Selling an Ohio Home: What Are My Disclosure Obligations?
How much does an Ohio home seller need to tell buyers about the property's physical condition and defects?
If you are getting ready to sell your Ohio house, you know that you are about to face a mountain of paperwork. Whether you choose to use a REALTOR or go it alone, you likely need to complete a Residential Property Disclosure Form (according to Ohio Revised Code 5302.30). With all the effort involved in selling a house, you might be inclined to rush through this form – but there are many good reasons to give it some close attention, as discussed in this article.
Purpose of the Ohio Residential Property Disclosure Form
The Residential Property Disclosure Form is supposed to alert prospective home buyers to known problems with the property, such as roof leaks, electrical troubles, malfunctioning appliances, pests, and so on. The form is used only in the sale of residential property.
Sellers are required to give this form to home buyers -- that is, those with whom they enter into a purchase contract. Buyers have a right to rescind the purchase contract after receiving the form, if the rescission is made before the closing, within 30 days of signing the purchase contract and within three days of receiving the form itself.
Ohio disclosure law requires sellers to disclose only those items they actually know about. This means that you aren’t required to get an independent inspection to complete the form – only to list what you actually have learned and observed about the house through having lived there and taken care of it.
Which Sellers Need Not Fill Out This Form
Not every seller of residential property is required to complete the disclosure form. You need not do so if the home sale you’re involved in is either a:
- forced sale, such as a foreclosure, bankruptcy, probate transaction, or eminent domain
- transfer from one co-owner to another
- transfer to someone who has lived in the property for the previous two years
- family transaction, such as between spouses (including divorcing spouses), children, or parents, or
- a house that you own via inheritance but have not occupied within the last year.
What the Ohio Seller’s Disclosure Form Covers
The form you will need to fill out as an Ohio home seller covers the following items and issues, in accordance with Ohio law:
- water supply
- sewer system
- water leakage or accumulation problems
- basement / crawl space
- interior and exterior walls
- termites and other wood-destroying insects
- electrical system
- air conditioning
- fireplace and chimney, and
- any built-in appliances, like a water softener, security system, microwave, or oven.
After covering the basic structure of the house, the form moves on to other issues, like lead-based paint, asbestos, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, and radon gas. Sellers are asked to disclose the existence of underground storage tanks, wells, flood plains, and erosion problems. Sellers must also tell potential buyers about zoning violations, any pending assessments, and the homeowners' association.
Any issues with boundary lines also need to be disclosed. Sellers need to tell buyers about shared driveways and party walls. (A party wall is a shared or common wall between two separate residences. You find party walls in condominiums, townhomes, and “duplexes” where each side of the building is a separately owned residence.)
At the end of the form, sellers complete a section regarding any additional material defects. The first part of the form outlines specific material defects. Material defects are the kinds of problems that may cause a buyer to not buy the property because of anticipated costs to repair or replace. Material defects are also things that are potentially dangerous – contamination, loose boards, areas where people could fall and get hurt. By including an “other” section, the form obviously intends sellers not to leave out any material defects that don’t neatly fall into one of the categories on the form.
Sellers don’t have to disclose everything, though. If the problem is open to observation, like a water stain in the ceiling that could be seen by anyone walking under it, then the Seller does not have to specifically disclose it. The seller must not, nevertheless, do anything to conceal or prevent the buyer from investigating a problem – like locking an entry door to a garage or putting out air fresheners to mask odors. The seller must also not engage in fraud, nor falsely deny, if asked, that a problem exists. The "Disclosure Issues" page of the Ohio Association of Realtors website provides more information.
Additional Disclosures Required as of 2013
In October, 2012, the Ohio Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing added some items to the Ohio Residential Property Disclosure Form, including some categories that weren’t even required by law. (These changes became effective January 1, 2013.) The form now not only asks sellers to make disclosures about the items outlined above, but also about:
- any oil, gas, or mineral right leases on the property
- abandoned underground mines (directing purchasers to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for additional information)
- assessments, including fees or abatements
- SIDs (Special Improvement District), CIDs (Community Improvement District), and LIDs (Local Improvement District) in cases where the property is within a community run by a homeowner’s association.
The Ohio Association of Realtors’ website provides more information about the changes.
Disclosure Required Under Federal Law
If your house was built before 1978, you will need to comply with federal law about lead-based paint. The law is called the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 (U.S. Code § 4852d), also known as Title X. It requires sellers to tell buyers about all known lead-based paint and hazards in the house. Sellers must also give buyers a pamphlet titled Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Sellers must also allow buyers ten days to test the house for lead.
Your contract will need to include warning language about the lead based paint. You will, as the seller, need to keep copies of the signed acknowledgement for three years after the sale is completed.
Failing to comply with the requirements has a stiff penalty for sellers. The buyer can sue for triple the amount of damages actually suffered. For more information on lead hazards, prevention, and disclosures, contact the National Lead Information Center by phone at 800-424-LEAD, or at www.epa.gov/lead.
Seller's Responsibilities When Completing Ohio Disclosure Form
In order to responsibly and accurately fill out this form, you will need to mark down any material (non-trivial) items you know about – like the loose back step and the microwave that doesn’t work. But you don’t need to worry about things you don’t know about, for example if your neighbor, unbeknownst to you, built the new backyard fence a few inches on your side of the property line.
When in doubt, however – for example, if you have heard scrabblings in the attic but aren’t sure what it means – it’s better to disclose what you know than to conceal the truth and potentially face a later lawsuit for fraud or nondisclosure.(Speak to your real estate agent or an attorney for more information.)
Also realize that the buyers, knowing that you aren’t obligated to inspect or provide comprehensive information about the property, will likely want to obtain an independent inspection and title search prior to finalizing the home purchase.