Should I sue a poor person?
March 25, 2019 6:16 PM   Subscribe

I’m torn between the world of legal agreements and my social justice heart. I got lied to, a lot, in a real estate transaction. Details inside.

I bought a house in an expensive market, sold by a person who was probably gentrified out. She had two mortgages on it. I am middle class in this market, but probably upper middle class in a more reasonable area. I bought the cheapest house around and it cost all of my money plus a monthly payment I can just make.

She lied all over the disclosures. Said the dishwasher works. It doesn’t. Said there were no leaks, but we found a burst pipe on closing day. One her way out of the house she broke one exterior door and left the other one “locked”. I asked for a key and she said it was in the pile she gave me. In reality, there was no key, and we pushed on the door til the glass broke until we discovered she had nailed it shut from outside.

We were scheduled to close at 9 am. At 8, when we arrived for our walk through, they were still moving out. She showed up to closing and said she’d be out by 1. We agreed to sign everything and hold the paperwork until the end of the day. She was out at 4pm. We told our realtor and everything was submitted. Then we discovered all that was broken and undisclosed. She left her pets behind and didn’t tell us, so we were scared/surprised to find them and had to call her to get them. She showed up two days later. We don’t live there yet. So we’re pissed. There’s more, but detailing it would only serve my need to complain.

So - I’ve never sued anyone. I’m someone who cares about inequality. Not just on the internet but in practice in my life. I’m also aware she got an advance on her proceeds to handle some work we agreed to in our contract. At the end of it all she owed us $500 for some agreed-upon damage and she told us she had to wait until she got the money for the house.

So there are maybe 2-3k in things she flat out lied about or sabotaged. We have 2-3k, but it’s a hardship since we had allocated that towards other work on the house (it’s a serious fixer upper, has no functional bathrooms). She doesn’t have $500 to rub together but will have 200k in proceeds once the transaction is done. That doesn’t get her close to a house here.

Do I take a person to small claims court because she lied to me and damnit, we had a contract, or do I let it go because her life will be improved more by having that money than mine will?
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (66 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can you take her to small claims court as punishment/consequence for her actions but then give her half the money back?
posted by mccxxiii at 6:20 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


If she was really that poor, she would have been doing everything possible to make things go smoothly rather than doing what she did. Are you going to let her get away with it just because she is poor according to your subjective standards?
posted by Fukiyama at 6:25 PM on March 25 [51 favorites]


I'm guessing there's much more to the story than is possible to describe here. But, this goes beyond just skipping details because someone is too broke to make a few repairs. She frikkin left pets behind! Take her to court. For full damages.
posted by jzb at 6:27 PM on March 25 [46 favorites]


Contracts matter, or are supposed to. She got a mountain of money from you, and decided to fuck you over? Fuck her back. Bad people need to be slapped down, and hard, now more than ever. Frankly, however, I'm surprised you didn't hold back some money from closing contingent on repairs -- your agent or lawyer should have advised you to do that. My neighbors held back $7K for a broken hot tub, fer chrissakes, in the one of the hottest markets in North America.
posted by aramaic at 6:27 PM on March 25 [45 favorites]


Yeah she didn't just fudge a little because she was scared she wouldn't make a sale, she actively and maliciously fucked you over (she nailed the door shut). Sue her and don't feel bad about it.
posted by brainmouse at 6:30 PM on March 25 [56 favorites]


what makes you think anything she's told you about how hard up she is, is any more true than anything else she's misrepresented?

Sue hard and long. Maybe it'll teach her not to screw over other people.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:31 PM on March 25 [15 favorites]


Didn’t any of this come up in the inspection?

So, here’s the thing. Yes, you can sue. You will probably win. You have virtually no chance of collecting the money, because you can’t get blood from a stone. If this person felt comfortable enough to lie on her disclosures and sabotage working items, to abandon her pets, and to basically hose you up one side and down the other, then this person will feel absolutely no need to make payments on the judgment. Even if you put a lien on her property or garnish her wages, it’s going to suck way more time than you will receive in payment. The fees will amount to another couple hundred bucks.

