At least once a week, I get a call from someone who has purchased a home and has discovered a problem that was not known on closing.
It would be extremely frustrating to discover a major defect in a house soon after purchasing it. Most of the callers will ask about suing the previous owner, sighting the fact the problem was never disclosed.
However, we rarely pursue claims against previous owners as it is the purchaser’s responsibility to inspect the property and evaluate its condition.
A claim cannot be made in relation to a defect that should have been discovered during an inspection. This flows from the basic legal doctrine of “Caveat Emptor” or “Let the Buyer Beware.”
The law distinguishes between Patent Defects and Latent Defects. Defects that would be identified during a basic inspection, such as a broken window, are considered to be Patent Defects. Sellers are not obliged to advise buyers of these defects and buyers can’t complain about them if they were not discovered during an inspection.
Latent Defects are defects that are not easily identified during a basic inspection of a property, such a rotting wood under roof shingles. It is often the case that neither the seller nor the buyer will know of a problem on the closing date. In this scenario, the buyer would not be entitled to compensation and would, unfortunately, have to accept the property as it is.
However, if the seller deliberately conceals a defect — say if the seller covered a crack in a basement wall — caveat emptor does not apply.
– Elias Metlej is a real estate lawyer with the Halifax firm Blois Nickerson & Bryson. You can write to Elias at email@example.com