You've just moved in to your new home and everything seems to be perfect -- until that first storm rolls in and the basement starts flooding! This is sure to come as a surprise if the previous homeowner insisted the basement was dry and there was no history of leaks. If you first thought is to sue the old owner for lying to you, that's not surprising. But you have to consider whether or not you really have a case. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help determine whether or not suing is the right choice.
Is it possible the leak is new?
Though it seems unlikely, it is not outside the realm of possibility that this is the first time the basement has leaked. Take a look around the basement for signs of previous water damage. If you cannot find any, and if the cracks from which the water is flowing look rather fresh, then it's possible the old owner had no idea the home would start leaking. You may want to call in a building inspector to look over the leaking area. They should be able to tell you, with relative confidence, if the leak is new.
Is there a disclosure statement that specifically states the home has not leaked?
In most cases, sellers are required to sign a disclosure statement that lists certain defect with the home. Defects related to the electrical, plumbing, and heating systems are usually on the list. Leaks may not be on the list, depending on what state you are in, and there's really no requirement for the seller to disclose a leak to you if it is not specifically listed on the disclosure form. If there's a specific signed statement saying the home was leak-free, you may not have a strong case.
Did you have a home inspection?
Usually, home buyers are advised to have a home inspection done before their purchase in order to ensure issues like leaks are detected. If you elected to forgo the home inspection, the damage caused by the leak may be on you. On the other hand, if you had a home inspection done and the inspector missed evidence of the leak, then you may actually want to file a lawsuit against the inspector rather than the old homeowner!
Your best course of action, after reviewing these questions, is to talk to a real estate attorney. They can listen to the specifics of your situation and tell you whether or not suing is a smart idea. A firm like Barrett Twomey Broom Hughes & Hoke LLP can help.