Did Seller Know About Leaky Roof?

Q: We just purchased a home three weeks ago. We were in the home for just two weeks before the first rain. We found that the roof leaked.

Before we purchased the home, the seller had originally disclosed that the roof leaked. We then decided not to buy it. A few days later, the seller disclosure form was amended and then it stated that the roof did not leak. The seller and Realtor said the original disclosure form was an error. Now we find that in fact the roof does leaks. I talked to the seller and he stated to me that the roof had leaked before but he didn’t notice anything else.

I think he’s lying and we don’t want to get stuck with having to pay $15,000 for a new roof. What options do we have?

A: If you have proof that the seller knew, or should have known, that the roof leaked you can sue the seller for fraud. If the seller changed his mind (and then altered his seller disclosure form) simply to get you to buy the home, you may have a good case to go after the seller.

One question comes to mind: Did you (or a professional home inspector) inspect the roof before you bought the home? If you did not, you should have. Once the seller disclosed to you that there was a roof problem, you should have made sure before you closed that he wasn’t lying.

If you did inspect and found no leak, it may be that the roof problem you now have is a new problem. You can discuss the leak with your roofing contractor and find out what the problem is with the roof and how long he thinks that problem has existed.

Finally, take a look around the ceiling below the roof to see if you can tell whether there was prior damage that was painted over by the seller. If a seller knows of a problem and covers it up, the seller could get himself into a big trouble.

Seller disclosure laws vary from state-to-state, so consult a real estate attorney or an attorney who specializes in real estate litigation for more details. In some states, you may be able to cover attorney’s fees in addition to your real damages.

By the way, if it turns out that the Realtor coached the seller to lie on his or her seller disclosure form to get you to buy the home, I’d contact your state Realtor association as well as the National Association of Realtors and file a grievance against the Realtor and his or her brokerage firm. In addition, you can file a grievance against the Realtor with the state agency that licenses real estate agents in your state.

But you better have proof that the Realtor was either the source of the problem or was complicit. While there are some bad apples in the real estate community, the Realtor might have been an innocent bystander when the seller decided that there was no problem with roof and changed the disclosure form.


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