Does seller disclosure cover plumbing problems? If there was misrepresentation on the disclosure sheet, you may have a case.

Q: Three months ago, I bought a house. I didn’t have a septic inspection. A few days ago, the septic pump failed. I had it pumped, then had a plumber come to inspect. He found that the tank is not a 1,000-gallon concrete tank (as stated on the seller disclosure statement), but a pit that is lined on all sides with well tile.

In the six hours between the pump out and the arrival of the plumber, the well tile had let groundwater in, filling over half the tank (and then continued to rise, preventing any maintenance to the pump). The plumber says it’s completely against both common sense and code. The disclosure sheet states the tank was installed while the seller lived there and additionally, the seller had installed a new septic pump 2 years ago, so I don’t believe there is any reason he doesn’t know.

Is there a case for misrepresentation on the disclosure sheet?

Seller Disclosure and Plumbing Problems

A: While we believe that you should always have a professional home inspection, there are certain items in some home that simply must be inspected before completing a purchase.

When it comes to septic systems, homes that use well water instead of a city sewer system, homes that are in areas known to have lead pipes, homes where termites are prevalent, homes located in areas of high radon concentrations, and homes located in areas where the soil is unstable, we’d hope that our readers know by now that you should have these systems inspected by expert contractors in addition to having a total house professional home inspection.

Why? Because any problems that creep up are likely to be disruptive and expensive to fix.

We recently had friends that purchased a home with a septic system. They were lucky as the state in which the home is located required a septic inspection prior to closing. The septic system in the home they were buying failed inspection. Not only did it fail, but the cost to fix the problem was going to be around $25,000. Fortunately for our friend, the contract stipulated that the seller had to pay to get the septic system fixed.

So we understand your pain and know that the fix could be extremely expensive.

What Does Seller Disclosure Cover?

But nothing is simple when it comes to seller disclosure. As we’ve written before, most states have seller disclosure laws that require a seller to disclose to a buyer known material defects in a home. The key in many places is trying to determine whether something was material and whether the seller actually knew about the problem.

While we understand that your seller installed the septic system and may have installed the pump a couple of years ago, this information alone does not indicate that the seller actually knew of a problem with the septic system. On the other hand, you mentioned that the seller represented to you that the system was a 1,000-gallon concrete septic system. If the seller made that statement, the seller should have understood what he was saying and you may have a claim against the seller for that misrepresentation.

However, trying to go after a seller for misrepresentation or even for a violation of the seller disclosure laws could be costly and time-consuming. We’d first like to see you get some estimates on what you need to do to fix your septic system problems. After you get at least three estimates and opinions from different septic system repair and installation companies, you’ll have a better idea of the costs you face.

Once you have the information from these other companies, you can figure out if the septic system that was installed in the home you purchased was ever up to code. It’s possible that the type of system installed in your home was up to code years ago when it was installed and the seller simply assumed it continued to up to code when the new pump was installed a couple of years ago. A septic system installed to code many years ago may let the seller off the hook on the issue of whether the system needs replacement or not due to newer standards and technologies, but it would not excuse the seller from giving you wrong information.

What we’re trying to tell you is that the situation is quite complex — certainly not cut and dried. Your state’s seller disclosure laws may affect an outcome in your case and the misinformation on the type of septic system installed may or may not be a huge factor in getting some remuneration from the seller.

If the listing broker mistakenly put the information on the listing sheet and the seller never focused on the issue, it may give an out to the seller and the listing agent. As is the case in the law, for every argument, we can find a counterargument.

You should consult with an attorney that has extensive experience in contract issues, matters of fraud and seller disclosure issues. With the right attorney, you should get a better idea as to whether you have a case against the seller and whether it’s worth pursuing. Good luck.

Keep Reading About Seller Disclosure

What Homebuyers Should Know About Seller Disclosure

No Seller Disclosure? Home Buyer Worries About Investing In the Home

Seller Disclosure Laws Don’t Cover All Issues