Q: We purchased our first home in September 2009. We hired a professional home inspection and no major problems were noted during the inspection.
After a few months, we began to notice a sewage gas smell throughout the upstairs and into the attic. We had a plumber out several times but were not able to solve this problem. I called another local plumber and he claimed to have been out at our home numerous times with the previous owner for the same problem, but nothing could ever be resolved.
The previous owner opted not to take more exploratory measures on account of the cost it would be to do so, and so left the issue unresolved. We were not informed of this problem when we purchased the home and only recently learned that the seller was aware of this problem from a professional.
Additionally, we have a fireplace that was said to be in working order when the home was purchased, but on trying to use it, the entire house filled with smoke. We later had talked to a group of people in town who knew the previous owners and asked if we had ever gotten the fireplace problem fixed. They knew the previous owner had a problem with it. We had a fireplace guy out to have a look and he said it obviously needed some work and is a potential fire hazard.
My question is, having already purchased the home and now occupying it for more than a year, do we have any kind of legal recourse against the previous owners?
A: If you sue the seller for fraud (claiming the house was in working order while knowing that there were material issues), I don’t believe there is a statute of limitations, or if there is one in your state, it could be as short as one year or longer. So, if you don’t sue your seller within the time frame required in your state you’d be out of luck.
I wouldn’t wait. You should immediately contact a real estate attorney that handles seller disclosure issues and go over the facts of your case. But before you start spending big money with attorneys, you should determine what each problem is and what it will take to fix it.
Make sure you get at least two estimates as to what it will take to correct both problems. If you end up finding out that the cost is less than $1,000, you might decide to move on and forget it. While you could sue the seller for that expense, you might find the hassle of dealing with the issue might outweigh what you get back from the seller.
You can even go to small claims court in your state and sue the seller, but you still have to determine what it will cost you and what you can get back.
You can also contact the broker and the sellers and let them know what you found out. Give them the opportunity to make it right and come clean. If they can’t or won’t make you happy, then you should consult with a litigation attorney with experience in seller disclosure issues.
If you bought the property as a short sale, the sellers likely don’t have any cash to make things right, and suing them might be a complete waste of your time and money.
If this is the case, you might be stuck for the cost of fixing these problems, unless you can prove that the seller’s agent knew these problems existed, had a legal obligation to disclose these issues to you and failed to tell you about them.