Building Defects: What A Seller Doesn't Have To Tell You Before You Purchase A Home

Law Blog

Before you purchase a new home, you will likely order an independent inspection. In addition, you will have a list of the things from the seller disclosing the defects of the home. Unfortunately, despite your own inspection and the disclosure of defects, you can still inherit some major issues with the property.

What a Seller Doesn't Have to Tell You

A disclosure of defects can tell you a lot about what's wrong with a building, but it doesn't have to tell you everything. Many people are under the assumption that if a seller knows about a problem, then the seller has to disclose those issues. That's only partially true.

Defects fall into two categories, latent and patent. The seller only has to reveal one, but doesn't necessarily have to reveal the other.

Latent defects – A latent defect is a fault that is more or less hidden from the naked eye. There is no specific list of what these types of defects are, but in general, they're things that make a place unsafe or unreasonably costly.

  • If it makes a property dangerous and unfit to live in
  • If it violates building codes or has serious structural issues
  • If there's a serious health concern, like mold

A seller has to tell you about latent defects. However, the seller only has to tell you about the latent defects that he or she knows about. Keep that in mind. If you purchase the place and find dangerous structural damage while renovating the basement, the seller is not liable for fixing it. If the seller didn't know about the damage, then the seller could not have disclosed it to you.

If you have reason to believe that a seller knew about a latent defect, but did not tell you, then you can sue. You can also terminate the purchase contract. A seller cannot hide a known latent defect, and they cannot downplay it. They must tell you in full about them and list them all for you in writing.

Patent defects – A patent defect is one that you can easily see, or one that an inspector can find during a routine inspection. The seller has no obligation to inform you of these things, as they should be readily apparent to you or an inspector. If a seller attempts to hide a patent defect or lies about it, then they are simply dishonest, and there's not much you can do about it.

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands

Finding patent and latent defects is something that you should do on your own.

  • DO NOT rely strictly on the seller's information
  • DO NOT rely strictly on any report the seller already has
  • DO conduct your own inspection
  • DO hire a professional inspector that will look beyond the surface level problems
  • DO ask the seller directly about possible problems with the house
  • DO ask questions about each latent issue on the written disclosure

If you suspect the seller knowingly sold you a home with latent defects, you should speak to a real estate lawyer immediately. In fact, you should involve such a lawyer from the very start before you sign anything. For more information, contact real estate LA law or a similar firm.


26 January 2015