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What You Should Know About Real Estate Disclosures in NYC

Founding Member of Moshes Law, P.C.
During his years of practice, Yuriy has concentrated in litigation and real estate transactions as his areas of expertise.

Caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) sums up many transactions, especially in real estate.   Buying homes or other property is a major undertaking and a potentially risky venture if you don’t know what you’re doing.  For instance, do you know there are certain things a seller must disclose about a property they’re putting up for sale? 

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    Navigating the real estate market doesn’t have to be a “fly by the seat of your pants” experience though.  The right real estate attorney can walk you through what you should know about real estate disclosures. Please contact us for a free consultation to determine what you need for your real estate transaction.

    Understanding New York Property Disclosures

    By law, a seller must disclose certain aspects of a property’s history to a prospective buyer.  This can cover a variety of issues and revelations, but it’s a chance for you to learn as much as possible prior to closing a sale.  You see what the seller did to maintain the property.  You learn about potential issues affecting the property (i.e.defective/insufficient repairs & upgrades, etc.).  Disclosures also give sellers certain legal protections due to forewarning potential buyers about potential issues with the property. 

    There are five main areas to look at and be aware of regarding property disclosures in real estate in New York.

    1. How should a seller make a property disclosure 
    2. What seller should disclose to potential buyer
    3. Disclosure vs. inspection
    4. When a buyer will receive disclosure statements
    5. Must-have real estate disclosures in New York

    We’ll go into more detail with the topics in the sections below.

    1. How a Seller should make a property disclosure?

    What does a property disclosure document look like?  Homeowner disclosure statements can be as simple as a list of yes/no answers to stock questions the seller checks off about the property.  The questions and documents are often put together, in writing, by real estate companies, in a real estate disclaimer statement.  The seller then goes through and answers those questions about the condition of the property, among other topics addressed in disclosure documents.  Many documents are put together for the disclosure documents. 

    real estate disclosure

    Communications (letters, emails, etc.) between the seller and previous parties about the property must also be disclosed.  Sellers can be responsible for the information they reveal in disclosure documents for up to ten years.  That’s why it’s important for sellers, and beneficial for you, that they be as thorough and openly honest as possible when disclosing information about their property.  There can be potential penalties and legal ramifications for failure to disclose.

    2. What Seller Should Disclose to Potential Buyer?

    There are several common disclosures you tend to find in a disclosure statement from a seller.  They often include:

    • Property renovations
    • Property repairs
    • Pest problems
    • Deaths in the property
    • Neighborhood nuisances
    • Property line disputes
    • Liens or other financial actions against the property

    Disclosure laws differ around the country.  California has some of the strictest disclosure rules in the United States,  New York once had some of the loosest disclosure laws, which were tantamount to the aforementioned “caveat emptor.”  Sellers at one time did not have to disclose property defects in real estate they sold.  However thanks to court cases like Laxer v. Edelman (75 A.D. 3d 584 (2d Dept. 2010).), as well as passage of the Property Condition Disclosure Act (N.Y. Real Prop. Law §§ 460-467), prospective buyers have many more protections than they used to.

    Laxer v. Edelman makes a seller liable for any damages incurred to a buyer if the seller actively covered up or failed to disclose a defect that led to damage the buyer was forced to deal with.   Under the PCDA, there are certain things a seller must disclose or else pay you, the buyer, $500 at closing.  Many sellers prefer to pay the credit rather than disclose what is required under the PCDA.  You can learn more about disclosures and misrepresentation here.

    3. Disclosure vs Inspection

    A common question buyers, and you, may ask is:  do disclosures take the place of inspections?  Let it be noted that disclosures are not the same things as inspections.  As mentioned earlier, disclosures are a set of documents put together by the seller or the seller’s real estate company, disclosing certain details about the property.  But that doesn’t mean that the seller has truthfully disclosed everything, or that the seller is aware of everything going on with the property.  That is where a licensed inspector comes in.  The inspector can uncover things about the property you’re interested in that were previously unknown or unnoticed.  Two such common items may be mold and hidden structural issues.

    4. When Will a Buyer Receive Disclosure Statements?

    The buyer will usually get the required disclosure statements once an agreement is nailed down.  If the buyer finds anything not to their liking, they can say no to the deal.  Some sellers will give disclosure statements before getting an offer.  Being up front about any potential issues saves time and hassle if things fall apart during the close of a deal (escrow).  In turn the buyer must carefully review the disclosures, ask questions about anything that isn’t clear, and then sign off on a homeowner disclosure form, indicating they understand what they’ve read.  A good real estate attorney can help you navigate the contents of disclosure statements and answer any questions you have, to better help you understand what you’re reviewing.  Contact one of our attorneys at Moshe’s Law for a free consultation.

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      5. Must-Have Disclosures in New York

      There are certain disclosures required by law on a disclosure statement.  These are the most important items.

      • Death in the Home:  In some cases deaths that have occured in the home, must be disclosed to a potential buyer (i.e. homicides or children drowning in a home pool).
      • Neighborhood Nuisances:  These can include things like neighborhood eyesores or odors from nearby properties.
      • Hazards:  Potential hazards can range from a property being in a flood zone or whether hazardous materials like lead paint or asbestos were used in the construction of a building.
      • Homeowners’ Association Information:  HOA rules must be disclosed as many have particular requirements for the upkeep of a property and guidelines on what can and can’t be done to a property.
      • Repairs:  Knowledge of past repairs is important so potential buyers can have their own inspectors pay special attention to areas that had issues in the past.
      • Water Damage:  Water damage can affect the structural integrity of a property or result in mold, which can affect a person’s health.
      • Missing Items:  Potential buyers take for granted certain things that should be in a home, like something as simple as lights or even appliances, if it hadn’t been discussed previously about keeping said items there.
      • Other:  Other important disclosures include knowing whether your property is located in a historic district, as historical societies can often dictate what can or can’t be done to a property in order to preserve the historical nature of a property.

      6. What to Do When a Seller Lied?

      Not that a seller would be intentionally deceitful about something that may be important or not quite right about a property, but that possibility exists.  Home or property ownership carries certain risks, and it’s important that you have a good real estate attorney to make sure the real estate transaction goes smoothly. 

      Chat with, or fill out a form for an appointment with, one of Moshes Law’s qualified real estate attorneys, so we can get you started on the right path to property ownership.

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