Can I sue seller for providing a phony estimate of work to be done before sale?

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Can I sue seller for providing a phony estimate of work to be done before sale?

I recently purchased my first house and probably didn’t check everything as thoroughly as I should have. I knew the home had an older furnace but it was in working condition when my home inspector checked it. The seller had left me a note in the home the day of the home inspection stating that he knew the air conditioner was not working and provided an estimate of the work to be done and completion date. A worker actually came and took away a part of the outdoor unit of the conditioner while my inspector was at the house, so I assumed the work was completed. Unfortunately I never requested a paid invoice. Now that I’m in the house, the first time I started the air conditioning the unit began to drip water all over the furnace which is essentially no good now either. I had a company come out to look and they said the whole unit will need to be replaced and that they might not have even used a compatible unit when the original homeowner had it ‘fixed’ before the sale. At the very least the part that was replaced was not the entirety of the problem. Since I was under the impression the seller had hired a company to repair the unit I looked back at the estimate he had originally provided for a phone number. There was only a company name and address. I asked the agent to get a phone number from the seller and the seller refused to give it up because he didn’t want me coming back on him to sue his own words. Upon doing some more digging on the information provided on the estimate I discovered the company name listed is a defunct auto body shop however now reopened under a new name and the address listed is the company’s owners home address. Is there anything that I can do about him falsifying the information? I would assume if he lied about something as simple as an estimate he didn’t have a legitimate company repair the unit. However, I have no way of finding out and I now need to fully replace both the air conditioner and furnace.

Asked on August 1, 2017 under Real Estate Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

If a home seller lied about material, or important, things (like the condition of, or repairs being made to, major items, like air conditioning or the furnace) and you had no reasonable way at the time to know that he was lying, he may well have committed fraud: fraud is the knowing misrepresentation of some material fact, made to induce you to do something (like buy the house; or to get you to pay more or not ask for concessions), upon which you *reasonably* relied (so no reasonable way available to you to verify the information at the time, and no reasonable reason you should have simply disregarded the misrepresentation and relied on what you could see or find out for yourself). If, as may be the case based on what you write, the seller committed fraud, you could sue him to recover the cost to correct the problems now. In the course of the lawsuit, you can obtain information or documentation from him using the legal process or techniques of "discovery" (e.g. written interrogatories or questions, document production requests, subpoenas). If the amount at stake (the cost to replace) is less the limit for small claims court, sue in small claims as your own attorney or "pro se" to minimize legal costs (you can get less information from the other side in small claims, but the case will be MUCH faster, simpler and cheaper, making it worthwhile); if more than the small claims limit, speak with an attorney.


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