Historic Rains and Real Estate: Important Considerations for Sellers and Landlords

Landlord & Tenant Law, Non-Disclosures Disputes, and Real Estate Law by Ashlee D. Gonzales, Esq.

All throughout Northern California this winter, we have seen historic rainfall from Lake Tahoe to the low-lying coastal town of Santa Cruz south of the Bay Area. While we welcome the rain after some extensive droughts and dry weather, the conditions have caused a slew of issues for our landlord and seller clients. In this article, we will give an overview of things to consider and prepare for resulting from the consistent and relentless wet weather that we’ve experienced the last few months.  

Considerations for Landlords 

As discussed in some of our prior articles, landlords are required under the California Civil Code to maintain a habitable premises for their tenants. One of those basic requirements includes ensuring the property has effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls. Essentially, the entire structure must be able to prevent water from entering the property.  

We have seen a major increase in habitability complaints surrounding water leaks, especially with roof and basement issues at properties affected by these historic rains. Everything from roofs caving in, to defective sump pumps, it has been a very stressful Winter for many property owners and their tenants.  

For many older homes, it is not uncommon that the roof is still the original roof from when the property was built. Given California has been historically dry for the past several years, roof leak issues are easily overlooked and not readily apparent to the owner/tenant. Sometimes, it takes an ‘atmospheric river’ for a roof to finally give in to the elements. Same with sump pumps and basements. It is not often that those features of the property are utilized to their full capacity, and any lack of repair or defective condition can result in a substantial flooding of the property. However, these issues can usually be avoided with some proactivity by the owner.  

It is more important than ever to regularly maintain the waterproofing and weather protection of your property as a landlord. Periodic roof and sump pump inspections could save tens of thousand of dollars in both an emergency repair and a landlord-tenant dispute resulting from an unexpected leak. A repair done in a non-urgent situation costs far less and helps prevent damage to the tenant and/or their belongings, which can end up costing landlords the most. For example, a roof caving in due to the weather could be a major health hazard to the tenants. 

Further, even after roof or sump pump repairs are made after a water leak, the work is not over for a landlord. Landlords must also be diligent in testing and mitigating any mold issues resulting from the water intrusion. Mold claims and resulting health and property damage are by far the most common habitability dispute we see between landlords and tenants. While the most obvious issue may have been resolved (the roof damage or cause of leak), failing to fully eliminate water intrusion within the walls and property can have long-term and extremely expensive effects. Unaddressed water damage can deteriorate the property over time and cause significant health concerns for tenants residing in the property.  

It is our recommendation, especially with the ongoing weather conditions in our state, that landlords are proactive in their maintenance and repair of any water-related damages. If you have experienced or are concerned about these situations, please do not hesitate to contact our firm as we handle these types of situations daily.  

Considerations for Sellers 

While landlords have an ongoing responsibility to maintain a habitable premises for their tenants, any seller of real property in California has a responsibility to disclose all material information when selling the property. As mentioned above, due to the historic rains we’ve experienced this Winter, many property conditions have been exposed wherein they may have not been readily apparent during dryer years. Things like roofs in need of repair, defective sump pumps, faulty drainage systems, etc., have been a thorn in property owners all over the State.  

While the emergency nature of these situations presents property owners with a costly bill, they also present issues for prospective sellers. One of the most common disputes our firm handles revolve around disclosure (or lack thereof) disputes from when a property is sold. In California, sellers have a duty under the Civil Code to disclose all material information to a prospective buyer so the buyer can make an informed decision in buying the property. This doesn’t always happen, and issues are discovered either during the transaction or post-closing that cause the buyer to acquire a property without knowing the true nature of any and all issues with the property. Our firm has a wide range of articles on this issue on our blog website that could be useful for prospective sellers.  

As it relates to the recent heavy rains, sellers must be transparent in providing buyers with any and all information regarding resulting damage from the rains. This includes issues that have been recently mitigated. For example, if a seller lists their home this Summer and performed a roof repair in December 2022 due to a water leak (or any issue), mitigating any ongoing water intrusion, the seller must disclose this information to the buyer. To take it a step further, we’d recommend sellers to provide any invoices/bids to buyers so they can be fully informed about 1) the extent of work; 2) who performed the work; 3) the cost; and 4) the current status of the work. The more information the buyer has about any repair efforts and water mitigation work, the less likely it is that they can assign liability or blame to a seller for lack of knowledge of the issue. Should a seller fail to provide such information and the issue reoccurs, the buyer could arguably hold the seller accountable (even if they fixed the issue prior) as they were uninformed before purchasing the property.  

As we tell all of our seller clients, “disclose, disclose, disclose” when it comes to filling out the mandatory disclosure forms for a transaction. These recent wet conditions have tested many aspects of a seller’s home, including the integrity of their roof, sump pump, weather proofing, etc. If any issues have presented themselves due to these conditions, please be sure to inform any prospective buyer of any resulting damage or repair to avoid costly litigation in the future. We work with sellers on a daily basis on these issues, so if you need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.  

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