Information on Ohio's Consumer Laws from Attorney Daniel Myers, Myers Law, LLC, not legal advice
For most of us, buying a home is the largest single purchase we will ever make. If you are planning to pay out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home, you want to make sure you know what you are getting into. You need to ask the right questions. But what happens if you forget to ask the sellers about certain aspects of the home? Luckily, Ohio law requires a seller to disclose certain (but not all) facts about the home, even if you forget to ask.
The Ohio Revised Code requires sellers to provide home buyers with a Residential Property Disclosure Form. On this form, the seller must disclose the following , but generally only if the seller has actual knowledge of the information:
These “material defects” can include physical problems or conditions of the property that are not observable by the buyer, but which interfere with the person’s use of the property or make occupancy of the property dangerous.
However, the form doesn’t require the seller to tell you everything. The seller is only required to disclose drainage and flooding issues that occurred in the last five years before the sale. Anything that happened more than five years ago might be left out.
If there are defects that the seller knows about, but has taken some steps to conceal, and it would not appear in any home inspection or walk-through of the home, the seller may be required to tell you about it. For example, courts in Ohio have held that a seller must disclose water damage that occurred in a basement from flooding when the seller has taken steps to paint the basement of hide/conceal the water damage. This is called “fraudulent concealment” of a defect, and could entitle an unwary buyer to compensatory and punitive damages. It is legally the same as lying. But as with all things in law, even this does not guarantee that a court will provide you with a remedy later.
You shouldn’t rely solely on a Seller’s concealment to get out of a bad deal. If you see that a seller recently made repairs and renovations on their home, ask them why. Ask sellers if those areas were damaged before, and what damaged those areas. If you can, get this conversation recorded or in writing, even if only in an email. If the seller lies to you after you ask them these questions, not only did the fraudulently conceal the defect, but they also actively lied to you, which is another fraudulent act. Getting these lies recorded or in writing provides even more protection to you if you later find yourself in court.
When buying your home, you can’t be too careful. It’s a lot of money, a lot of time, and a long commitment. Protect your investment by taking extra care to ask the right questions, and when possible, get answers in writing.