Can a Home Buyer Hold a Seller Responsible for a Roof Leak?
By Steve Lander Updated December 17, 2018
At best, it’s frustrating to find a defect in a house after you’ve bought it. At worst, it’s expensive. When you experience your first rain after closing on your house and the roof leaks, it’s natural to want to go after the seller. After all, if it’s not a new home, it was her roof before it was yours. Your ability to go after the seller depends not only on whether or not she was aware of the leak, but whether you can prove that she knew about and deliberately did not disclose this material fact.
Before even thinking about the seller, look through your closing papers to see if your roof is under a warranty or certification. New homes and roofs are usually warranted to be watertight for a set period of time and, if they leak, you can call the roofer and have him repair it. Sometimes an older roof will have a certification that also carries a guarantee. If it’s still under the certificate, call that person. Even if the seller is responsible, this can be an easier way to get your leak fixed.
Before calling your seller, check the disclosure statement that she should have given you when you first started the process of buying the house. If the seller disclosed that the roof previously leaked, you may have trouble getting her to pay for it. She’ll be able to argue that she disclosed the leaky roof and that you bought the property anyway. If she didn’t disclose that the roof leaked, though, it could mean either that it didn’t leak before; that it did leak previously and she knew about it but chose not to disclose it; or that it leaked but she was not aware of the leak, which could happen if the leak occurred in the attic or some other inaccessible area.
If you had a home inspection done, review your report. As with the seller’s disclosure, if the inspector found evidence of a roof leak and you didn’t do anything about it, your ability to go after the seller might be limited. On the other hand, if your inspector didn’t find any evidence, which is entirely possible if he inspected the home when it was dry, you have more proof that you were unaware of the leak prior to the sale.
As a part of preparing your case, have someone inspect your home again. If the roof has been leaking for a while, there may be visible signs of long-term water intrusion. These could include mold or mildew growth, stained wood or water-damaged insulation. Signs that the roof was leaking before you bought the property may help to bolster your case.
Ask, Arbitrate or Sue
Once you’ve established to your satisfaction that the seller has some responsibility for the roof leak, you can contact her. Before taking legal action, try giving her a call or sending her a letter. Your agent may be able to help you with this. With any luck, she’ll be willing to help pay the cost of repairing the leak. If she won’t, you can either sue her or, if your contract requires it, take her to arbitration. In these proceedings, you will get an opportunity to present your evidence and, if the seller is responsible, to have a judgment issued that she will have to pay. Bear in mind, though, that you will still have to collect on the judgment.
About the Author
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the “Minnesota Real Estate Journal” and “Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate.” Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.