Can You Sue a Home Seller for Undisclosed Defects in Tennessee?
Work with an experienced Franklin real estate lawyer to protect your rights
When you buy a home, you are making a major investment. If you are buying the home for yourself, you likely plan to live in it for a long time. But even if you aren’t buying the house for your residence, you are likely buying it for an investment, and you want to be sure that it is in great shape. You may decide to buy a house even if you know that you’ll need to make some repairs or replace some items, but you will want to know about those issues before you decide.
In Tennessee, the law requires that the seller of residential property furnish to the purchaser a residential property disclosure statement, with few exceptions. The disclosure statement is to contain information about “material defects” in a house before you close on the purchase. If you move in and find that the house has a major problem and the seller knew about it, you might be able to sue. As an experienced Franklin real estate lawyer, I have helped clients with issues about problems discovered in their homes shortly after a purchase.
The law is very clear about the criteria that must be present for you to sue for damages. You may have to replace the HVAC unit a few months after you move in, but if the seller didn’t know that there was a problem, they’re not on the hook for the costs. Likewise, if the seller actually disclosed the problem with the HVAC in the real estate listing or in the closing documents and you bought the house anyway, you have no recourse.
There are a few other instances in which the seller may not have disclosed the problems with the house but will not be liable. These include:
- Sales between co-owners
- Sales of newly constructed homes
- Foreclosures and auctions
- Sales when the seller has not lived in the home for the previous three years
Buyers who discover a material defect after they move in must file an action within one year from the date they received the disclosure statement or the date of closing, whichever occurs first. They must then find a way to prove that the seller actually knew about the problem and then didn’t disclose it. Alternatively, they can argue that the seller distorted the truth in the disclosure documents. For example, the seller could use language that was open to interpretation and would downplay or disguise the problems. However, if the purchaser had notice of a problem that with ordinary diligence the purchaser could have learned more about (say, for example, railroad tracks at the back of the property should cause the purchaser to review the easement document to see how far into the yard the easement held by the train company protrudes), the purchaser will not be able to recover damages related to the issue they could have known about if they had just taken the time to go find out.
When I work with clients trying to recover damages for undisclosed defects, I will where warranted, pore over the fine details of the selling documents, consult with an expert to inspect the property and determine the cause or timeline of the problem, interview witnesses who may have had knowledge of the problem, and pursue every other avenue for helping my clients get the redress they deserve. If you feel that a problem in your new-to-you home was undisclosed by the sellers, contact me, Judy A. Oxford, experienced real estate attorney, at (615) 791-8511 to discuss your options. You can also fill out the secure online form to schedule a free consultation.