The Seller’s Property Condition Disclosure form is one of the forms that a seller of a home must give the buyer so the buyer is aware of the condition of the property. And you’d think that sellers would want to tell the buyers about the issues with the house, right? Well, in most cases, they probably do. But for those sellers who don’t tell the buyer about all of the known issues, or, in other words, those sellers who lie and intentionally hide information, can cause major issues for the new buyer.
“While looking through the Seller’s Property Condition Disclosure form, everything looks really good. No major problems with roof leaks, plumbing, heating/cooling, appliances, termites, mold, or “meth contamination.”
When the real estate market is hot, people can tell a buyer pretty much anything about a home and the buyer will still buy it. Think about it, suppose you and your family are looking for a home but there are only 3 homes available in a city where you want to buy. When this happens, people are willing to pay an arm and a leg and are also much more willing to overlook potential issues with the house. They figure that they don’t really have a choice since there aren’t many options anyway. While looking through the Seller’s Property Condition Disclosure form, everything looks really good. No disclosed problems with roof leaks, plumbing, heating/cooling, appliances, termites, mold, or “meth contamination.”
The Problems Begin
So, you go ahead and move your family into the house. Everyone is really excited and you finally have the extra space you’ve been so desperately needing. A week or so later, however, you and your family members start feeling ill. You’re having watery, red, and burning eyes. Your spouse can’t stop sneezing and coughing. The kids come down with a fever. What is going on? Well, you take them to the hospital, and after tons of tests, the doctors tell you that you’ve all been exposed to a toxic chemical, and they suspect it is methamphetamines. They ask you if you and your spouse are meth users. That makes you super upset, of course you’re not, and you tell them, but how in the world did meth get into your bodies? The medical staff asks if you’ve changed anything in your lives recently, and again, yes, you just moved into your new home. The doctor recommends that you get an attorney, and says you shouldn’t go back to the home until it’s safe. Luckily, your brother lives close and has an extra bedroom and some couches, and welcomes you in.
What do you do now?
Even though the market is super hot right now, you know for a fact that you wouldn’t have bought the home knowing it was contaminated with meth. You hire a lawyer to review your case; cost is $325 per hour. Your new lawyer asks you if the seller ever told you about the home being contaminated with meth. “No!” you say. She asks to see your Seller Property Condition Disclosure, you know, that form you reviewed before you purchased the home. She quickly turns to page 4, paragraph 20.C, that reads, “To your knowledge, is the Property currently contaminated from the use, storing or manufacturing of methamphetamines?” The Seller checked “No.” Your lawyer suggests you have an expert go into your home and test for contaminants. After you get the results back, it’s confirmed, there is methamphetamine residue found throughout the house.
The lawyer tells you about a variety of different legal claims under the heading, “Fraud.” She recommends that you send a letter to the previous owner demanding that the Seller make this right. She also recommended that you include the invoice you received from a certified disaster/hazard clean-up company, which was $7,500 (but at least you’re able to move back into the home now). The cost of the lawyer up to this point, $1,500.00. Cost of emergency room, $500 per family member. There’s also a bill for ongoing medical treatment for you and your family, which is estimated to be another $5,000 to $10,000. Total amount of money (damages) that you’re looking at so far is about $25,000.
The letter goes out. No response. Next step, the lawyers says, is to file a complaint in court. “It’s now time to file a lawsuit,” she says. She asks you, very respectfully, for a $7,500 retainer to get started. She lets you know that Section 17 of the Real Estate Purchase Contract says that you are entitled to get the amount spent on legal fees reimbursed to you if you are the prevailing party at trial. In other words, there’s a chance you’ll get the $7500 back at some point in the future.
Fast forward about 8 months, and your attorney did it (although the total legal fees were close to $40,000.00). You won your case. You now have a judgment against the previous owner for all of the money you had to pay as a result of the Seller’s lie. Interesting to note, during the process you found out that the Seller knew full well that the home was contaminated. It turns out that he had a wicked addiction to meth and smoked it throughout the home for many months. Also, early on in the process, your attorney successfully tied up the Seller’s proceeds (money) from the sale to you, so you receive a check for all of your out of pocket expenses.
While the above story is fictional, the fact pattern is not, and is something our attorneys have dealt with many times. Whether it’s meth contamination or mold contamination, a seller is obligated under Utah law, regardless of whether they live in the home or not, to disclose to the buyers defects in the property and facts known to the seller that materially and adversely affect the use and value of the property that cannot be discovered by a reasonable inspection by an ordinary prudent buyer.
With a Home Buyer Legal Protection Plan from Mountain West Legal Protective, all of your legal fees would be covered. If you happened to find yourself in the above scenario, you’d simply login to your Customer Portal and follow the steps to file your claim. A paralegal and/or attorney would contact you to go over the details of what happened, or is happening. If your legal issues require additional legal help, you don’t have to worry about it, at least with respect to attorneys fees, since they’re covered under the Plan 100%.
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