Q. We purchased a 50-year-old house in the summer. There was a very heavy rain in August and we found that the roof above the family room leaked. Upon closer examination of the ceiling, we saw the drywall had been patched and painted over to match. The underpad for the carpeting was also stained in the spot where the leak was happening. We have now had a roofing company in and since the roof is flat, they are quoting several thousand dollars to repair it. It seems like the former owners knew about this problem but did not reveal it before closing. What are our options?
A: This is an all too common problem that I have written about before but it is worth repeating myself. The issue you are facing is what is called a latent defect: a problem that is not readily apparent upon inspection but ‘rears its ugly head’ when something like a heavy rain occurs.
The whole core of the matter is can you prove that the vendors knew about the existing problem and did they not reveal it? Certainly, the sellers must have been aware of the leaking problem because the signs are there for all to see.
However, the problem with this scenario is that the vendors may have addressed the issue and felt that it had been solved (as a matter of fact, I am sure this is what you would hear from them if you made an inquiry). The whole matter of responsibility then revolves around being able to prove this was an existing and ongoing problem that had not been properly fixed and furthermore was covered up by the vendors. This could cost as much as your roof repairs to fight about in court.
Unfortunately, you have purchased a problem that has no easy solution. The forced solution from the vendor may be more costly to pursue than the expensive roofers invoice. I suggest you consult with your lawyer before you commence any repairs or lawsuits.
Jeffrey Cowan is the principal of Cowan Law and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.