What to do if I purchased a hone in which the heating system is illegal and it wasn’t disclosed buy the owner or the home inspector?

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What to do if I purchased a hone in which the heating system is illegal and it wasn’t disclosed buy the owner or the home inspector?

I just purchased the house. I called the gas company to come out to light the pilot on my burner which had been turned off by the previous owner. When the gas company arrived they told me that they wouldn’t’t light the pilot on the burner because the entire system is illegal. Does either the previous owner (who didn’t’t disclose this problem) or the home inspection company have any liability?

Asked on May 1, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The previous owner might be liable if you can show that he knew, or reasonably should have known, that the system was illegal and failed to disclose that. However, if the previous owner did not know, he would not be liable--his knowledge is the critical determinant of liability. It is certainly possible he did not know, since it may be that unless the gas company were brought in to inspect the system, there would be no way the layperson homeowner would know. Therefore, there is reasonable chance you could not establish liability against the previous owner.

As to the home inspector: again, there is very good chance you could not hold him liable for any of the following reasons:

1) Review the service agreement, proposal, etc. pursuant to which you hired him--it may have disclaimers of liability barring you from seeking compensation from him for this.

2) You also need to review the terms of his engagement and what he was inspecting for--if he was looking for unsafe conditions, not technical violations, for example, it could be he was not even looking for this issue.

3) Even if he was looking for conditions like this, he is not held to a standard of perfection: if the average reasonable home inspector or contractor would have missed this issue (and only a specialist, like a gas company maintenance/repair person would have spotted it), he likely would not be liable.

The above is not to say that you could not hold the inspector liable--just that there are significant obstacles to doing so.

For a more definitive answer, you should consult with an attorney who can review all the specific facts of this situation in detail.


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