When a seller of residential real property fails to knowingly disclose defects that are not readily observable and materially affects the value of the real property, this gives rise to a fraudulent nondisclosure or concealment claim, otherwise known as a Johnson v. Davis claim. (See this article that discusses this claim.). This is not the easiest claim to prove because a seller rarely will concede they knew of a hidden defect that they failed to disclose. Thus, discovery is warranted to show they evidently knew but elected not to disclose because doing so would have impacted the sale or the value of the sale. If you believe you have a fraudulent nondisclosure claim, make sure to consult with counsel so that you understand your rights relative to the facts associated with the claim.
In a recent case, Rost Investments, LLC v. Cameron, 45 Fla. L. Weekly D1717a (Fla. 2d DCA 2020), a lessee/potential buyer of residential property entered into a lease with an option to purchase contract. The option to purchase needed to be exercised by the lessee. Immediately after entering into this contract, the lessee claimed the contract should be rescinded based on the lessor’s fraudulent nondisclosure of defects that materially affect the value of the real property and the seller’s refusal to complete warranty-type items on an intake sheet.
First, the lessee claimed that when they moved into the house, the lessor agreed it would repair certain items that were identified on an intake sheet – hot water in the showers, low water pressure, two remote controls for the garage, and the refrigerator needed to be replaced. The lessor did not.
Second, the lessee claimed there were latent defects with the property that the lessor knew about but failed to disclose.
After trial, the trial court granted rescission in favor of the lessee. The Second District Court of Appeals reversed.
Rescission of a contract is an equitable remedy if the party seeking rescission has no adequate remedy at law (such as with a breach of contract claim where monetary damages would be awarded for the breach). Rost Investments, supra (citation omitted).
“[A] party who voluntarily executes a document . . . is bound by its terms in the absence of coercion, duress, fraud in the inducement or some other independent ground justifying rescission.”
“While an agreement may be rescinded for fraud relating to an existing fact, as a general rule, rescission will not be granted “for failure to perform a covenant or promise to do an act in the future, unless the covenant breached is a dependent one.” “A covenant is dependent where it goes to the whole consideration of the contract; where it is such an essential part of the bargain that the failure of it must be considered as destroying the entire contract; or where it is such an indispensable part of what both parties intended that the contract would not have been made with the covenant omitted.”
Rost Investments, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).
The Second District held that the items on the intake sheet that the seller did not address “were [not] so essential to the bargain that [the lessor’s] failure to attend to them destroyed the contracts.” These are items that could have been resolved with money damages through a breach of contract claim, i.e., an action at law. Hence, the lessor’s failure to fix these items did not serve as a basis for the lessee to rescind the contract.
Next, the fraudulent nondisclosure claim for latent defects did not apply because the lessee was leasing the house as the option to purchase the real property had not been exercised. The fraudulent nondisclosure claim applies to buyers of real property. While perhaps the lessee had an argument for fraudulent misrepresentation, the trial court found that the lessor’s nondisclosure of certain defects was not intentional and, without the intent, there was no basis for a fraudulent misrepresentation claim. (Notably, in a fraudulent nondisclosure claim that applies to buyers of real property, a seller’s state of mind is not at-issue– what is at-issue is that the seller had knowledge of a defect not readily observable that materially affects the value of the real property and did not disclose it.) See Rost Investments, supra, n.7.
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