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Assigning Liability for Undisclosed Roof Leaks Can Be Tricky

February 11, 2001|BARRY STONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: Ten days after buying our home, it rained and our roof leaked. Our insurance paid for the interior damage, minus the $500 deductible, but the policy did not cover roof repairs. We did not buy this house "as is," and our home inspector said the roof was in good condition. Are the sellers or the home inspector liable to repair our roof?

Answer: If the sellers were aware of roof problems, they would certainly be liable, because the law requires disclosure of all known defects. But proving that they knew could be difficult. A lot depends upon whether roof conditions indicate a history of past leakage. For example, if the roofing has been patched or repaired in any way, or if the neighbors have seen workmen on the roof, that could indicate prior knowledge on the sellers' part.

As to the home inspector, his duty was to discover and report visible defects involving the condition of roofing materials and the manner in which they were installed. Failure to report observable problems would constitute negligence and could entail financial responsibility, although this could be limited by his contract.

Unlike the sellers, the inspector cannot simply claim to have been unaware of roof defects. His job was to evaluate current conditions. If problems were apparent, the inspector should have seen and disclosed them.

Your first step in establishing the facts is to obtain a professional evaluation of your roof, in writing. This can be done by a licensed roofing contractor or by another home inspector.

If roof problems are found, the seller and the original home inspector may have some liability. But convincing them may be a challenge. If no one is willing to share in the costs of making repairs, you should consult a real estate attorney.

Roofer Refuses to Clean Up Debris

Q: My friend, a home inspector, discovered that the roofing contractor who replaced my shingles left nails and wood on top of the attic insulation. As I now plan to sell my home, I'm concerned that this could become a disclosure problem. I've contacted the roofer, but he refuses to clean up the attic, even though this was specified in the contract. What should I do?

A: Debris is often left in attics when wood shakes or wood shingles are removed. In most instances this does not pose any serious consequence, but it is certainly not a sign of quality workmanship.

There are, however, some potential safety concerns. Wood debris may now be in contact with flue pipes or chimneys, creating significant fire hazards.

If the roofer's contract specifies cleanup, you should insist on compliance. If he fails to perform, send a certified letter specifying a 30-day deadline, after which you'll hire someone else to do the cleanup. Your local Small Claims Court may hold the roofer liable for the cost of this work. You can also file a complaint with the state agency that licenses and regulates contractors.

Seller Should Pay for Reported Defect

Q: Before selling our home, we had the air-conditioning system serviced and it was working fine. After closing escrow, the system began to malfunction. At that point, the buyers requested a copy of our service receipt. That's when we noticed the contractor's written recommendation. The bill says the coil should be replaced and will cost $600. Now the buyers want us to buy a new coil. We weren't trying to hide anything and are unsure about what we should do.

A: Although you were not trying to conceal a defective condition, an inherent defect went undisclosed during the sale of the property.

I recommend paying for replacement of the faulty coil. You should also request that the buyers sign a release form, freeing you of liability for any future problems with the system.

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Distributed by Access Media Group.

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