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Can you hold sellers liable for failing to disclose asbestos?

When you decide to buy a new house, it’s all about your future. Maybe it’s about planting your roots and settling into place. Perhaps you’re looking for the home to house your growing family. Maybe, to you, the move to a new home carries a different meaning. But the odds are that it’s a meaning and a change to which you look forward.

Sadly, asbestos in the home can taint your dreams. As the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) notes, many of the homes built between 1930 and 1950 frequently used asbestos insulation. Homebuilders also used many other products that contained the deadly carcinogen. So, what can you if you realize a seller failed to warn you that your dream house came loaded with the threat of cancer?

Asbestos was common in older homes

Where did builders use asbestos in older homes? It wasn’t just the insulation. Until 1975, manufacturers used the mineral in all kinds of materials, enchanted by its strength and natural heat resistance. The CSPC goes beyond the risk of asbestos-laden insulation to list several more common uses. They include:

  • Floor tiles
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Tile adhesives
  • Furnace and stove gaskets
  • Textured paint
  • Siding

Even though these materials may contain asbestos, experts generally count them harmless until they start to break down. As such materials break down, the asbestos fibers can enter the air and then into your body. The problem is that your body can’t rid itself of these fibers, so they can sit inside you for decades before causing mesothelioma or other cancers.

Home sellers and realtors have a duty to disclose certain problems

As you may know, home sellers need to disclose a variety of potential issues. Realtors must also follow certain guidelines as they share information about the homes they represent. When everything goes well, you’ll know about any potential risks or defects well before you sign any closing documents.

When things go wrong, though, you can feel cheated. If the seller chose not to disclose a defect, like the presence of asbestos, that could put your family’s lives at risk or significantly reduce the home’s resale value. You can pay certified professionals to remove and dispose of the asbestos for you, but such work isn’t cheap. In such cases, you may be able to pursue legal action.

Its a good idea to review your states disclosure laws

The federal government does not require home sellers to disclose the presence of asbestos. This means your recovery depends on state law. However, you may have two options:

  • Some states specifically mandate the disclosure of asbestos
  • Many states mandate the disclosure of anything that might significantly affect the house’s value

If your state requires the disclosure of asbestos, and the seller chose not to disclose it, that’s a pretty clear case. On the other hand, even if your state doesn’t directly require the disclosure of asbestos, you may still have a claim if the law demands sellers disclose anything that could affect property value. However, in this second case, your damages and recovery may be limited. It’s likely your recovery would be limited to the cost of abatement.

When is it time to take action?

If you’re thinking about buying a home built before 1975, you want to check for asbestos. Even if you’ve already bought such a home, you want to know what’s in your walls, floors and ceiling. Are they built with materials that could cause cancer as they break down?

You should be able to rely on the seller’s disclosure, but it’s a good idea to ask specifically about asbestos. If it turns out your seller chose not to disclose its presence, you want to act right away. You may be able to prevent future harm. And if your state allows you to pursue a claim, your statute of limitations generally starts running as soon as you discover the problem.

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