Q: I bought a condo in February 2007. I was really happy till the condo association assessed us an extra amount, on top of the monthly maintenance fee, to fix a water problem that had been existing for years in the garage.
The previous owners did not reveal anything about this extra assessment during settlement. I went to small claims court, but the judge claimed I hadn’t proven my case. He could see the sellers were an elderly couple in poor health. It didn’t help that the husband died shortly before we went to court, and his wife (who did show up) was feeble and showed signs of Parkinson’s disease.
There is strong evidence that the real estate agent representing the sellers knew about the water problem, since she had been active in the complex for some time. By the time all the garages on the property have been redone, I will be out of pocket $15,000!
I know I have the law on my side (I’m in Maryland). What am I to do, short of spending a fortune on a real estate lawyer? Thank you for looking into this.
A: If the law was on your side, you would have won in small claims court. You didn’t, and the judge told you that you hadn’t proved your case.
Seller disclosure cases can be difficult to win. You have to prove that the sellers knew about a problem that is undisclosed or materially hidden.
You might have discovered the problem if you had done your due diligence on the property before you bought. You should have asked for the past two years of building budgets and minutes from at least the last two years of condo association board meetings. If you had looked over these items, you should have seen long discussions about the problem and a vote to institute the special assessment you’re now paying. If you had used a home inspector, the inspector might have alerted you to the problem.
Once a condo board starts discussions of this nature, you could make the argument that it’s public information — or at least, information that you could have, and should have, accessed. Sounds like you didn’t do this basic level of due diligence.
At this point, you might have to pay the $15,000. I’d talk to a real estate attorney to see if there is any action you can take against any other party (home inspector/agent) in the deal. Otherwise, you may be out of luck.
Jan. 19, 2009.
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