When buying a home, get an inspection and read all of the documents
By Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin,
I bought a townhouse condo four years ago, and I just found out from a local plumber I hired that the main water shut-off valve for some of the other units in the association is located in my house. I was never informed about this from the seller or the homeowner’s association.
If the plumber had not found out that it needed to be replaced, I would have never known about it. Was the seller or HOA legally obligated to disclose this information prior to purchase?
You have lived in your townhouse for four years and you didn’t know that the main shut-off valve for other units was in your home? It’s quite possible, if not probable, that your seller didn’t know that either. You can’t expect the seller to tell you something that you yourself did not discover while living in the home.
Even if the seller knew that the master shut-off valve was in your townhouse, we’re not sure that is a defect that has to be disclosed under seller disclosure laws. Usually, seller disclosure laws require a seller to tell you of known defects or problems — issues that would materially affect the value of the property.
Review the homeowners’ association documents and see if they mention the shut-off valve. Some developers will specifically indicate in those documents where common elements are located and stipulate that the replacement or repair of those common elements will be an association expense.
If the association documents reference the location of the main shut-off valve in your unit, that document is of public record, and you should have received a copy of that document before you purchased your home.
Once you received that document, you could have read it and found out that the shut-off valve was in your home. If it was mentioned there, the seller would not have to give you an additional disclosure. It would have been up to you to read the association documents and inspect the home before buying it to know what you were getting.
This situation is an example of how homebuyers really need to closely read all documents provided before closing on the property. While some of it is poorly written, the building or property rules and regulations, budget, minutes for homeowner association meetings and other documents are all important and could potentially affect how you live in your home.
It’s also important to have a professional home inspector and to follow him or her closely during the inspection of the property. That would have been the time to ask, “Hey, what is that shut-off valve?” And if the inspector couldn’t give you an answer, you could have gone back to the sellers and asked for further explanation.
Ilyce R. Glink’s latest book is “Buy, Close, Move In!” Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. If you have questions, you can call Ilyce’s radio show toll-free (800-972-8255) any Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her Web site, www.thinkglink.com .