New York Times Real Estate Q&A: do sellers have to notify buyers about prior bed bug infestations?

by nobugsonme on January 20, 2008 · 1 comment

in bed bug dogs, bed bugs, bed bugs and real estate, how to avoid bed bugs, how to detect bed bugs, legal aspects of bed bugs, new york city

This Q&A in the New York Times Real Estate section brings up an interesting question.

A couple selling a New York City apartment had bed bugs six months ago. They have not noticed any problem since. So the question is, do they need to disclose that the property they’re selling had bed bugs recently?

Jay Romano answers that the Property Condition Disclosure Act–requiring a seller to fill out a detailed disclosure statement–doesn’t apply to co-op or condo sales.  (Romano consulted Edward I. Sumber, a White Plains lawyer.)

What does apply to apartment owners, however, is common law, which has been established through judicial rulings over the centuries. “Under the doctrine of caveat emptor — let the buyer beware — the seller has no affirmative obligation to reveal circumstances about the apartment to the buyer,” Mr. Sumber said.

But he added that if a prospective buyer asks a specific question about whether the apartment has had bedbugs, the seller has an obligation to answer honestly.

The lesson is if you are buying a NYC condo or co-op, ask if it has or ever had bed bugs.

And, your broker may also be liable:

In addition, if the real estate broker knows about the bedbug problem, he or she has an obligation to reveal it to a prospective buyer. “The broker is under an affirmative duty to be diligent,” Mr. Sumber said. “But the seller is not required to tell the broker, either.”

House buyers are afforded more protection. Sellers of houses have to answer a 48-question disclosure statement and give it to the buyer.

One of the questions asks whether there has been any pest infestation in the house.

But non-scrupulous house sellers need only take a $500 hit to avoid this kind of disclosure:

The penalty for failing to provide the form is a $500 credit to the buyer.

Sellers, apparently, can simply take the loss and skip disclosure. That’s bad news.

All in all, it appears that people can get around disclosing they have had bed bugs in their home (even, apparently, if the infestation is more recent or active) whether it’s an apartment or house. This is very bad news.

Bedbugger hopes that everyone selling a home will be responsible and make sure they are bed bug-free before selling. We also hope apartment and house buyers will have homes professionally inspected, perhaps with the aid of both a PCO and a bed bug dog, before purchase.

You can read Romano’s full article in the New York Times (1/20/08) here. 


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