Hidden Defects in Buildings: What Can You Do?

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You’ve discovered a serious hidden defect in your building. It’s something you could not have known about when you made the purchase. The seller can usually be held responsible in this situation. Here are the steps you can take to ask the seller to fix the defect or pay you compensation (money).

Important! If the sale document said that you bought the building without a guarantee against hidden defects, or it says that you bought at your own risk, you might not have any rights against the seller.

Here are the main steps to follow if you find a hidden defect:

1. You must notify the seller in writing that you discovered a defect.

This notice must be sent within a reasonable time frame of discovering the defect.

Be careful! What is « reasonable » depends on the circumstances. It depends on how long it took identify the defect and find out how serious it is. But, as a general rule, six months would be a reasonable time. Sometimes it can be longer, for example, if the hidden defect only appears at certain times of the year.

If you don’t want to pay for the repairs, don’t start the work yourself. The seller must be given a chance to

  • see the defect and how serious it is,
  • see the damage the defect caused, and
  • repair the defect or replace the defective item.

However, the buyer can do urgent repairs if the defect is creating a danger or there is a risk of serious damage or loss of the building.

Note: It is also possible to send a « demand letter » directly to the seller, instead of a notice. The demand letter must include, among other things, a description of the hidden defect, a request that the seller respect the guarantee against hidden defects, any conditions you are requesting, and the deadline for answering the letter. You must send a demand letter before taking legal action in the courts.

2. You can reach an agreement with the seller.

You can try to settle the matter out of court by negotiating with the seller or through mediation.

  • It is a good idea to put any agreement in writing.
  • This agreement is a contract between you and the seller. It must be respected.

3. As a last resort, you can take legal action against the seller.

You should keep in mind that you have three years from the time you discover the hidden defect to take legal action, not three years from the time of purchase of the building.