Liability can be difficult to establish
Q: When we purchased our home, the agent advertised it as "completely renovated," including "new electrical wiring and plumbing." This was also confirmed by the sellers in their disclosure statement. After we moved in, we had major plumbing problems, so we called our plumber. When he opened the bathroom wall, he found old deteriorated pipes and old faulty wiring.
By the time everything was repaired, we had spent thousands of dollars. None of these problems were disclosed by our home inspector or the seller, and the agent falsely represented the property. Our attorney is ready to file a lawsuit, but before taking that step, we'd like to get your opinion on the matter.
A: If the sellers represented the plumbing and electrical systems as "completely renovated," then they may be liable for false disclosure, assuming they knew the renovations were incomplete. It is possible the contractor who performed the electrical and plumbing upgrades falsely represented the completeness of the job. If that is the case, then the sellers could be the first victims in a line of misrepresentations.
If the agent advertised the renovations as being complete, he or she may also bear some liability. However, the agent may simply have relied on disclosures provided by the seller, but that is not necessarily an adequate excuse. Most experienced agents understand the litigious risks of their business and refrain from making representations they cannot substantiate. Again, we have some gray areas of uncertainty.
Finally, the home inspector may be subject to liability, having failed to report on specific plumbing and electrical defects. However, those defects may not have been apparent at the time of the inspection because the defects found by your plumber were concealed within the walls where no inspector could possibly have looked. Inspection reports typically disclaim liability for defects that are not visible and accessible at the time of the inspection. Also, home inspector liability often depends upon whether the inspector was given the opportunity to reinspect the defects prior to their being repaired. Because the repairs have now been made, that avenue of redress may no longer be open.
From my perspective, this is not a black-and-white situation with regard to disclosure liability. A determination of accountability hinges upon uncertainties as to who did or did not know the actual condition of the home.
Sometimes it is not possible to lay blame when bad things happen. Even when a case is more certain, it is not always worth the costs and stresses of a lawsuit. Instead, it may be prudent to accept the unfortunate loss and simply move on with life. For those who prefer to seek redress, there are legions of tort attorneys able and willing to pursue fruitless litigations, constructed on frameworks of subjective allegations, in exchange for excessive legal fees. Knowing what you do about the case, you'll have to make that choice.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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