Take a look at the process for small claims in your county. Here’s how it worked when I had to take someone to small claims, who then did not pay the judgement. Your county will probably be in the ballpark.

- Go to county courthouse and file.
- Wait 6+ weeks for court date.
- Court date arrives. You bring all your documentation of what happened.
- Judge gives each of you a few minutes to speak. Then you hand in your documentation.
- You’ll probably be mailed the decision, along with your documentation. The judge usually doesn’t make it during the court session.
- If you win, the defendant has a year from the date of the decision to pay.
- If they don’t pay, you can elevate your case from county court to district court. (Fee)
- If you have their routing number and account number (like, say, a check! If you have one from her, make a copy), you can file a writ of execution on their bank account.
- The sheriff will serve the writ on the bank and seize money out of the account, up to the full amount of the judgment. If there isn’t the full amount, they will come back to you and say, “We were able to seize $1800. Do you want to settle for this, or try again for the full amount?” If you settle, the writ is executed and that’s it, the judgment is fulfilled. If you try again, you have to pay again for another writ.
- Writs can also be served on property instead of bank accounts. But you can’t do both, you have to pick one per writ.
- The county puts the money in escrow for 30 days and then sends you a check.

So, you’re looking at a year, minimum, to sue this person and figure out if they would actually pay the judgment. And another few hundred bucks for filing fees, plus the court appearance. Is it worth it to you? Totally up to you if it is.

And yeah, personally, I would sue on principle. Fuck that jerk.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:31 PM on March 25 [35 favorites]


you gave someone hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they did not do right.

this unsqueezable stone has $200k of cash. file now,
decide later.
posted by zippy at 6:39 PM on March 25 [24 favorites]


I'm going to say fuck that jerk, but walk away. You've got a lot of other crap going on. Let this bullshit person get out of your life and go off to be miserable elsewhere. Say it's $3K? Yeah, that's a chunk of change, but it's a chunk of change you can "pay" to put this awful experience and awful person right behind you. If it were more like $30K, I'd say sue.

But your seller is just a shitty person and is gambling that you'll find it too much trouble to come after her. And maybe she's right. An you know what? Sometimes you get shit on and just wipe it off and walk away.

Up to you, but if it were me I'd just eat the financial loss, get on with the fixing-er-up, and turn it all into a hell of a story.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:43 PM on March 25 [17 favorites]


Burst pipe and dishwasher working, maybe I'd give the benefit of the doubt that they just happened to go down. Weirder things have happened. Got a list of things from when we bought our home that were probably the previous owners trying to screw us over but could possibly have just been coincidence or us missing something.

But then she lied about there being a key to the door that was nailed shut, she left her pets behind for 2 days. At that point, she forfeits the benefit of the doubt. These were not mistakes, but deliberate actions chosen to make your life difficult. I'm no fan of unnecessary conflict, but she invited it down upon herself. I would have no qualms about filing suit.
posted by neilbert at 6:43 PM on March 25 [6 favorites]


I can't help noticing that you didn't categorize the question under "work & money." You didn't categorize it under "law & government." You put it under "religion & philosophy." So I kind of feel like part of you doesn't want to sue. If you decide not to sue, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I'm not sure I would have the heart to sue.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:47 PM on March 25 [7 favorites]


There is nothing wrong with suing in this situation. The things the seller did were by choice, not something that happened against her will because of her hardship. But there is also nothing wrong with deciding not to sue even if you know you are passing up money. Because suing takes up time and creates a lot of stress.

Think of yourself ten years in the future: will you regret passing up $2-3K? Or will you regret keeping this seller in your life a little longer and spending some amount of time with a lawyer and in court?

