Duty to Disclose Neighborhood Nuisances
At the Law Offices of Steven L. Martin, our Southern California real estate litigation practice includes cases where sellers and their brokers may be liable for failing to disclose certain conditions on the property. This responsibility extends beyond features related to the property itself, such as flooding and drainage problems, easements or other encroachments, and the presence of hazardous materials such as asbestos, radon, gas or lead-based paint. The duty to disclose includes neighborhood nuisances, such as illegal criminal activity.
The Problem of Undisclosed Crack Houses
A drug dealer moves into the neighborhood and starts dealing drugs out of the house. Shady characters are coming and going at all hours of the day and night, and loud music and parties are frequent. The neighbors worry for their safety and are afraid to confront the drug dealer directly, who has so far been able to elude law enforcement attempts to uncover criminal activity. People in this neighborhood may well wish to move to a better, safer neighborhood and may put their house on the market, knowing full well that they may have trouble selling at their desired price – or any price – if the buyers know about what kind of neighbor they are about to be stuck with. Do the sellers have any duty to disclose to potential buyers information about the bad neighbors down the street?
They probably do. All sellers are required to complete a Transfer Disclosure Statement, which discloses information the seller knows about the condition of the property. One of the questions specifically asks whether the seller is aware of any “neighborhood noise problems or other nuisances.” A nuisance is commonly defined as an obnoxious or annoying person or thing. California law (Civil Code 3479) defines a nuisance as anything which is injurious to health, including the illegal sale of controlled substances. Both definitions would seem to cover the drug house scenario described above.
Real Estate Agent and Broker Liability
It is not just the seller who is required to complete the Transfer Disclosure Statement. If the seller is represented by an agent, the agent is required to sign the disclosure statement “based on” the seller’s disclosures and the agent’s own visual inspection. A real estate agent who willfully ignores a seller’s misstatement or fails to perform due diligence in inspecting the property may be guilty of professional malpractice and liable to the buyer for the damages caused.
Civil Abatement Laws
In addition to criminal laws allowing for law enforcement abatement of public nuisances, such as California’s Red Light Abatement Law (Penal Code sections 11225-11235) for gambling houses and houses of prostitution, California also has a civil abatement law that allows for a private lawsuit to be brought. California Code of Civil Procedure section 731 states that any person “whose property is injuriously affected, or whose personal enjoyment is lessened by a nuisance,” can bring suit to have the nuisance abated and recover damages as well.
Seek Experienced Legal Representation
If you believe you were misled by a seller’s, broker’s, or real estate agent’s misrepresentation and have suffered legal damages because of it, please contact the Law Offices of Steven L. Martin in Los Angeles for a free consultation.