Dear PoPville – Legal Action Against A Seller?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Joe in DC

Dear PoPville,

Hi community, hoping someone out there can advise on the situation we found ourselves in after a recent house closure.

Upon the inspection of the house it was identified that the temperature differential on the AC unit was not functioning properly and needed to be repaired so that it was at a minimum of 15F. Work was supposedly done to repair it, however when we moved in there was no cold air coming into the house and the unit outside is not even spinning. The seller provided a receipt for the work which was either clearly not done, or not done properly as required by the contract. We tried contacting the service provider multiple times but all calls and emails go to an “answering service” who claims to only pass messages along rather than the actual contractor. All attempts to have the seller contact them resulted in no action as well, and the 30 day warranty on the work has now expired.

The question us, who do we wind up taking to court, the seller or the contractor? We’re inclined to have the AC unit repaired properly and then take the seller to court for the amount of that labor+parts for failure to meet the contract. Additionally, there is a leak in the fridge that goes onto the hardwood floors every day. When we were viewing the house the owner told us that water was from her son who had spilled some on the floor while helping her move. This seemed feasible ad it was only a small puddle. I’ve heard that if a homeowner knowingly lies about a defect with the home they can be sued for that as well, correct? Given that the leak occurs every day there’s no way this could have gone unnoticed and been simple ignorance.

Thank you kindly for any advice. This has been a real bummer to an otherwise happy occasion, since we can’t move in until we get actual cooling!

42 Comment

  • Sue the seller – it will be up to them to then try suing the contractor to recoup their losses.

  • Did you check it out before you signed all the closing documents? Like go to the house and turn the AC on before it officially became yours. Sorry to hear you found yourself in this situation. It is already stressful purchasing a home.

    • ah

      Obviously too late now, but this is why one does the final walk through to confirm the repairs are done to your satisfaction. Your realtor should have told you this. Unfortunately you’re in a much weaker position now.

      As mentioned below, chalk it up to being an honest person who’s been taken advantage of. It’s probably not worth the cost of a lawsuit.

      • Ya, and you should definitely check with an actual DC licensed real estate lawyer, but I’m fairly sure you can’t sue anyone. You don’t have privity of contract with the AC repair service, and lost your rights to sue under the contract of sale when you closed.

  • Has your realtor worked on your behalf to try to reach the seller, or their realtor? There may be something that they can do before you have to resort to taking them to court.

  • Seems like it would be worth talking to a lawyer and/or judging for yourself whether this is worth the hassle/expense/time of filing a lawsuit. You may be in the right, but if these people were willing to lie to your face about the refrigerator water issue, they’re not going to be scared by a lawsuit or probably even a judgment against them. Some people are just dishonest jerks and it’s sometimes better just to move on with your life.

  • You always have the ability to sue anyone , whether your lawsuit has any merit is another question. What may be difficult is to prove intent and that they sold you the property while knowing about the problems, intentionally defrauding you. Worth a shot speaking to a lawyer.

  • Admittedly I do not have experience with this but my gut tells me you should:
    1) Go ahead and hire someone to fix the AC
    2) Speak to a lawyer about suing the seller, but only if the cost of the repair is greater than a few hundred bucks.
    3) Hire someone to fix the fridge.

    I would like to hear what other think, but my guess is that the costs to just fix these things is so small compared to a) the cost of suing someone and b) the cost of the house you just bought, that you’ll be happier just fixing them and moving on with your life in your new home.

  • I say fix it yourself and move on. I understand that this is totally upsetting – when I bought my first condo I had a similar issue (the previous owner did not disclose a shower leak, which led to necessary floor repairs). Cut your loses and move on – welcome to home ownership.

    Your agent should have made sure you did a final walk through before closing to make sure every single item that was listed in the inspection contingency was full filled.

    From a seller’s perspective (I just sold that leaky condo) It would have been better if you found an estimate for repairs and asked the seller for the cash to fix it on your own. As someone who is selling, doing those kinds of fixes when you’re just ready to move can be annoying so I can see how she/he could have cut corners (or maybe even basically lied about fixing the problem). Lesson learned. Don’t sue, fix on your own and enjoy the wonderful parts of your new home.

  • Sounds like you might need a new compressor. That might set you back a good bit of loot.