Either way, I’m sure your agent will want to know the seller behaved that way and may have some things to say to the seller’s agent because of it.
posted by sallybrown at 6:54 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]


Oh, also, if you serve the writ on a bank account and it has no money in it, or she closed it, and let’s say Defendant has their $200K (or whatever’s left) in another account for which you do not have the routing number and account number, you’re basically SOL. Without a lawyer, there’s no mechanism to fish around for their financial information, and it’s not like you can call up Wells Fargo and be like “Do you have an account for Scammy McNailshut? Could I get that number please?”

So if you’re going to go that route, make sure you have that information correct. And that’s also why sooner is better than later. I got very lucky in that my Defendant was stupid enough to keep the same checking account two years after scamming me, so the writ of execution was successful. It wouldn’t have been if he’d just changed accounts.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:55 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't, and here is why: Poor people can be panicky assholes too, and that doesn't make them less poor. The reason not to trample on the weak isn't because they're all lovely people.

(FTR, I own a house with lots and lots of problems, some of which really should have been disclosed and have caused literally years of expensive stress, and I probably should/could have gotten it meaningfully cheaper; sometimes I regret this, but then I reflect on the sad and fucked up life of the person who sold it to me (I mean, I literally know that it was sad and fucked up in this case, I'm not speculating) so I do in fact know the heartbreak and frustration of a terrible, expensive fixer-upper.)

What most likely happened is this: This person isn't especially competent, and years of dealing with the house on zero dollars as gentrification happened did not help. Her dishwasher was broken and a pipe broke and she could not pay to fix them and didn't want to lose the sale. She nailed the back door shut because she lost the key, couldn't afford to get it fixed and didn't want to leave it actually unlocked. She left the pets because she had pets the way messed up people have pets and then panicked. She wasn't too on the ball, she got overwhelmed and she fled.

Don't put yourself through a lot of heartache and ugliness to get money from someone who has less money and fewer prospects than you do, even if she's an asshole.
posted by Frowner at 6:55 PM on March 25 [88 favorites]


If you sue her, yes you might win and have a satisfying feeling of revenge/justice. (And maybe some of the money back.) But as seanmpuckett says, it will take a lot of time and stress on your part to achieve this.

But also, afterwards, you'll know you're the kind of person who sues someone who presumably has been living for some time in a house that had no functional bathroom.

Personally I can think of all sorts of reasons why a person under economic stress -- who has been forced to sell her home and move out of her neighborhood -- would do all the things you mention. Or maybe she's an asshole. How we randos on the internet judge this woman (based only on your description) is probably more of a Rorschach Test for all of us, than it is an accurate or rational assessment of the situation you are experiencing.

So given that we can't really be judge and jury for you, the only thing that matters here is this: given what you know about your own sense of your need for revenge versus your need to feel you're a good person, what is going to make you feel better? Perhaps the thing that will ultimately make you happier is letting this one go.

(Also, you've got a hell of a lot of other stuff to be dealing with right now. Do you honestly really want to add to that with a court case??)
posted by EllaEm at 6:59 PM on March 25 [8 favorites]


I feel like you could sue and shouldn't. You bought a fixer, you got a fixer. I'm unclear why some of this stuff wasn't caught during inspection? You bought it from someone a little unstable who acted in unstable ways. You broke your own window. Pet nonsense is terrible but I think also speaks to the low competency of these people that would follow you through a small claims suit. Moving is stressful and makes many people feel/think they made a bad decision. I think you made a good decision but you're just in a feeling-money-tight place. I don't think suing is going to make that feeling any different and will just extend the bad feelings about the former owners. Move on.
posted by jessamyn at 7:00 PM on March 25 [34 favorites]


Sounds like some mental health issues in play. If she has two mortgages on the property like you said - your money has gone to the bank. She probably owes money everywhere, so I can’t imagine the courts would have much luck collecting from her if she is the sort of nutjob who'd abandon pets. Your lawyer made sure the utilities and taxes are all in order, right?
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:05 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]


I'd want to report her for animal cruelty, personally.

