I Bought a House With Undisclosed Environmental Hazards – Now What?
You just bought the house of your dreams. You’ve worked and saved, and now all you want to do is move in and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
But what if your home is hiding environmental hazards you didn’t know about? This dream scenario could quickly turn into a bit of a nightmare.
We’d all like to think that we know what’s behind the walls or under the floors in our homes. Unfortunately, even the most thorough inspections can miss things. Many people have bought a house with problems not disclosed, and they’re left to solve the issues themselves.
What do you do if you find surprise hazards lurking in your new home? Fortunately, you have options. Let’s look at them together and have a candid discussion on how to move forward if you find environmental hazards in your new home.
1. Understand Your Environmental Hazards
Almost every state in the U.S. has disclosure laws to protect potential homebuyers. Does that mean that all sellers are honest and upfront? Unfortunately, no.
Environmental hazards include things that can be seen and some that are invisible to the naked eye and require further investigation. It’s important to know about them so you can identify potential issues in your home and keep your family safe.
Some of the most common undisclosed environmental hazards include:
Mold can be anywhere in your home – around windows, in your attic or crawlspace, or anywhere there might be moisture. Mold is more than just a cosmetic problem. It can damage your home and cause you or your family to get sick.
Mold and mildew can be white, black, spotted, or pretty much any color in the rainbow. It will typically smell musty or earthy. It can cause paint to crack, wood to warp, or damage anything that it’s growing on. Any growth should be cleaned up immediately because the spores spread quickly.
✓ Water Damage
Water damage is a major expense for homeowners. The national average cost for repairing water damage is over $3,000. Within the first 24 hours of a water loss, mold begins to develop, and damage to floors, walls, and electrical systems can lead to severe structural damage to your home.
Hidden water damage can be the result of many issues, including leaks around doors, plumbing, chimneys, roofs, or groundwater in your crawlspace or basement. It’s essential that homeowners identify the issue quickly so they can repair any damage before it worsens.
✓ Chemical Contamination
Chemical contamination can come in many different forms in your home. Indoor pollutants include asbestos, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, pesticides, radon, and even second-hand smoke.
For example, formaldehyde is colorless, flammable, and has a strong smell. It can be found in many building materials and household products. Excessive formaldehyde in the air can cause watery or burning eyes, nose, and throat, in addition to coughing, wheezing, and skin irritation.
✓ Noise/ Air Pollution
Although noise pollution might not be visible or immediately dangerous, it’s certainly considered an environmental hazard. This is especially true if the noise comes from a nearby warehouse, road, highway, power plant, etc.
Furthermore, air pollution isn’t just outdoors. Our homes are filled with pollutants. Indoor air pollution comes from sources that release gas or particles into the air.
These sources include tobacco smoke, wood-burning stoves, building materials, and even air fresheners. Asbestos and carbon monoxide are sources of air pollution that you might not see immediately or smell.
If you bought a house with problems not disclosed, including noise or air pollution, you need to have the problem remediated quickly.
These small insects live in large colonies and feed on wood or other dead plant material. Termites are not only drawn to wood, but also to hidden moisture.
While an expert will be needed to root out and eliminate termites, you can still see signs of a termite invasion. Look at and probe exposed wood for soft or hollow spots.
You also might see termites flying in your home, usually near windows or doors. Another warning sign is mud tubes around your foundation walls, sill plates, or floor joists.
✓ Ground Pollutants
Ground pollutants can cause numerous health issues, including headaches, rashes, nausea, or even more serious conditions, including liver and kidney damage or certain types of cancer.
Did you know that ground pollutants can also contribute to indoor air pollution? If your house was built on a site where the soil was contaminated, the chemicals can enter your home via vapor intrusion and lead to poor air quality and illness.
Chemicals in the soil can include benzene, trichloroethylene, naphthalene, elemental mercury, or pesticides. If your home was built on land that was previously farmland, the contaminated land could be due to pesticide or fertilizer use.
✓ Lead Paint
Lead-based paints were banned in 1978, but it’s estimated that approximately 29 million housing units still contain lead-based paint hazards. This includes deteriorating paint and lead-contaminated house dust.
If your home is older than 40 years old, it probably has some lead paint in it somewhere. Have a professional come out and test for lead paint. If you think you, or one of your family members, has been exposed to lead-based paint, contact a doctor or other health professional.
2. Make Sure Your Family is Safe
This is your number one priority. If you bought a house with problems not disclosed, make sure your family is safe from whatever environmental hazard that you’ve discovered.
