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A wide range of different subjects can be covered by real estate disclosure laws, so it can be a good idea to consult with a qualified real estate agent or lawyer to determine the specifics. There are both federal and state laws regarding real estate disclosure in the United States, and some brokerages also have additional regulations for any listings they accept. Sellers are typically required to disclose any material defects they are aware of, though in some areas they can even be held responsible for issues they were unaware of. Federal law in the United States requires disclosure regarding the use of lead paint in homes that were constructed prior to 1978, and there are also specific laws regarding radon gas and other hazards in some areas.
Real estate disclosure laws are designed to protect potential buyers from purchasing home that have known issues or defects. If a home has suffered from flood or earthquake damage, real estate disclosure laws typically require the seller to provide that information to the buyer. In addition to the protection offered by disclosure laws, buyers are often able to order a home inspection, which can also turn up potential issues. An inspection may also be ordered by a lender prior to approving a loan.
There are two general types of real estate disclosure laws, which are local and nation-wide. In the United States, the federal government imposes certain disclosure laws that relate to safety. One example is a law that requires owners of homes built prior to 1978 to report the presence of any lead paint they are aware of. This is typically accomplished by a specific form that the property owner must fill out prior to selling his or her real estate. The presence of radon gas, asbestos, and other hazardous or toxic materials are typically also covered by disclosure laws.
Most states and local areas also have real estate disclosure laws that are designed to protect the buyer. Some states have lengthy questionnaires that a property owner must fill out prior to selling real estate, which ask questions about any potential defects or issues. These questionnaires differ from one area to another, though they typically cover everything from the plumbing and wiring inside a building, to issues with the land itself. Disclosure of any water damage from leaking roofs, the presence of wetlands on a piece of property, and recent deaths on the premises are sometimes required.
Typically, real estate disclosure laws only require property owners to reveal issues they are aware of, in which case they cannot be held responsible for any problems they did not know about prior to the sale. This protection is not provided in every jurisdiction though, and in some cases sellers can be sued by buyers after a transaction has taken place. That makes it especially important to consult with an expert about disclosure laws if there are any questions at all about whether to reveal something.