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Construction isn't booming near Fort Meade: WWII shell was a dud p2

We are talking about defects in real property law. The topic may sound a little like a law school class, but anyone buying or selling property should understand how the law treats patent (obvious) and latent (hidden) defects. Please note, though, that this is meant as a general discussion, not a close explanation of Maryland law.

What makes something patent and not latent is what it takes to discover it. A reasonable inspection of the property should uncover any patent defects. In either commercial or residential property, a patent defect could be a crack in the foundation or a leaky roof. Anything that should turn up in an inspection could be a patent defect.

For the most part, the law expects the buyer to know the risks associated with his purchase. If there is no inspection, the buyer generally cannot blame anyone but himself. The rule is "caveat emptor."

Latent defects are not visible to the naked eye. In order to discover them during an inspection, the buyer would have to interfere with the property in some way. For example, to determine if a building's wiring is faulty, the buyer would have to break into the walls. The unexploded device we discussed in our last post was a latent defect. Near Fort Meade, it sounds as if homebuyers are warned that there may be ordnance in the area. Still, no one can say that there will be an unexploded mortar shell in your backyard until you dig it up.

Either way, the defect is problematic for the buyer. The question is whether the buyer can get any kind of relief from the seller or broker.

The answer depends on whether the seller knew about the defect and failed to disclose it. In that case, the buyer may be able to sue for damages. The buyer has a stronger argument for damages if he can prove that the seller, broker or real estate agent deliberately kept the information from him.

The lesson for sellers and their agents is that not disclosing a latent defect, whether accidentally or deliberately, can lead to litigation. The deal could go up in smoke, and everyone could be in for a prolonged legal battle.

Source: American Jurisprudence, Second Edition, Duties and Liabilities of Broker to Principal: Duty to Disclose Information to Principal, Defects in property (12 Am. Jur. 2d Brokers § 136) via Westlaw

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