require sellers to provide a disclosure document to buyers, according to Connecticut General Statutes Section 20-327b.
Called the “Residential Property Condition Disclosure Report,” the form requires the seller to answer many pages' worth of questions. These range from basic informational inquiries — how long have you lived in the home, how old it is, and so forth — to inquiries about the condition of various specific aspects of the home, indoors and outdoors.
As for the conditions of the home, the answers can be yes, no, or unknown. If yes is the answer, then specifics must be provided. If you state unknown, that signifies that you have no knowledge of any problem in that area.
Under the code mandating the form, you as the seller are under no obligation to hire a professional to investigate your home for defects. Instead, the burden is on the buyer to conduct an inspection. The form includes a signature line for the buyer to acknowledge receipt, and it contains this warning:
"The buyer is urged to carefully inspect the property and, if desired, to have the property inspected by an expert. The buyer understands that there are areas of the property for which the seller has no knowledge and this disclosure statement does not encompass those areas. The buyer also acknowledges that the buyer has read and received a signed copy of this statement from the seller or seller's agent."
Who’s Responsible If Defects Surface?
The only penalty for the seller for not submitting the form to the buyer is a $500 fine, which is sort of an incentive for the buyer not to bother with the form if he or she knows of defects or suspects there may be some. Also, if submitting the form and the seller lists unknown, that is also a sort of defense against any defects that later surface. Therefore, the burden really shifts to the buyer to do their due diligence and get a thorough inspection of the property.
However, that doesn’t mean that the seller is “off the hook.” If defects surface after the home is sold and they should have been obvious to the previous owner, the buyer can have a civil lawsuit case for fraud or breach of contract.
The seller may not be the only one liable. The seller’s real estate agent or broker may be complicit in the nondisclosure or in hiding of the defect. Home inspectors who fail to find the defects, however, often have clauses in their contracts that limit their liability to the cost of the inspection.
What Can Be Done?
If you buy a home and a defect becomes immediately (or soon after purchase) evident, you need to work with a real estate attorney to resolve the situation. The first step is generally to issue a demand letter to the seller requiring reparations. If that leads nowhere, you can attempt to engage the seller in mediation. The ultimate step, of course, is a civil lawsuit based on fraud and/or breach of contract.
Let Our Attorneys Advocate for You
Don’t go it alone. When a defect surfaces after you’ve purchased your dream home, contact us at the Law Offices of Peter V Lathouris LLC. We are knowledgeable about all aspects of real estate law in Connecticut and can press your case forward with every tool available. Reach out immediately for a free initial consultation.