Real Estate Disclosure fraud?

I am not seeking legal advice but I do want to see all the options.

I have a friend who just closed on her house Friday, Oct. 9. Sunday she discoverd in the mailbox a postcard from the gas company stating that they discovered a gas leak in the yard and she has to get it fixed. The card is dated Oct. 1 and postmarked Oct. 3. The people did not live in the house but they were there all last week cleaning up, having a yard sale, etc.

She is contacting her real estate agent and closing company at this moment.

We feel she is not responsible for the cost of repairs because the previous owners should have known the card was there and besides, this happened before she became the owner.

Any thoughts? BTW, this is Pennsylvania.

Why did she look in the new owner’s mailbox?

Because at that time “she” was the new owner. That was Sunday, oct. 11.

Maybe I didn’t make it clear. The gas problem is at the house she just bought.

there may be state laws about needing to disclose known pre-existing conditions and be liable for them if you don’t.

if the leak is before the gas meter it may be the utilities cost and problem and they want to schedule a necessary but not emergency repair. if that is the case they will refill and level what they dug up and the owner might just need to rake and reseed.

though she should do the repair soon. gas can go from leaks in lawn and into basement, depends on lots of circumstances, and be an explosion hazard.

disclaimer: not a legal or a gas utility anything.

tried and edit and it doubled posted.

Oh, it was clear.

It’s interesting that the gas company addresses a leak by sending a postcard. Usually a gas leak is treated as an emergency. She should immediately get in touch with the gas company. If she delays getting it fixed while trying to figure out if the prior owners can be held responsible then she is possibly taking a risk with her property. The first priority is to fix the leak, if it’s dangerous.

Generally sellers are required to disclose knowledge of defects. When I have bought and sold homes (not that many), the seller is required to complete a disclosure form that discloses any known defects. On the form I filled out in Maryland, there were a list of items to comment on, and for each there was also a checkbox that amounts to “have no knowledge one way or the other,” which basically means “buyer beware.” That’s why buyers get home inspections done as a contingency in the contract. However, in practice, it is difficult to prove that the owner had actual knowledge of a defect. In this case, finding the postcard in the mailbox (was there any other mail?) means that you can’t prove that the previous owners ever saw it. My take is that they sat on it for a week, then put it back in the mailbox when they moved out–“it’s your problem now.”

If she has to pay to have the leak fixed, and she can prove that the previous owners knew about it, she has suffered damages and may have the grounds for a lawsuit. That requires the advice of a lawyer and likely not be a fast process.

IANAL, just a homeowner.

Sorry. In my mind I had it all assbackwards.

Still waiting to hear from her agent.
I too am surprised that they sent a postcard and there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to it. The card says it has to be done by March. They also said they are monitoring it. It was spotted on a routine inspection and is about 20’ from the house. From this info, it can’t be much of a leak and it doesn’t smell like gas in the area.

It’s an outdoor leak, out in the yard, some distance from the house. Gas that leaks out will soon dissipate into the open air. That’s considerably less dangerous than a leak inside a enclosed building.

Also, they may have already tried to reach the owner by phone, or by actually stopping at the house. But it sounds like nobody has been actually living there, so those approaches didn’t work, and they fell back on mailing a notice.