How to handle a home defect with sellers a few years after the purchase

As featured in The Washington Post.

We purchased a home about three years ago, and the inspector went through the house and said everything was in great shape. But a couple of months ago, we realized we had no heat in the bedroom. There is a vent in the room, so we presumed there was heat there. We called a heating guy, and he came over. We found out there was no duct work leading up to the vent.

We use a fireplace in the room for heat, and that seemed to work. We really never thought we could do anything about how cold the room is. I’m wondering if we could go back now and make the sellers put heat into the room, or has too much time passed? When we purchased the home, it was never disclosed to us that the room had no heat.

We know people who never heat their bedroom and don’t mind the cold. You’ve survived in your bedroom for three years, and the cold hasn’t bothered you enough to look into the issue until this year. Either you live in a fairly warm location, or it’s not that much of a problem.

There are several options available to you. You can install baseboard heat fairly inexpensively or spend more money to tie the bedroom into the existing furnace. You can go after the seller (although a lot of time has passed). And you can pursue the home inspector for failing to give you accurate information about the property.

But here’s the question: If the sellers had disclosed that the bedroom didn’t have a heat source, would you have done anything different? Would you have still purchased the property?

Given your situation, we have to assume that you live in a part of the country that does not get extremely cold; otherwise, you would have noticed your first winter in the home the lack of heat in the room. If you lived in northern Minnesota, the lack of heat in that room would be obvious and of concern to anybody sleeping in the room.

Seller disclosure statements should have required the seller to tell you about the lack of heat in that particular room. Again, it might depend on where in the country you live for a “defect” to rise to a level of requiring disclosure. If you live in a state that has warm winters and heat is not a required system for homes, the lack of heat in a room might not be a defect or a problem that must be disclosed. If we assume that the seller should have disclosed that to you, then the issue is determining your damages and whether you have an action under the seller disclosure statutes of your state.

Some states have a limited time period of one or two years for a buyer to bring a claim against a seller. Given that it has been more than three years for you, you might have blown past these dates. You’ll need to talk to an attorney in your state to get more information. But even that consultation might cost you more than the fix your heating specialist can do for you.

A professional home inspector would not have been able to see behind the walls to determine if the vent was connected to the system. The inspector might have tested for airflow in the vent, but inspectors may only spot-check vents and, in this case, may not have fully checked this particular vent.

Litigation is an option. But given the cost of litigation, for which you would likely have to pay upfront rather than on contingency, we think the cost of litigation might be far greater than the cost of tying the room to your central heating system.

However, if the local building code allows for electric baseboard heaters, you might solve your problem by installing a heating source in the room quickly and fairly inexpensively.

It seems to us that given the time and the scope of the issue, you should let it go and move on. But for more details on your options, please consult with a local attorney.

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