Homeowners may have run out of time to pursue claims

Mailbag

September 15, 2002|By Jonathan A. Azrael

Two readers sent in letters complaining about homes they bought four to six years ago.

Ray Watkins bought a condominium in Baltimore about four years ago. The condo developer assured purchasers in brochures that the condo was a "gated community" with "a clubhouse/swimming pool in your own backyard." Sales personnel told purchasers that the units were soundproof.

It turns out that the community is not fenced in, and has only a gate for access by vehicles. The clubhouse/swimming pool belonged to an adjacent apartment community, which later said that condo residents would not be allowed to use it. The owner can hear the downstairs neighbors and claims that his floor vibrates when the neighbors walk on theirs.

Bill Beck bought a single-family home in August 1996. After living in the home for five years, Beck discovered that the door frame was rotting due to moisture in the wood and poor workmanship. Door frames in other homes built by the same builder in the community were also showing visible evidence of wood damage.

Both owners want to know if they have any legal recourse.

The owners certainly did have legal rights.

A condo developer who deliberately misrepresents material facts about amenities, such as a community pool or security fencing, can be held liable for damages. Similarly, if a condo developer or builder knowingly uses defective materials or misrepresents that a noisy building is soundproof, purchasers have rights to recover damages caused by the defective materials or false statements.

Unfortunately, because four to six years have passed since they purchased their homes, it may be too late for these owners to pursue their legal claims.

As to the misrepresentations noted by the condo owner, generally a suit must be filed within three years of the date the purchaser knew or should have known that the representations were false. The owner knew or should have figured out that this condo project was not a "gated community" and that this unit was not soundproof soon after purchasing the condo. So, these claims probably are time-barred, since more than three years have passed.

As to the condo owner's inability to use the clubhouse and pool, there may be time remaining to file a lawsuit. This depends on when the owner learned or was advised that these facilities could no longer be used by condo owners. The suit must be filed within three years of that date.

Mr. Beck's new home carried a statutory implied warranty that it was free from faulty materials. The statutory warranty expired one year after Mr. Beck received possession or a deed to the property. The homeowner must bring a warranty action no later than two years after the warranty expired. Since six years have elapsed since the home was purchased, it's far too late for an implied warranty claim.

However, if the homeowner can prove that the builder knowingly used defective wood for the door frame and concealed this fact, a legal action may be possible. The homeowner must also prove that he could not reasonably have known about the defective door frame until he discovered the rotting wood about a year ago.

Claims arising out of the purchase of a new home or condominium must be brought within a reasonable time. Homeowners who sleep on their legal rights often lose them.

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