Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Seller Disclosure Law

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Selling a home is a major milestone that can mark the end of a long and time-consuming process for everyone involved.  However, without full disclosure — prior to closing — of problems with a home, the buyer and seller could find themselves at odds long after the sale.

Being “at odds” really means engaged in a lawsuit that could involve tens of thousands of dollars.

Under Pennsylvania law, a home seller must disclose known defects and problems prior to the sale.  This law, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Seller Disclosure Act (“RESDA”), provides the rules and penalties in the event that a seller is aware of a defect but fails to disclose the problem in writing. For example, the closing documents for every real estate sales transaction includes a seller disclosure form that the seller must complete and every buyer must receive prior to sale.

A sample form can be found at http://www.parealtor.org/clientuploads/StandardForms/Sample_Forms/SPD.pdf. The form requests information about a number of key areas of any home.  For example, it inquires into structural issues, whether the home is sitting on fill, and if there has been water damage or leaking.

The rule should be to “check the box” and disclose anything and everything that could potentially be a liability under the Pennsylvania Real Estate Seller Disclosure Act.

For example, if you experienced a wet basement once after a major thunderstorm, you might not think that this single instance warrants disclosure — after all, it could jeopardize your sale.  However, if flooding in the basement occurs within months after the sale and during the remediation, evidence of the prior damage is uncovered, your buyers can sue you for the repair costs.  If they win, the court can award attorney fees.

Simply, a flick of a pen to disclose the condition along with an explanation that it was a limited, contained event can save you thousands of dollars and a significant amount of aggravation.

The statute of limitations for Pennsylvania RESDA claims is two years from the date of closing.  If the home inspector also is to blame for not discovering a defective condition on the property, you need to move very quickly.

The statute of limitations for those cases is one year from the date of the inspection. Also, it is my suggestion that neither the sellers nor the buyers should opt for mediation through the multi-list system.  The process can be expensive and not result in a final resolution in a timely way.  A better option is to sue — if absolutely necessary — in the Courts of Common Pleas.

–Julian

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