As far as suing her, I'd say talk to an attorney or two about your options here and see what you want to do.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:08 PM on March 25 [9 favorites]


Have you spoken with a lawyer? We had some problems when we bought our house and our understanding was that most houses are basically sold "as-is" and that the seller is only responsible if you can prove that they knowingly lied, which is hard to do. And then you say troubling things like:
At the end of it all she owed us $500 for some agreed-upon damage and she told us she had to wait until she got the money for the house.
My understanding as not a lawyer is that everything is supposed to be settled at closing, and you may even have signed a document saying something to that effect. The $500 should have come out of what you paid her at closing.

I won't speak to the ethics of suing someone who you perceive as being disadvantaged. I will say that practically you may want to consult with an attorney before taking the time to pursue this.
posted by muddgirl at 7:16 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


If you're white and this person is Black or Indigenous or Latinx, then don't sue. Think of it as reparations for colonization. Back when your family was amassing wealth and education and assets, hers wasn't allowed to have those things, and was instead amassing generational trauma. That shit trickles down.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:16 PM on March 25 [28 favorites]


Suing seems like a lot of stress and work plus likely more bad feelings. 2-3k that you may or may not actually recoup doesn't seem like that great of an upside. It doesn't seem worth it to me, even if you completely disregard any framing of it in terms of social justice or ethics.
posted by desert at 7:23 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


My understanding is that this is why houses are sold "as is" or contract "subject to inspection".

How would you feel as a seller if, after completing the sale and moving out, the new owners started coming back at you with a list of items that they found broken? They could very well have become broken / fallen apart after the new owner took possession, and thus have nothing to do with you. Yes, I can tell you that the light-bulbs all work, you are free to check that they do, then we sign the contract, and then you take possession and find one has blown out. You can't with 100% certainty say that I lied to you.
posted by xdvesper at 7:34 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Suing almost never makes people feel better about being wronged long term. And it'll be hard to get the money as mentioned above, unless you immediately take aggressive steps like pre-judgment garnishment. If the money matters to you long term, consider it. If it's just about the morality of the thing, I'd recommend against it - you won't feel good when you're still trying to collect on this in two years.

Also, definitely talk to the lawyer who represented you in the sale if you haven't.
posted by lookoutbelow at 7:35 PM on March 25


For anyone buying a house and reading this, get the best, toughest inspector in the area to find every defect.

Anonymous, you're likely to find more issues. Social Justice? There's poor, and there's leaving your dogs behind and lying. They are not the same thing. Most poor people are honest and would not have pulled these stunts. Sue. The filing fee is low. Can you ask to have any of the funds put in escrow or held in some way since she negotiated and acted in bad faith?
posted by theora55 at 7:41 PM on March 25 [10 favorites]


Sorry, but I think this is just a $2k-$3k lesson. Always get an inspector, don't take a seller at their word, double-check everything. You didn't do that. You got burned. That really, really sucks.

As others have said, even if you were to move forward with a suit, this is not someone you're likely to get a lot of money from, for a variety of reasons. I think you need to let it go.
posted by duffell at 7:44 PM on March 25 [11 favorites]


You are certainly entitled to sue. You are also entitled to decide that you'd rather not sue.

Anybody in your life who tries too hard or too loudly to pressure you in either direction needs to step back and respect your decision.
posted by desuetude at 7:51 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


I would only sue if there is some action that was still outstanding that prevents you from taking possession...
Other than that, i would just 'add' the $3,000 to my mental picture of the purchase price and call it a day.
posted by calgirl at 8:56 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


I'm so sorry this happened. Buying a house is already such a stressful, free-falling thing. You've gotten a lot of good perspective here.

What I can't stress enough is this: GOOD ENERGY WHEN MOVING INTO A HOME IS WORTH MORE THAN MONEY. If you move into a home feeling bitter, even if it's something beyond your control, that feeling infiltrates the walls, the floors, the whole vibe of your entire place. You can feel it. Guests can feel it.

