Disclosure laws in general require sellers to say upfront whether their property has certain known issues that could impact the buyer’s health or safety. These laws vary by state but are meant to protect both the buyer and the seller. Disclosing any issues about major home components, systems, and conditions puts the buyer on notice—and prevents the seller from being held liable for future problems.
The following are some of the most common disclosures required.
Federal law—the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act passed in 1992—requires the disclosure of any lead-based paint or chipped paint in any housing built before 1978. Under the law, homebuyers also have a 10-day period to conduct a paint inspection or risk assessment for lead-based paint or related hazards.
The health hazards of asbestos are well-known in the workplace; the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets standards for asbestos testing and disclosure in work environments. Although residential disclosures vary by state, many require disclosures about asbestos on houses built before 1975.
Many problems with plumbing aren’t readily apparent. If you’re aware of plumbing and water related issues such as leaks, old and potentially cracked pipes, consistent issues such as clogged drains, or issues involving access to water shutoffs, broken faucets, or other water related problems that aren’t immediately noticeable but you’re aware of and fail to disclose, can potentially open yourself up to litigation for failure to disclose these problems.
When homes are built and remodeled, they’re often built correctly, however, unseen defects in construction can often be discovered right after you move in or take some time to notice. In instances such as these, a homeowner may have noticed cracks in their foundation and has made repairs to close the cracks, hydro-lifted portions of the foundation, or other repairs to address these issues. These are very important issues that must be disclosed because they address the integrity of the property.
This may seem like it can be a rather cut and dry issue that is addressed during an inspection, however, we have encountered instances where a home is inspected in the wintertime and the air conditioner isn’t inspected, only to find out that the AC doesn’t work in the spring. These types of failures to disclose the HVAC operative capacity, as well as the condition of these items, can leave a seller open to potential litigation.
The Bottom Line: If you are unsure about what to disclose, meet with your realtor to discuss. From state to state there are some interesting and unusual real estate disclosure laws. There is a legal obligation to disclose the information to buyers, it simply is not optional. There is, however, an advantage for the homeowner that comes with disclosing all pertinent information: The owner removes the risk of a lawsuit and all future liability with their properties after they sell.