  • Does the cost to repair exceed likely recoverable damages? If not, repair it yourself and work with your Realtor to resolve with seller – but don’t expect anything. Did your inspection not catch the fridge? If not flag them in a review (Angie’s list, yelp, Realtor…).


  • For others out there… invest in a home warranty for at least the first year… it covers this kind of thing. We have American Home Shield and having bought a flip, considered it a must have.

    • +1 My house came with a home warranty the first year and I was glad for it! Leak in upstairs bathroom caused drywall damage and would have otherwise cost a small fortune to repair. I only had to shell out $100 deductatible for a leak undisclosed by owner, unknown by inspector. Didn’t renew the home warranty insurance second year and so far so good, it’s that first year when Sh*t happens and you’ll be glad you had it.

  • I am not a lawyer, so this is general opinion:
    You’ll likely have to eat a couple thousand to replace/ repair the outside condenser. Use a reputable firm recommended from Popville and move on. Hopefully you can also repair and not replace the fridge too.

    Normal process should have been for you to get an inspection, create a formal document with repairs required and have it signed by seller to be completed before closing, During final walkthrough the day before closing, it was your responsibility to check to make sure repairs were completed. If they weren’t, you should have delayed closing until satisfied. It appears that you accepted all previous issues through your actions of closing on the house. It’s a raw deal and not fair, but in court, you would need to provide written proof of repairs promised and they have a receipt asserting repairs were completed. It was up to you to verify those repairs during final walkthrough. You would either not win the suit or not gain much after attorney costs and lost time spent in court. The fridge you likely have nothing in writing, so they could lie to your face and likely get away with it.

    Alco Appliance (recommended on popville) (301) 937-6996

    HVAC- Dean (240) 876-9917 (did great work on my unit, good price)

    • +1
      And I will add, even if you DO win and the judgement covers the legal fees, you then have to actually collect on it. Just because you sue and win doesn’t mean you will ever actually get paid. And the process can take years. Take it from someone who has been there.

  • unfortunately, welcome to homeownership, now move on. You will be much better off in the long run by just dropping this. Legal action against the seller will be a nightmare.

  • Did you purchase a home warranty at the time of your closing? If so, you don’t have to sue anyone, the cost of repairs should be covered by the warranty.

  • I agree with the others that say it’s best to move on. Get it fixed, sit on it a bit, and you’ll probably realize it’s not worth it to go to court.

  • Everyone who says it’s not worth the cost of a lawsuit are missing the small claims court option. No lawyers are involved and it’s inexpensive to file. In DC, the limit you can get is $5000. It doesn’t sound like a real complicated issue, just a basic breach of contract. I’d get the repairs done and file a suit against the seller to recoup your money, up to $5000.

    • What “breach of contract”? The Seller has a receipt confirming repair was made and the buyer has a repair checklist that might or might not have been signed by the seller. The buyer agreed to the condition of the property by proceeding with closing. Finally, there is absolutely nothing in writing regarding the fridge needing repair. Prove to the judge that either issue didn’t happen AFTER closing. Why would a small claims court judge rule in favor of the buyer? sure its inexpensive and I’ve done it before too, but your chances of winning appear to be 2% unless I’m missing something…

      • PDleftMtP

        How do you prove to the judge that the issue didn’t happen after closing? Tell her it didn’t and see whom she believes. That’s her job, not yours, and it’s a “which story is more likely” standard, not “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

        The first poster above is correct that it’s an option to consider. Get it fixed, get a receipt saying what the problem was, and if it’s the exact problem that the sellers were supposed to fix it may well be more likely that the judge believes you that it never worked than a seller theory that the same thing mysteriously broke again. (If it’s a different problem, you might not have much to work with). You could also consider getting a lawyer and real legal advice (which none of these comments on the internet are), but I also agree with the folks who say that unless it’s a lot of money it’s probably not going to be worth it.

  • The frig leak is most likely because either the condensation line is blocked or there’s ice buildup in the frig walls. Turn it completely off and leave door(s) open for 24 hours then restart.

    There, I just saved enough money for you to fix the AC and get on with your life. Welcome to Home Ownership.