Our seller wasn't terribly candid with the disclosures and had essentially abandoned the house, and our heater unit went bust two weeks after close, which cost 7K to replace. There was nothing we could do, really, to recoup that.

If it's a relatively small amount, you kind of have to surrender and remember that this is YOUR home now and you're going to care for it better than the previous owner did. (We went so far as naming the house bc you can feel that the home has this whole personality, and anthropomorphizing made it feel easier to spend money on improvements, but YMMV.)
posted by mochapickle at 9:13 PM on March 25 [8 favorites]


In this particular case, no, you should not sue this person. They've been priced out of home ownership by rising housing costs and it sounds like they have bad credit, so they're not going to learn a lesson that will prevent them from doing this again, because they're probably never going to own a home again. And read your question back to yourself: you know you won't get the money.

In other cases, also no, you should not sue a poor person.
posted by caek at 9:22 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


Sue. Just get it started. What may seem to be 2-3K now could easily balloon. And, isn't some or all of this what you paid your realtor for? Get an attorney. Put them to work on this so you can just put it out of your mind as much as possible. And, ask the attorney if you got screwed by your realtor as well.
posted by Gotanda at 9:34 PM on March 25


I would sue. In fact, I am surprised the realtors let this happen. I’ve bought and sold in the red hot Seattle market a couple times where homes are all a hundred years old and disclosures are a big deal, every home has something big — a leaky heating oil tank or wiring that isn’t up to code. The purpose of disclosures isn’t to cancel the sale necessarily but to settle all these things so there aren’t any issues like the ones you are dealing with right now. I don’t get why she wasn’t being advised about this, or if she was, why did she choose to ignore standard practice? Disclosures are really up to the seller to admit to, but wasn’t there an independent inspection? If the house was in substantially different condition than the inspection would indicate, somethings way wrong and I’d say unanticipated animals being present on taking possession qualifies as substantial. There was a way to deal with all of this up front that didn’t substantially worsen her financial situation and would have caused you way less stress AND IT WAS THE LAW. This isn’t a poor person problem, this is a “someone didn’t care and broke the law and caused harm to you” problem. The bad karma you carry into your new home is way worse with you deciding to be a sucker and paying for someone else’s deceit.

The reason why home sales are as complicated as they are and require signing hundreds of forms is to prevent exactly this. I would not only be suing the seller but I’d be looking hard at the realtors involved who certainly knew better and have way deeper pockets.

For reference, my wife and I are bleeding heart liberals who have spent our careers in public service to the indigent and mentally ill. This isn’t about leveling society’s playing field by taking the hit for yourself. In fact, it’s the opposite, the law works to protect everyone.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:54 PM on March 25 [23 favorites]


To be clear, the things that come up in disclosures or on inspection are usually worked out in the closing price after the offer is accepted, unless there was some understanding that you were buying “as-is” but this is an uncommon situation.

I guess another thing you could consider is a homeowner’s warranty. I think you have up to 30 days after closing to purchase one of these and it is meant to cover anything that comes up or breaks in the first year after purchase that wasn’t disclosed. In fact, we purchased our current home in December, immediately discovered the dishwasher didn’t work, bought a warranty a week after closing for like $1000 and then a month later filed a claim and got a new dishwasher.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:10 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


My opinion: Defend yourself. You aren't coming into this in a position of structural dominance or historical power. You and the seller are peers here, and the seller committed a foul against you. So, don't feel guilty that you're "suing a poor person". You would just doing what's right for yourself - not being a doormat.
posted by Citrus at 11:07 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


Did you have a lawyer at the closing? What does she or he say you should do? It sounds to me like the seller broke the contract and there should be built in ramifications for that. I'm not saying sue, but talk to a lawyer that knows about this kind of thing if you have not done so.
posted by vrakatar at 11:36 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Me, I'd eat the $3k for the sake of taking these words of advice for young people.
posted by flabdablet at 11:57 PM on March 25


If you sue, you’re keeping this person in your orbit. This is not a person you want continuing contact with. You bought a fixer-upper without an inspection and without good legal advice at closing. If you are looking to sue, consider your realtor or real estate lawyer who did not look out for or protect your interests *at all*. They have a legal obligation to do so - that’s why you pay them!

