Home sellers are required by law to disclose information regarding the condition of the property and other issues that could negatively impact its value. This is typically done via a disclosure document. If a seller intentionally fails to fully and truthfully complete this document, they can face both criminal and civil penalties.
Precisely what types of issues must be disclosed vary by state as well as locality. Here in New York State, for example, sellers must disclose all fees and surcharges they have to pay on the property, environmental issues like lead plumbing and structural defects like whether there has ever been water damage. Sellers must disclose any material defects.
In some states, sellers are required to disclose things like whether there’s even been a suicide or homicide on the property. They may have to disclose whether anyone has died because of an issue related to the property – such as a defect with a swimming pool, for example. Some states require sellers to disclose nuisances, such as noise from a nearby airport or odors from a chemical or agricultural facility in the area.
Disclosure documents will often ask whether anyone besides those selling the property have a lease, easement or any other claim to occupy or own the property. They’ll typically ask about whether there is a homeowners’ association (HOA) involved, as many buyers like to do some research on the HOA.
Most reputable realtors will encourage their clients to be as thorough as possible with their disclosures. Even if disclosure could impact the amount that someone is willing to pay for a house or prompt a potential buyer to ask that the seller for a repair, it’s better to deal with the matter upfront rather than risk a lawsuit down the road.
Even with a disclosure document, it’s wise to have an inspector thoroughly go through the property. They know what kind of red flags to look for. They may find issues that, even if they don’t require disclosure, could cause problems later on.
If you have encountered serious issues with your new home that the previous owners didn’t disclose (especially if the disclosure document asked about them), it’s a good idea to find out what legal options you have.