Physical signs of exposure to a potential hazard can include the following:
- Fever and chills.
- A cough.
- Muscle aches.
- A rash.
These symptoms can indicate illness, allergies, or exposure to a potentially hazardous environmental issue in your home. While these types of illnesses can sometimes be hard to pinpoint and diagnose, it’s important to provide all the information you can to your doctor or medical professional.
In the meantime, you may want to consider moving your family outside of the home, until the hazard can be identified and eliminated.
3. Establish Your Burden of Proof
Now that you’ve identified a problem in your home and ensured your family’s safety, what’s next? Do you just fix all the issues and go on with your life? Or do you attempt to hold the previous homeowner accountable for the defects and undisclosed hazards?
Problems like these can turn up days, weeks, or even years after you’ve bought your home. If no one will help you voluntarily, you’ll need to establish obvious proof of the issue.
Nearly every state in the U.S. has laws requiring sellers to inform the buyers about defects in the property. If you have an environmental hazard that should have been disclosed, you now need to determine if the seller knew about the issue and failed to disclose it.
Some signs of someone trying to hide an issue include trying to hide or even patch over an issue. You might even talk to neighbors to see if they’re aware of any issue that the previous owner was dealing with or trying to correct.
At GPInspect, we offer a full suite of inspection and testing services that can help you identify any issues or problems related to environmental hazards. We’ll also help you establish proof that the problem existed prior to your move-in date.
4. Investigate Your State’s Regulations
Federal law only requires sellers to disclose the presence of lead paint in houses. After that, it’s up to state law to decide on what they must tell you when you’re buying the home. Some states (like California) have stronger buyer-centric laws than others.
For years, common laws in California required anyone selling real estate to disclose any material facts that might affect the value of the home. In 1985, the California General Assembly added an article to their civil code that made their laws some of the strongest in the country.
In California, sellers must provide a Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS) to potential buyers once the offer has been accepted. The form asks the seller to provide specific information about defects or malfunctions. It asks questions about the roofing, electrical wiring, smoke detectors, appliances, and any other relevant information about the property.
5. Contact An Attorney
When you buy a house with problems not disclosed, you may try to work out an arrangement with the previous owner. If that is not possible, you need to know your legal options.
In some instances, the broker should have known about the problem and disclosed it to the buyer and they can be held responsible. Read your inspection report carefully. The inspector should have discovered problems the buyer and seller can’t see and included them in his report. If not, the inspector might have failed to meet the basic standards of their job and can be held responsible.
Situations when you might need to sue over nondisclosure of home problems:
- There’s a defect that was there before you bought the home
- It’s not an obvious defect that you would have seen before the purchase
- No one told you about the defect or lied about it
- You relied on the seller’s lies or nondisclosures
- You’ve incurred monetary damage due to the undisclosed environmental hazards
- The statute of limitations still apply
Again, California sellers have the legal responsibility to disclose any known issues and to complete the TDS honestly. If the seller does not disclose a defect, you can sue for fraudulent misrepresentation. At that point, the burden of proof will shift to you as the buyer to prove the seller intentionally hid the defect or didn’t know about it.
If you move ahead with your case, where do you go? Your options traditionally include small claims court or even state court. Consult a professional real estate attorney who is familiar with the laws and regulations in your state before proceeding with a lawsuit.
6. Remediate the Hazard ASAP
This is crucial. You need to get rid of the hazard as soon as possible.
If you’ve bought a house with problems not disclosed, you want the issues fixed immediately. Once you’ve fully assessed the situation and gathered any information necessary to provide your burden of proof in case of a lawsuit, it’s time to clean up the problem.
Remediation usually involves removing the problem, such as water, mold, lead paint, paint dust, or any other environmental hazards in your home. When looking for a company to handle your remediation, you should look for the following:
- Nearby service area
- Availability – do they respond immediately?
- Do they offer emergency services?
- Look at reviews – are they positive?
GPInspect has been proudly serving Southern California for over 20 years. We offer environmental and mold testing, residential and commercial property inspections, and expert witness consultations. Our mission is to determine property defects, including environmental hazards, and provide solutions that fit your budget.
Dealing with an Environmental Hazard? Contact Us
GPInspect is locally-owned and operated and has been an A+ service provider since 1998. We’ll approach your property as if it were our own and conduct our inspections as if we were moving our family members in.
Additionally, we are a government-recognized and council-certified structural model investigator and industrial hygienist. As a result, we are able to work with attorneys to support homeowners who have unknowingly purchased homes with hazards.