What Legal Relief Is Available to a Homebuyer for Undisclosed Mouse or Rat Infestation?

All states have legally mandated disclosures that must be made by a home seller to a prospective homebuyer. This includes the state of California. For example, there are specific disclosure requirements that must be made in regard to lead paint and mold at a residential property. If you’ve found yourself in a position in which you’ve purchased a home that you find has a rodent issue, you may wonder whether you have any recourse against the seller. You may not have been advised specifically of a rodent issue at the premises before you purchased the property. You may wonder what legal relief is available to a homebuyer for an undisclosed mouse or rat infestation.

Before diving into any potential legal relief that may be available to you after purchasing a home with an undisclosed rodent issue, there are some preliminary matters that must be discussed. These are:

  • Pest disclosure standard in California
  • Home seller’s obligation to disclose rodent issue when asked
  • Would a reasonable home seller have been aware of the rodent issue?
  • Would a reasonable homebuyer have been aware of the rodent issue?

The Pest Disclosure Standard in California

California has taken some steps in the past year to make home seller disclosure statements a bit more specific and targeted when it comes to issues pertaining to pests. Specifically, a homeowner is now legally obliged to disclose an issue with bedbugs in a property. With that said, other types of pest disclosures remain under a broader category of advisement. Specifically, pests like mice and rats fall into the broad category of disclosure of matters apt to make a material difference in a prospective buyer’s deliberations regarding the purchase of a property.

An existing issue with mice or rats on the premises of a residence (inside or outside) arguably is precisely the type of material issue that is intended by this broad category of necessary disclosure. The issue becomes a bit murkier if a rodent issue was some time in the past and did not reoccur. A related point becomes how long ago such a problem existed also comes into play when it comes to direct disclosure by a homeowner.

Disclosing a Rodent Issue When Asked

Independent of the pest disclosure standard as it pertains to rodents currently or once at a premises for sale, another issue associated with a homebuyer’s legal rights centers on accurate answers raised by a prospective home purchaser. If you are a diligent home shopper, you are asking a home seller detailed and specific questions about a residence. These questions need to include queries related to existing or previous mouse or rat infestations or issues at the premises. (Be certain to ask about rodent issues in and outside of a property to make sure all of your bases are covered.)

If you ask specific questions about rodent issues at the property, a homeowner with a house on the market for sale has a legal obligation to respond to your questions honestly and as accurately as possible. This also requires you to make certain that you ask the proper questions. For example, if you ask a home seller if there exists a mouse problem at the premises, the seller honestly can respond by saying “no” even if the residence had a significant rat problem a few years prior. Thus, your queries need to be broad enough to incorporate different timeframes but also an array of different types of rodents, including:

  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Raccoons
  • Squirrels

Rodents on the Premises: Would a Reasonable Home Seller Have Been Aware of Rodent Issue?

There can be situations in which a home seller is not aware that mice or rats have taken up residence somewhere in a house. This can happen if mice have only recently invaded the premises and little evidence of their existence is present.

With that said, when a home seller makes the argument that he or she had no idea that mice had started nesting in the residence, the issue turns on how reasonable that person’s lack of knowledge is at the time. For example, if a couple of mice had started nesting in the attic a short time before the home went on the market, the contention that the home seller is reasonable in not knowing of the infestation is fair.

On the other hand, if the attic is home to a good number of mice, a contention of not knowing becomes less tenable. This is the case because a homeowner has a duty to ultimately be aware of a rodent issue in a residence. When an infestation is more extensive, it is indicative of a situation in which the mice have been present for a longer period of time. Moreover, when an infestation is more extensive, there will be evidence of its existence that arguably a homeowner reasonably “on top of things” would have noted.

Rodents on Premises: Would a Reasonable Homebuyer Have Been Aware of Rodent Issue?

The Matter of an Inspection

Due diligence when purchasing a home arguably requires a complete, independent inspection of the premises – even if the home seller can provide a recent professional inspection of the residence. Such an inspection needs to include an examination for evidence of an existing or previously existing rodent issue in – or at – the property. “In” or “at” means that a professional needs to ascertain whether there is evidence of an existing or previously existing rodent problem in the residence as well as on the grounds surrounding the structure itself.

When a Home Seller Is Held Responsible for Failure to Disclose Rodent Infestation to Prospective Purchaser

If a home seller is going to be held responsible for failure to disclose a rodent infestation to a prospective buyer, the purchaser is going to need to demonstrate a number of salient points. First, a homebuyer is going to need to provide support for the contention that even if a home seller didn’t know an infestation actually existed at the time of the sale or existed at some juncture in the past during the period of ownership, a reasonable homeowner in the same position would have known of the issue. In simple terms, even if the existing home seller contends he or she didn’t know about the rodent issue, a reasonable person in that individual’s shoes would have known of the problem.

Second, a home seller can be held responsible for failure to disclose a rodent infestation if that individual provided false information about it to the buyer. For example, if you ask specific questions about rodent issues at the premises – currently or in the past – the home seller has an affirmative legal obligation to provide you with accurate information.

Legal Recourse for a Homebuyer

A homebuyer may be able to make a legal claim against a home seller for failing to disclose appropriately (in advance of the sale) the existence of a rodent problem at a residence. The general parameters in which such a claim can be made have been discussed previously in this article. 

The damages associated with such a claim focus on a number of factors, including what legally is known as a diminution in the value of the residence itself. The argument is that because you were not properly advised of a rodent issue, that you reasonably could not have been aware of despite exercising due diligence, the home itself is worth something less than what you paid.

You might also be able to pursue a claim to recover the expenses associated with repairing the physical damage caused as the result of a rat infestation. Finally, a claim may also be possible for the health risks to which your family was exposed due to the presence of rodents on the premises you were not appropriately told about by the seller.

The reality is that rodents can be the carriers of bacteria and viruses that can cause serious disease. These include salmonella and hantavirus. You best protect the health and wellbeing of your family by hiring a professional rodent dropping cleanup professional to remediate the biohazardous situation in your recently purchased home. The expenses of this assistance represent another aspect of a claim that might be made against a home seller who failed to properly advise you of a rodent issue.