What is my recourse if the seller was made aware roof needed replacing but did not disclose during the sales process?

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What is my recourse if the seller was made aware roof needed replacing but did not disclose during the sales process?

We bought a house a month and a half ago and knew the roof needed some

attention after the inspection. The seller had someone come out and assessed

the damage saying it needed $1500 worth of repairs. Being the first house

weve ever purchased we didnt think/know to have our own roofing company to

give us an estimate. I contacted the company who done the estimate for the

seller and one of the first things he told me was that he told the sellers agent it

definitely needed replacing. No where in the estimate report does it say it

needed replacing and neither did they disclose that throughout the purchase

process. I’m curious if this is something that should have been told to us or if

we are at fault for not having someone come out and look at it on our behalf.

The closing was 7 weeks ago.

Asked on July 18, 2018 under Real Estate Law, South Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

The seller must disclose material or important conditions--like that a roof must be replaced--which are known to him but which are not readily apparent or detectable by the buyer. A failure to disclose a known but "latent" condition may very well be fraud, and if it is fraud, the buyer would have grounds to sue for compensation--such as the cost to replace.
The reasons we say it "may" be fraud and not that it "is" fraud in this case both flow out of the fact that state that you "knew the roof needed some attention after the inspection."
1) If your inspector detected roof problems, then even if he did not know or appreciate the full extent of them, clearly a problem with the roof was detectible by the buyer or the buyer's agent/representative (the inspector). This calls into question whether in this case, the roof problem truly was latent or hidden, or whether it was one that you (or your agent) could reasonably be expected to detect. If it's something the buyer or the buyer's agent could reasonably detect, it is not fraud: the seller only has an obligation to disclos hidden or latent problems and does not have to disclose things the buyer can find for him/herself.
2) Similarly, it is only fraud if you reasonably relied on the seller's representation (statement) or disclosures. If it was not reasonable to rely on what the seller said becasue you had evidence or information to the contrary, it is not considered fraud, since the law requires people to look out for their own interests when they can. If your inspector told you there were problems, then you could not necessarily rely simply on what the seller did or did not tell you--you may have had an obligation, based on that warning to dig or investigate further (e.g. hire a roofer to look at the roof for you). 
Therefore, while the seller's failure to disclose his knowledge that that roof should have been replaced may be fraud, if the issues were detectible by your inspector and you were in fact warned of roof issues, then it may not have been a latent problem and/or you may not have been entitled to rely on the seller's disclosures, in which case it would not be fraud.


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