Few things are more exciting – thrilling – in life than buying and moving into a new home. On the other hand, few things in life are more disappointing – tragic, really – than discovering a serious or even dangerous flaw at the property after closing the deal and moving in. The story of Matthew and his family illustrates such a situation. Matthew bought a home in Southern California only to learn some time after moving in that the residence had been plagued with what appeared to be a long-term rodent infestation issue.
The rodent infestation certainly appeared to be of a kind that the prior owner necessarily knew of the problem. With that said, the previous owner did not disclose the fact that a rodent problem existed at the residence.
Matthew did his due diligence after signing a contract to purchase the residence. He hired an independent inspector to give the property a once-over. The inspector made no report of any issue with rodents at the property.
California Home Seller Mandatory Disclosure Laws
The California Department of Real Estate has developed a voluminous Disclosures in Real Property Transactions, a booklet that details the mandatory disclosures a home seller must make to a prospective buyer. A seller is obliged by law to make a fairly significant number of specific disclosures to a prospective buyer that include:
- Lead paint
- Location in a flood plain
- Death at the premises in the past three years
- Prior bedbug infestation
Issues Beyond Specific Mandatory Disclosure Provisions That Are Nonetheless Material
There is not a specific mandatory requirement requiring a homeowner to disclose a prior (or even existing) issue with pests like rodents. With that said, California law does include something of a catch-all. If there is a defect or issue with a residence that a homeowner should reasonably believe would impact a prospective buyer’s decision to purchase a home, the seller needs to disclose that matter.
The question of whether an issue with a residence is material is subjective by definition. There is no specific formula for a seller to use when cogitating about whether or not a particular disclosure should be made. Nonetheless, there are issues that nearly any reasonable person would conclude a prospective buyer will want to know of before making a decision. An issue with rodent infestation typically will fall into such a category. The only exceptions would be if the infestation was a long time in the past (meaning years ago) or more recent and yet both a minimal and isolated incident.
In the case involving Matthew, after moving in he found evidence in the attic that the rodent infestation was relatively recent, quite significant, and likely had been an issue for a more extended period of time.
The likelihood that the prior owner was unaware of the existence of a rodent problem is slim. Even if somehow the previous property owner didn’t actually know of the rodent issue, a strong argument can be made that a reasonable homeowner would have known about such a problem.
The bottom line in Matthew’s case involves some key conclusions. The prior owner likely knew of the rodent problem or, if acting reasonably and prudently, should have known about it. A rodent issue of the type described by Matthew was (or is) such that a reasonable home seller would conclude that it could have an impact on a buyer’s decision to purchase
What a Home Inspection Should Discover
Not all home inspectors are “created equally.” In the case of Matthew, as mentioned a moment ago, he conducted independent due diligence when considering the purchase of a residence, when contemplating buying a home he actually did purchase. He engaged a home inspector who appeared to have the background and experience necessary to undertake a diligent, comprehensive inspection.
For whatever reason, this particular home inspector didn’t detect the presence of rodents in the premises. This included in the attic, the location in the home in which Matthew ultimately learned of the rodent infestation issue.
According to Matthew, the home inspector evidently reported that there was no evidence of rodents in the property. There are other important telltale physical signs of rodent infestation that a home seller or buyer should be able to detect:
- Rodent droppings
- Gnaw marks
- Scratch marks
Importance of Rodent Infestation Cleaning
Identifying and eliminating a rodent infestation from a home is only part of the issue. Matthew also needs to be concerned with rodent droppings and other biowaste that may have been left behind by rodents in the residence. Rodent droppings are potential disease vectors. What this means is that rodent dropping can contain dangerous pathogens capable of causing humans serious illness.
Specialized equipment, sanitization agents, and practices are available from a reputable rodent dropping cleaning company. Matthew will want to consider engaging the services of this type of professional to ensure the safe, thorough elimination of potentially dangerous rodent droppings from the home.
Legal Remedies for Homebuyer
A person in Matthew’s position may have some available legal remedies. The purpose of this discussion is not to provide legal advice. The first step in ascertaining the possibility of legal remedies is to consult with a reputable real estate attorney. The State Bar of California has an attorney referral service that can be accessed through its website.
Future Issues for Homeowners After Discovery of Prior Rodent Problem
Matthew understandably now has significant concerns about what the future holds in store in regard to rodent infestation at his recently purchased residence. A homeowner in Matthew’s position should be as proactive as possible in attempting to protect against re-infestation if rodents have been driven from the residence for the time being.
There are some practical steps that Matthew and a similarly situated homeowner can take to at least reduce the risk of future infestation:
- Plug holes through which rodents may be entering the attic or other parts of the residence. A mouse can get through a space as small as a dime. A mouse can pass through a space the size of a quarter.
- Eliminate clutter from the grounds around a home. This includes moving a firewood pile away from the side of a residence and raising it off the ground by several inches.
- Keep the side of the residence free from vegetation. Consider creating a no-rodent zone of about 18 to 24 inches around the exterior walls of a residence consisting of gravel.
- Keep trees near the residence trimmed, with no branches extending near the roof.
- Keep garbage cans inside and outside of a residence tightly sealed.
- Don’t leave food out and open in a home. This includes pet food.