Law talk: Roof leak shows up after closing; who is responsible?

Q. My husband and I just purchased our first home. We did a home inspection which uncovered some problems. We agreed to accept $800 instead of the sellers fixing the problems.

We have been in the house a few weeks and we have a roof leak. We contacted the seller’s attorney who told us that we made a deal for $800 and that’s it, the seller won’t pay anything more.

The roof leak was not included in the items that we were paid for. By accepting the $800, did we let the seller off the hook for anything else that was wrong with the house?

A. No. You accepted $800 in lieu of seller repairing the items designated in your inspection letter. That’s all.

The seller is required to disclose any defect in the property that could not be uncovered with a reasonable inspection. Roof and basement leaks are classic “latent” defects as they generally cannot be discovered unless the leaks are active. Of course, sometimes the leaks leave evidence, which inspectors are always on the lookout for.

Presuming the seller did not disclose the defect, to prevail in court, you would be required to establish that the defect existed prior to closing and that the seller was aware of the defect. Speak to a real estate attorney about your options, which would probably start with a letter to seller’s attorney demanding reimbursement for the cost of repair.

Q. I am looking at a piece of property in Chicago that has major problems. The property is owned by a bank and requires a complete renovation. There are also numerous building code violations against the property and the building is involved in a building court case.

I am comfortable with the work that needs to be done but the building court case concerns me. I will need time to complete all the work that needs to be done and I don’t want to put a lot of money in this only to run into trouble with the city. I’ve never dealt with this before and I would appreciate any help you could give me.

A. Determine the next court date and court room and appear on that date. If you don’t know the next date or courtroom, call the city corporation counsel. They should be able to provide this information with either the case number or address of the property.

When you appear in court, speak to the city attorney and tell him you are considering purchasing the property. Explain the work you are planning to do and the time frame the work will require. The city has an interest in rehabilitating buildings and they will work with you.

What may (or may not) occur is you and the city entering into a consent decree, which would be recorded against the property. The consent decree generally describes the work you intend to do and the time frame in which you intend to do it. By recording the decree, the city retains control over the property, knowing your ability to sell or refinance the property will be inhibited by the recording.

The advantage of entering into a consent decree is that you don’t need to appear in court every 60 or 90 days for status reports on your progress. Absent the consent decree, the case will just be continued for status every 60 or 90 days to ensure progress is being made.

Once the work is completed and the property passes inspection, you ask the court to enter an order finding the property in full compliance and dismissing the case. You then record the order, which removes the lien.

ŸSend your questions to Attorney Tom Resnick, 345 N. Quentin Road, Palatine, IL 60067, by e-mail to or call (847) 359-8983.