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November 02, 1986|DOUGLAS RING and BUSTER SUSSMAN | Ring is a partner in the law firm of Howard, Ring & Chizever. Sussman is a free-lance writer. and

As a home buyer, you'd better be wary.

Especially if you're buying from a do-it-yourselfer.

A new California Supreme Court decision says that a buyer may become responsible for a dangerous condition caused by unsafe repairs made by the seller.

The decision reverses a Court of Appeal ruling involving a 22-month-old boy who injured himself in a backyard fountain built by a previous owner.

Basically, the Supreme Court says that work done by a do-it-yourselfer that's not up to code standards may represent a dangerous condition, but liability may end once the property is sold.

As a buyer how can you protect yourself?

First of all, you should ask the seller if any improvements have been made without a permit. By law, the seller is required to disclose this fact.

And secondly, you should hire your own inspector to check over the property for potential problems.

The Supreme Court noted that its decision related only to the liability of do-it-yourself home improvements and was not intended to lessen any liability of commercial builders or contractors.

But, even before this decision, it has been difficult to collect damages from sellers. That's because, in practice, it's always hard to collect damages from individuals.

Does this decision mean that the courts will turn back to the old concept of "Let the buyer beware"?

Probably not. But it may indicate some change in how the courts view the responsibility of a seller.

But in any case, take this decision as notice that the court expects you, as a buyer, to take reasonable steps to inform yourself about what you're buying and to protect yourself against potential problems.

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