  • So, did you verify the AC was working during your final walk through and then it crapped out after you moved in? If you did, you should have been able to get in touch with the person who performed the repair. If they were unresponsive, it’s really not the seller’s problem anymore at that point. They upheld their part of the deal by getting it fixed.

    Or, did you not verify if it was working during the final walk through and discover it after you moved in? If that’s the case, you’re really SOL, as it was your responsibility to ensure it was fixed. You could go the small claims route, but you’d have to prove the seller lied about the repair and it is probably not worth the extra headache.

  • those guys are rats. had to walk away from a home because they were just horrible to our agent when she presented a full price offer – with escalation. This during the 20009 real estate drought!. not only that, they showed our home several times during this same period and it killed me to be polite if i answered their call prior to a showing. ugh.

    • Glad to know I’m not the only one! …maybe “glad” is not the right term.

      They were so unprofessional throughout this whole ordeal. Hope it was worth a lawsuit.

  • So let me get this straight. You just threw down half a million, likely more for a house, and you are going to waste the time effort and money suing someone for ~ 2500 bucks?

    You could replace the unit for about 2 to 3 k depending on size, fixing is likely much, much cheaper.

    You should have done a pre settlement walk through. Live and learn but don’t waste weeks of your life and money suing for something you should have verified if it was such a big deal

    • Fraud/breach/UDTPA violations are still unlawful, regardless of property value. And $2-3,00 is not chump change.

      • Yeah, you gonna prove fraud or breech in small claims court? Add in receipt they provided you and it looks worse for you


        And yes, less than a half a percent of the price you just paid for the house IS chump change

        • Well, yes. The entire point of small claims is to recover money. Something tells me you don’t know how court works — a fraudulent receipt does not hurt your case for fraud.

          And I’m sure someone who can’t spell “breach” makes so much scratch that $2-3K is chump change, but for the rest of us, it’s still $2-3K.

  • I would repair my AC and refrigerator annually if it meant saving the cost, time, and stress of going to court. This is much more in the realm of the Better Business Bureau or, at most, small claims court. While I hate to join the chorus of dismissive comments, homeowners need to get used to the idea that maintenance is a regular task. Yes, someone else has broken a contract in this case, but these repairs aren’t worth the stress that they appear to be causing.

    The fridge, especially, is probably an easy fix. If there’s no ice maker, then its condensation pan is missing or misaligned. If there is an ice maker, the water supply hose needs to be tightened or maybereplaced.

    The AC could be as simple as a blown fuse in the little metal box next to the compressor. In fact, the contractor may have simply left the fuses in the off position (upside down). Or the circuit breaker to the compressor could be off. Or the start capacitor has gone bad. Or the coolant charge is low. This last one is the most expensive diagnosis in that list, costing a few hundred dollars to address. The rest are free or <$50 with a bit of knowledge. Google is your friend.

    TL;DR: This is the day in the life of a homeowner. Use the opportunity to learn about your house and stay out of court.

  • Having bought now TWO condos in DC here is my advice.

    I bought my first condo and required the AC to be fixed before I closed. They did fix it, but it broke AGAIN just a few months later. I called the same company that fixed it and had them come back again. It was a separate problem, but they gave me a discount because they serviced it before. To that end………Did you turn on the AC and was it working on the final walk through? If you just forget, then sadly its your problem now and you have to move on. If the seller provided a receipt of the work then CALL the company that did the work and ask them to come back to fix the problem as it was clearly not addressed the first time. If they refuse, then file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or Small Claims (if you have the time to go through that process) and turn to Facebook and Twitter on a campaign to get them to address the problem.

    As for the fridge. In that same condo, my GE Profile fridge broke after 3 years of living in the condo. Since it was bought about 7 years prior to me owning the place it was about time for it to have an issue. I just googled the fridge make and model and the problem and found a YOUTUBE video that taught me how to change the mother board in the back. Problem fixed for just $99 vs. buying another fridge at $2200.

    This is a lesson learned by you and future homeowners. If there is a problem found in inspection and it is “fixed” by the seller you can have your own expert come to take a look and ensure that it was done correctly. And secondly, get a home warranty. For our new condo we are closing on in a few weeks we will buy a home warranty for just $500. Its well worth the $500 versus dishing out something major like this!

