Important Water Considerations for After El Niño

Construction Disputes, Disclosure, and Real Estate Law by Ashlee D. Gonzales, Esq.

As predicted, El Niño arrived in California and brought some much needed precipitation with it.  This past winter brought the most rain California has had in quite awhile, with many major reservoirs in better shape than they have been in years.  Despite the warm welcoming El Niño received, there is a downside to the wet winter.  Following El Niño is another weather phenomenon by the name of “La Niña”.  La Niña, which means The Little Girl in Spanish, is the climate condition that typically follows an El Niño period.  La Niña usually consists of cooler than normal temperatures and below average precipitation, opposite of what El Niño brought to California this winter.

This can be concerning for Californians for reasons other than an ongoing drought.  With spring being the busiest time of year for the real estate market, dry weather conditions can pose some issues to buyers and sellers alike.  Spring climate provides many aesthetic benefits to realtors in marketing a home, but it also can hide potential pitfalls.  During El Niño, there was a spike in water related disputes in real estate transactions, with the increase in rainfall highlighting defects in the property that were not previously exposed due to the drought.   The decrease in rainfall presented by La Niña can make the discovery of water related defects difficult once again.

Of the water related disputes we’ve encountered this winter, roof leaks were the most common.  During a dry period, leaky roofs are not a focus of the parties involved in a transaction, which comes back to bite everyone involved when heavy rainfall occurs.  There are some preventative measures to detect these defects during this spring and summer.

The first step would be to do an outdoor inspection of the roof.  Unless a roof is brand new, an inspection is highly recommended, whether you are purchasing or currently own your home.  Many causes of leaks are apparent by the condition of the exterior of the roof, including deformed shingles, excess cement buildup, broken gutters, cracks or tears in the roof itself, and even chimney damage.  Spending money now on a quality roof inspector can save thousands on litigation, repairs, and stress.  It is also important to get roof inspections periodically if you are a homeowner.  Commonly, real estate purchase agreements include a roof certification, providing the buyer with a 2-3 year life expectancy for the roof.  Beyond that guarantee, it is up to the buyer to have periodical inspections to ensure their roof is in good condition.

Regular roof inspections can also benefit homeowners when they decide to sell their home. California law requires sellers to complete a form called a “Transfer Disclosure Statement”, which discloses known material defects or issues with the home that may affect the buyer’s decision.  Roof defects are considered material and must be disclosed to a prospective buyer.  Failure to disclose a defective roof to a buyer may cause the seller to be responsible for the cost to repair the roof, the buyer’s attorney fees, and other miscellaneous fees depending on the level of concealment by the seller. Regular roof inspections will make the seller aware of defects and allow them ample time to cure those defects prior to the sale of their property.

The second way roof damage can be detected is from the inside of the home.  Given that El Niño provided California with a steady flow of rainfall, there is no doubt that defective roofs were exposed.  A leaky roof is not always immediately apparent however.  Obvious signs of leakage include peeling paint, ceiling damage, and moisture stains.  Potential buyers and current homeowners should take it a step further and look into their attic this spring and summer.  Sometimes leaks in the roof are absorbed by the insulation in the attic, preventing leak detection for months.  Another less obvious sign is an increase in your energy consumption.  The accumulation of moisture in your home due to the leak can cause a decrease in ventilation.

These are just some of the things to keep in mind now that El Niño is over. With the potential of La Niña and water damage concerns being neglected, we may see an increase in disputes in the future.  Being more conscious of water related issues during the dry months may save you a substantial amount of time and money when the rain comes again.

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