When purchasing a home, there can be a lot of unseen faults and defects that decrease the value of the property, while damaging the structural integrity of the house. Many new homeowners may be unaware of these defects until after they have invested in the property. While the seller is required to disclose any dangerous flaws to the buyer, many aspects may be overlooked, or even actively covered up during the home inspection. In these cases, new homeowners may be eligible to gain compensation for undisclosed damages.

If you have purchased a home containing undisclosed damages, you may be eligible for legal compensation.

Initial Considerations

There is a clause in most home inspector's reports that states, 'We are only liable up to the cost of the inspection.' Unfortunately, this clause is typically upheld by the courts, making it difficult for new homeowners to present a valid case. However, this clause will be overlooked in instances of gross negligence or outright fraud. Gross negligence carries different definitions depending on the state, but essentially, you need to sufficiently demonstrate that obvious, hazardous defects were overlooked in the inspection. Such defects may include severe water damage, hazardous black mold, or dangerously faulty foundations. Instances of outright fraud can also overturn this clause and hold the inspector or previous homeowner liable for damages. If you discover that the previous homeowner deliberately covered up damages, such as concealing water damage with paint or drywall, then you can build a strong case against them.

In addition to proving gross negligence or fraud, you also have to be prepared to cover your own legal fees. Lawyers can be incredibly costly, and unless you are certain you have a strong case, it may be more cost-effective to simply fix the damages yourself. The American Rule of Legal Fees states that each party is required to cover all associated legal fees on their own, regardless of whether they win or lose the case. However, a statue within the rule states that, in cases regarding consumer protection laws, the prevailing case will be awarded compensatory legal fees to cover their attorney. In this case, if you fail to present a sound court case, you may be financially responsible for the legal fees of the opposing party.

Assessing the Damage and Compiling a Case

In order for the case to hold up in court, there are several qualifying factors that need to be met. In the event you are unable to provide evidence for these factors, it's likely the case will be thrown out.  

The defect was preexisting. It's essential to do a thorough walkthrough of the home before and after you've moved in, and meticulously document all of the damages present. Damages that occur as a natural part of the aging process or damages that arose after you moved in are exclusively your responsibility to correct.

If it can be shown the damages preceded the sale, it's likely the case can be won.

The defect was not obvious. In the event of obvious damage, such as cracks in the flooring, you are responsible to take note of that in the initial walkthrough. However, if said damage was deliberately concealed and unlawfully omitted during the sale, then this can be evidence of a negligent or fraudulent inspection.

The defect was ignored, omitted, or blatantly lied about in the initial inspection. As a matter of federal law, all major defects need to be fully disclosed to the buyer prior to the sale of the house. If it can be determined that significant damage was omitted or overlooked during the inspection, this can strengthen your case against the inspector.  

The house is devalued on account of the damages. If the damages are minimal and wouldn't significantly reduce the worth of a house, it's unlikely you'll be awarded compensation.  

If all of the above qualifications are met, it's likely you can form a case against your home inspector. However, keep in mind, you need to be able to provide sufficient evidence that the damages were preexisting in order to be awarded compensation.

Defects that affect the safety or structural integrity of the home not only greatly depreciate the value of the house but also put residents at greater risk of injury. If you've recently purchased a house containing significant undisclosed damages, than you may be liable for compensation from the home inspector or previous owner. Prior to compiling a court case, you need to thoroughly assess the damages and ensure all of the necessary qualifications have been met to sufficiently prove fraud or gross negligence. Learn more about valuing the worth of a home to ensure you are getting the best deal available.