Unhappy Inheritance: Problems from Previous Owners and How to Handle Them

Imagine: you spend countless hours unpacking boxes and organizing everything in your beautiful new home. After a hard day’s work, you sit down to kick up your feet and relax, and then you see something. Was that a flea? Couldn’t be–not in your new home. But then you feel an itch. A wave of dread follows as you realize all the extra work you’ve just been handed by those who just moved out.

Handling an issue the previous owners leave you to deal with can range from a hassle to a nightmare with legal repercussions. Know the proper protocol and your rights in these situations.

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Of course, your inspection is designed to pick up larger issues, and sellers are obligated, often legally, to disclose defects, but what do you do when something slips through the cracks and becomes apparent only after you move into the home?  While knowing of damages before the closing is ideal, for one reason or another, that’s not always possible. There are steps you can take if you find yourself in this situation. 


Who’s the responsible party?

Once you settle in, if you notice a defect someone has actively tried to hide, chances are the sellers are at fault. Remember all the endless paperwork completed before the sale? One of those papers likely included disclosure laws, and if the seller knowingly violated that agreement, that could mean you have a potential claim. Each state approaches these laws in a slightly different manner, so seeking advice from a real estate lawyer might be a good course of action.


What action can you take?

Action can and should be taken if the problems you’ve found clearly existed before your ownership and were unbeknownst to you, but you don’t necessarily have to leap straight to court, which can be costly and time consuming, if you find problems in your home. ARAG legal insurance advises sending a demand letter to the responsible party, whether that’s the sellers, inspector, or in some cases and states, the seller’s agent, seeking compensation for repairs. And if a letter doesn’t get the results you need, try for mediation. As a last resort, head to small claims court.


Consider the scope of the repairs the seller neglected to disclose. While you may view failing to disclose a flea infestation as a nuisance, for example, you probably don’t have a legal case, as “bugs” that don’t cause damage are seen as a normal part of homeownership.