Mold behind wallpaper was not disclosed
Q: We recently sold our home and made full disclosure of every defect we could think of. The buyers hired a home inspector, and we repaired all of the defects listed in the inspection report. We wanted the buyers to be satisfied with the home and felt we had dealt fairly and honestly with them. But after the sale, they remodeled the interior, and that's when an unknown problem was revealed. When they stripped the wallpaper in the master bathroom, the entire back side of the paper was covered with mold. They are now making angry accusations, and we're expecting to be sued. How can we be liable for a condition we were unaware of?
A: The discovery of unknown defects often occurs when remodeling projects take place. The removal of drywall, for example, can reveal faulty wiring, leaky plumbing, substandard framing or termite damage. When these surprises occur in the aftermath of a home purchase, two questions are commonly asked by the new owners: "Why wasn't this disclosed?" and "Did the sellers know about this?"
All too often, the second question is overlooked, and the sellers are automatically blamed for nondisclosure. A reasonable dose of common sense is needed in these situations.
In your case, mold was growing on the backside of the bathroom wallpaper, and this was not apparent to anyone until the paper was removed. You didn't see it while you lived there, the buyers and real estate agents did not notice it on their final walk-through inspection, and the home inspector didn't see it in the course of the property inspection. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that it was not discernible. As unpleasant as the discovery of mold may be, the lack of prior disclosure does not appear to be the deliberate fault of anyone. It was simply an unfortunate and unavoidable consequence: one that calls for a fair response from reasonable people.
Bathroom wallpaper is typically vinyl coated to resist moisture damage caused by steam. However, while the vinyl membrane keeps air moisture in the bathroom from penetrating the outer surface, it also keeps humidity that may be present within the wall from evaporating. Instead, moisture that is inside the wall may condense on the backside of the vinyl coating. When this occurs, you have the perfect environment for mold growth -- paper (which is an excellent food source for mold), trapped moisture and darkness. Unfortunately, while the mold continues to grow in this concealed area, the vinyl coating prevents any telltale signs from emerging on the surface. This is why the mold problem in the home you sold was not discovered until the paper was removed.
Hopefully, the new homeowners will realize this was a no-fault situation that does not warrant accusations or conflict. Because it is a preexisting condition, perhaps the buyers and sellers could agree to share the cost of remediation.
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