Some states are more formal than others when it comes to requiring residential home sellers to disclose defects to prospective buyers. While many have strict disclosure regulations, a few still leave it largely to the buyer to discover defects, under the traditional theory of “caveat emptor” or buyer beware. Ohio is on the more regulated side of the spectrum.
Ohio has passed legislation (Ohio Revised Code Section 5302.30) requiring that home sellers make certain explicit disclosures of home defects to potential buyers. You can find the specific form, called the Residential Property Disclosure Form (“RPDF”), on the Ohio Department of Commerce website.
As you can see, the form is five pages long and requires the signature of both the seller (certifying the information contained in the disclosure) and the buyer (to prove that the form was given by the seller). The form asks for disclosures in 13 broad categories, labeled as A-M:
Within each category, the seller can check “yes” or “no” and then describe whatever the relevant condition is, within the limits of his or her knowledge. As a buyer, you will of course want to review the form carefully and ask your home inspector to take a closer look at any areas of possible concern.
The RPDF gives the seller an opportunity to disclose a host of known defects. This is an important opportunity, since defects disclosed before the purchase would eliminate liability for the seller after closing with respect to those issues. Read more about an Ohio seller’s disclosure obligations on Nolo.
Note, however, that the disclosure laws do not require the seller to hire his or her own inspector, or to disclose any defects that he or she is not aware of. If the seller is unaware that rusted pipes run run through the walls, and therefore fails to disclose them on the form, the seller is not liable for any sort of fraud.
Buyers are imputed with the knowledge of any defects that they could have discovered upon a reasonable home inspection; this means that a buyer cannot hold a seller liable for failure to disclose a defect about which the seller was not aware, particularly when the buyer could have discovered that defect him- or herself.
Also notice what's not on the form that might be of concern to you. Although the form contains a question about "Other Known Material Defects," meant to be a catch-all for any issue left off the form, the seller may not have thought to include something important. If, for example, you're worried about neighborhood noise levels, insects that don't fall within the description of "wood-destroying," or whether the house has ever been used as a meth lab, better ask the seller.
In short, Ohio’s RPDF is a useful starting point for disclosure, but should not be the ending point. Even if Ohio is trying to move away from the “caveat emptor” model to place greater legal burden on the seller, buyers should still be wary of seller’s representations. Careful buyers will retain a reputable home inspector and perform their own due diligence on the property.
Remember, even if the seller does purposefully fail to disclose a material defect, the buyer will still have to file litigation in order to recover money. This isn’t always so easy. People who sell their homes often move far away, to different cities or states. This can complicate litigation. Litigation is also expensive and time-consuming; you might not see recovery for years, and only after significant legal fees. Rather than spending on costly litigation later on, you are better off investing in a quality home inspection before purchase.