Purchasing a home is often the biggest financial investment a family makes. Although these transactions often go smoothly, issues can arise. These can include a seller's failure to disclose a leaky basement or termite infestation. Unfortunately, instances involving sellers who withhold information during a home sale transaction are not uncommon. A recent article in Forbes addressed the practice, noting common examples include withholding problems with pests, the roof or foundation and how old or how well systems like furnaces and water heaters function.
In some cases, these practices are against the law. Governing law varies by state, but Pennsylvania generally requires sellers to disclose these issues.
Pennsylvania state law and seller disclosure
Pennsylvania state law requires sellers disclose all known material defects about the property that are not readily observable. The law defines a "material defect" as one that would have a "significant adverse impact" on the value of the property or that involves unreasonable risk to the new homeowners.
The statutory form includes disclosure for the following items:
- Roof. The seller must disclose the date the roof was installed, whether or not it was replaced or repaired during the current owner's ownership, any leaks or issues with gutters or downspouts.
- Basement and crawl space. Any issues with water leaking into the basement must be disclosed.
- Termites and pests. The seller must also disclose whether or not the property has had issues with pests, dry rot and associated damage.
- Structural items. Any water leakage, movement or shifting of the walls or foundation, as well as issues with the driveway, walkway, retaining walls and patios must also be disclosed.
These are just a few of the issues that state law requires the seller disclose. Additional disclosures are required and many realtors provide a form that has even more, recommended disclosures.
Legal counsel can help
If a seller knowingly withholds information that they are required to disclose, the buyer could sue for the cost of any resulting damages. In some cases, the cost of repairing the issue is expensive. In other cases, the issue could have contributed to additional, costly damage. Either way, the buyer may be able to move forward with a lawsuit against the seller to receive compensation to cover these costs.
Establishing a case generally requires the buyer to prove that the seller either knew or should have known about the problem. Gathering the evidence necessary to overcome this burden can be an arduous process. As a result, those who find themselves in this situation are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced Pennsylvania real estate litigation lawyer. This legal professional will work to better ensure your interests are protected.