    Sorry for your troubles, but welcome to homeownership. Its a bit*h, but worth it.

  • You signed your life away at closing, so suing is going to be a waste of time and money. Any decent lawyer would get a lawsuit dismissed before you’re able to make a case on the merits. A lot of the comments above a right-on. Some are a little wacky.

    I had a slight problem with a home inspection once. The seller agreed to fix the problem, and then we got the home inspector back out to re-inspect. It cost an extra $200, but it was worth it. I wouldn’t have known to do it but for my realtor’s advice. The sad truth is you got a realtor that didn’t follow up and protect you.

  • Last home I sold the sellers had a final inspection a couple of days before the closing. All was well so the closing went forward. If you had a final inspection and signed off on the house, or decided not to do a final inspection and signed off on the house, you probably have no recourse against the seller. As I recall, the closing documents require attestation that the property is being taken without qualification. Sellers can be liable for latent defects but a defect is not latent if the buyer is aware of it. You knew about the A/C and the leaky fridge (yeah, the owner lied about the source of the water but there was enough info to put you on notice to investigate further)..
    I can’t say I am surprised by your inability to contact the air conditioner “repairer.” Anyone who will only give you a 30-day warranty on a repair is suspect. I got my a/c repaired lst year and got a one year warranty on the parts and labor.

  • Try calling a new service for repairs. Try Krafft Service Corp. they have been servicing the DMV for over 50 years.

  • 1. Seriously, get legal advice from an attorney, not from strangers on the internet.
    2. If you choose to disregard #1, here’s my advice: Settlement is called “settlement” for a reason, and you should have had the work inspected beforehand.
    Bonus advice: The cost of fixing the thing has got to be a bargain compared to the pain of a lawsuit to extract money from the seller.

  • Hi everyone, OP here. First of all, thank you for the responses. Whether genuine or sarcastic it’s nice to see people contributing to the discussion.

    To clear up a few questions asked here:

    1) Yes, we had an inspection. It identified the issue with the AC which is what was supposed to be fixed. It’s unclear from the “receipt” provided whether that specific work was addressed.
    2) As mentioned in the original question to PoP we are completely unable to reach the person who performed the work, and supposedly the seller is unable as well. We can’t even verify the person / business exists. So all we have is a scanned piece of paper that really doesn’t prove any work was done, it’s just that, paper.
    3) When I asked about legal action I guess what I was referring to was small claims court, as one poster pointed out. I’ve only ever been in any court once and that was to defend a bogus parking ticket (for parking in my own driveway!), so my knowledge of legal jargon isn’t really the best.
    4) There was an additional issue with our closing that precluded us from doing a full final walkthrough. The seller was not ready to move out on the day we closed, so we allowed her an extra day to get her stuff out of the house. She then requested a few extra days because she was unable to get a mover (she wound up having family do it, I believe). So there were 4 or 5 days from the time of closing to the time when she actually moved out.
    5) We supposedly had a $5,000 deposit to cover any damage she could have incurred in the time from closing to her actually leaving the house, we were trying to be generous but also wanted to protect our investment. Our real estate agent was supposed to get the check and deposit with the title company until we were satisfied no damage had been done, but I honestly have no idea if he ever did. He’s kind of a bleeding heart kind of (very nice) guy who really seems to be siding more with her than us.

    • Wow, I’ve never heard of the seller occupying the house post-closing unless they’re doing a lease-back. That was indeed extremely generous of you, probably to your detriment, unfortunately. It sounds like you did not have a great realtor in the first place, if he never confirmed deposit of the check. Sorry to say this, but it doesn’t seem like it’d be worth it for the cost of the repair. Sounds like you will never get anything out of the seller or even get help from your realtor in pursuing any legal action.

      • +1, Allowing them to stay after closing was nice of you but a mistake– people are jerks. This situation is particularly tricky since both of the problems have to do with appliances that could have broken at any point rather than something structurally wrong with the house. That said, b/c your seller clearly lied through her teeth about the fridge, I’d file in small claims just on principle…. Make her share some of your headache. Good luck!!

        • OP again. Your closing sentiment is part of the reason we were inclined to take her to small claims. We would have much rather worked something out outside of court, but her outright lying about things given how generous we were trying to be to her, just really pissed us off.

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