What action can i take against the previous owner of my house as he was unable to get the permit for the deck after 8 months as agreed at closing?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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What action can i take against the previous owner of my house as he was unable to get the permit for the deck after 8 months as agreed at closing?

I bought a house last year. There were a few permits not obtained from the township for the basement and deck. The previous owner didn’t do anything to get the permits until the closing. So both mine and the seller’s attorneys suggested to put aside an escrow amount of 25K so that it could be released once the permits were issued. The seller agreed to fix all the work and get the permits. He fixed the basement issues and got the permit after we moved in, however the deck permit was not done even after 8 months. He tried to fix the issues with few contractors and did shoddy work. The New Link Destination
wnship didn’t approve the permit after inspecting several times have proof. In trying to fix the issue, the contractor removed the footings and left it like that and due to snow and ice, the deck condition was so bad almost collapsed. I am trying to get the escrow money which he doesn’t agree and insisting me to let me allow the contractor to come and fix it. I hired a very reputed deck contractor. He said no professional deck repairs would touch this and recommended to replace the deck. I sent the quote through my closing attoreny and he refused my proposal and insisting on this contractor to fix the deck. My real estate attorney says he is not a litigator and have to find one very surprised to me that an attorney can’t go to court and recommending to negotiate out of court as suing is expensive. It’s been more than 8 months since we closed the house and this issue is lingering due to the seller’s negligence and incompetent contractors. This caused me mental stress. Due to his delay, the property got damaged. Do I have a valid and strong case against him if I opt to sue him? Can I hold the seller all the legal expense if I win the case?

Asked on March 27, 2019 under Real Estate Law, New Jersey


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

If, as you indicate, the seller agreed to have the work done and get the permit but failed to do so, you can sue him for breach of contract--for violating the terms of your agreeement. In a breach of contract case, you can sue for the costs the breach caused you: e.g. the cost to have the work properly done and permitted. You cannot sue for mental stress or the waste of your time--those are not recognizable "damages," or things you can sue for, in breach of contract cases. And you can only recover legal fees if the terms of a written agreement say that if one side sues the other and wins, the winner gets legal fees.

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