Seller Revealing Flaws in a House
QUESTION 39: SELLER REVEALING FLAWS IN A HOUSE
To what extent is one obligated to tell a potential buyer everything that
is wrong with a house? What must be told? If the pool has a slow leak
when the filter is on, is one obligated to tell that to a potential buyer?
It's middas chassidus (higher level of piety) to say that a certain room
gets a bit colder than one would expect. But if the problem is bad enough
that the livability of the house is affected, then a person is required to
tell a buyer about it. But if the house has a room that may need an extra
warmer on a cold day - that's not a flaw with the house.
It may be necessary to tell about a pool that has a slow leak when the
filter is on, if it could lead to any damage or difficulty. If the filter
is not up to par, a potential buyer should to be informed of that. It's
proper to say, "The pool operates, and we enjoy it all the time. There is
a slight leak, however, and it may be worthwhile to pay attention to
The relevant questions are: is the buyer getting what he thinks he's
getting, or is some aspect of the house lacking? If paint in a certain
room peels after a few years because the humidity is particularly high -
that's not something that must be disclosed, because every house has
You said that there is a middas chassidus to actually say everything. Can
you elaborate on that?
The middas chassidus could be taken care of by simply saying, "Look at
everything carefully. Of course the house was used for the last ten years.
I might miss certain things which I'm not even aware of." There are
stories of tzaddikim who spent a long time pointing out every potential
difficulty with an object they were selling. It's hard to draw the line
finely. A person should generally be machmir a little (a bit stringent).
Is middas chassidus optional? Is it something one can just choose to
strive for, or is it an obligation?
In certain circumstances middas chassidus is an obligation. To go lifnim
mishuras hadin, beyond the letter of the law, is really in a sense a
requirement. For instance, if a person finds a lost object and the owner
had already despaired of recovering it, the finder technically acquires it
and is therefore under no obligation to return it to the original owner.
But unless the finder is a very poor person, he ought to return the object
to the original owner.
On a higher level, a person - a poor person - may have worked for an
employer for a whole day. But if in the course of working he actually
caused damage, then he ends up being obligated to pay the employer -
rather than the employer having to pay the worker. In that case, it would
be a middas chassidus for the employer to ignore the worker's obligation
to pay him, as long as the worker didn't do intentional damage. This
middas chassidus is something expected of "good" people - as the Talmud
puts it - meaning 'higher class', better people..
And on an even higher level, the Talmud says that the employer should
still pay the worker his wages, since the worker is poor and won't
otherwise be able to feed his wife and family. That is the highest level
of midas chassidus, and is for Tzaddikim (very righteous people).
These are three levels of middas chassidus. To tell a potential buyer
about a slow leak in a pool is something that everyone should tell. To
tell him that one room is a bit colder in the winter than expected is
already a level of middas chassidus beyond that. You're not absolutely
obligated to point it out; it's something extra.
Is it optional if one decides to be at the first, second, or third level
of middas chassidus?
The Sages gave clear parameters. The first level is expected of everyone,
except one who is very poor or someone under great pressure, or someone
who is not interested in doing the right thing. The second level is
expected of people who are careful and reflective about his or her actions
- high-level people - but the ordinary person is not required to perform
acts of chassidus on this level. The third is only for great tzaddikim.
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 40: SPENDING CAR REPAIR MONEY
Someone else's car hit my car, and he said he would pay to have it
repaired. I went to a body repair shop, and I was told that it would cost
$450 to have it fixed. Can I take the money, and not have it fixed, and
use the money for something else?
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