A seller must tell a buyer through a real estate disclosure about any issues affecting the condo’s value, but not all issues.
Q: I bought a townhouse condo four years ago and it has just come to my attention (by a local plumber we hired) that the main water shut-off valve for some of the other units in my association is located in my house. I was never informed about this from the seller or the homeowner’s association.
If the plumber had not found out that it needed to be replaced I would have never known about it. Was the seller or HOA legally obligated to disclose this information prior to purchase?
A: You have lived in your townhouse for four years and you didn’t know that the main shut-off valve for various townhouse in your association was in your home. It’s quite possible, if not probable, that your seller didn’t know that either. You can’t expect the seller to tell you something that you yourself did not know after living in the home for four years.
Even if the seller did know that the master shut-off valve was in your townhouse, we’re not sure that is a defect that has to be disclosed under seller disclosure laws. Usually seller disclosure laws provide for a seller to have to tell you of known defects or problems that exist in a home – defects that would materially affect the value of the property.
You might want to review the homeowner’s association documents and see if there is a mention of the shut-off valve in the documents. Some developers will specifically indicate in those documents where some of the common elements for an association are located and specifically provide that the replacement or repair of those common elements will be an association expense.
At least if the association documents talk about these issues and place the cost of repair on the association, you later don’t have an ambiguity as to who might be responsible for those costs.
If the association documents do reference the location of the main shut-off valve in your unit, that document is of public record and you should have received a copy of that document before you purchased your home.
Once you received that document, you could have read it and found out that the shut-off valve was in your home. If it was mentioned there, the seller would not have to give you an additional disclosure. It would have been up to you to read the association documents and inspect the home before buying it to know what you were getting.
This situation is an example of how home buyers really need to closely read all of the documentation provided before closing on the property. While some of it is poorly written, the building or property rules and regulations, budget, minutes for homeowner association meetings and other documentation are all important and could potentially affect how you live in your home.
It’s also important to have a professional home inspector and to follow that home inspector closely during the inspection of the property. That would have been the time to ask, “Hey, what is that shut-off valve.” And if the professional home inspector couldn’t give you an answer, you could have gone back to the sellers and asked for further explanation.