Q: I recently purchased a home where we are experiencing water leaking in a finished basement (tri-level home). We did have a home inspection prior to purchasing the property, but due to the wallpaper, nothing would have been able to be detected.
It initially appears to be a crack in the foundation that is causing the leaking and at this time, we’re unclear how severe the damage is. The initial estimates to fix the problem suggest it could cost up to $10,000.
Do we have any legal recourse against the previous owner as nothing was indicated on the disclosure when we purchased the home? If so, what is my best approach?
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 or the crack in the wall.
Did the seller paint or add the wall paper to the basement walls just before putting it on the market to hide the water problem or the crack in the wall? Did the neighbors see work being done in the home prior to listing it that might relate to this problem? Did the seller do anything to hide the damage from being discovered?
If you can prove that the seller hid the problem, you may have a good case against the seller. On the other hand, if the wallpaper has been in place for a long time, it’s possible that your sellers didn’t know about it. If you don’t think you can prove that the sellers knew of the problem, you may have a hard time pursuing an action against the seller.
In some cases it’s possible that the problem you are now experiencing is new. While the crack may have been there for some time, the water problem may be new to the home. It’s even possible that new landscaping or just the passage of time is now causing the water problem in the basement.
In order to go after the sellers, you’re going to need prove that they knew of the problem, had a duty to disclose it to you and failed to disclose it.
A local real estate attorney or litigator who specializes in real estate can provide further information about any legal options you may have.