But honestly - buying a house is always always more expensive than it seems like it will be. Get a used dishwasher off Craigslist, repair the door and pipe. Be grateful that it’s not worse.

Don’t sue a poor person for money you won’t get. If they had two mortgages on the place there’s no stack of $200k sitting there. It’s all been taken, and any equity is going to have to see them through whatever shittier housing situation they’re moving to. You don’t need the karma hit for something you can weather.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:17 AM on March 26 [22 favorites]


Dearest new home owner, when you imagine yourself sitting in your home a year from now after there are working bathrooms and you have settled in, how do you feel? Are you still angry and resentful because you decided not to sue and wish you had? Are you at peace with whatever decision you made? Are you guilty because you sued but feel like it was the wrong decision? Did you sue successfully and feel content?

In the end, you don’t actually know anything about this person apart from her direct actions. There is no way to know how this person will be affected by your decision to sue or not sue. The only thing you know is yourself; the only person you are actually responsible for is yourself. Make the best choice you possibly can based on the best guess you can possibly make about how you’re going to feel a year from now depending on the choice you make. Personally, I sometimes find it important to stand up for myself and to take action that makes me feel heard even if it doesn’t get me what I want. It can be a form of self defense and that can be valuable. Other times I may feel wronged because I was wronged and spend a lot of time processing those feelings but choose not to act because the disadvantages from acting are too great.

You absolutely have grounds to sue but that’s not the question. The question is what action will help you feel the way you want to feel down the road. And you’re the only one who can figure that out. This is no easy question. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:43 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


The pet thing is what pushed me over the line. The other stuff, well you bought a house without functional bathrooms, and yes she misrepresented and lied, but that's just stuff, it's frustrating but fixable.

But abandoning the pets? Even if you don't sue, see if you can alert your local pet welfare group, because it sounds like they are not in a safe situation.
posted by basalganglia at 3:17 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


I have been in a situation similar to yours, and I attempted to work with the person to come to an agreement that would rectify their illegal actions. Honestly, if I could monetise all the negative energy that went into the situation, (and all the anguish trying to see things from their perspective, to 'be fair' to them- even when they had intentionally been dishonest... ), if I could turn back time I would just walk away. Then I would work with making peace in my own heart, and with the place, and working forward on the things I could control.

If you need to find a way to look at this in a positive light- you can say that now that you are a home owner you will encounter many more situations where you have to enter into agreements/negotiations/payments etc etc with people (contractors/cleaners/delivery etc etc), many of which may expose you financially far more than just 2-3k. Chalk this up to an albeit painful learning experience and take heart that your newfound caution may really save you a lot of money as you navigate all those future situations, talking through 'undesired outcomes' with those people before they happen, and avoiding future costs/conflict.
posted by iiniisfree at 3:22 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


Take the "good person" points and don't sue. I don't care if she has 200k - she also just lost her house, it sounds like in circumstances beyond her control. You have her house now. Let her go on in peace and give yourself the peace of doing a very good deed.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 3:33 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Where the hell was your real estate agent or attorney on this? I would totally do what Slarty Bartfast has pointed to upthread and get yourself insurance and a warranty right now. I am betting that those "oops" you are encountering are going to grow. Ah hell, where was your house inspector in all this?

A contract is not saying, "you are an asshole," it is a simple reminder of what the hell everyone was thinking at the time.

There are multiple contracts in play here: you and the homeowner, who has proven hella sketchy; contract between you and the real estate agent; contact with your house inspector and contract with your attorney.

I am a bit torn about suing the seller since I am not sure you are 1) into it and have the fortitude necessary to see it through; 2) keeping this person in your orbit but 3) I really believe in contracts; 4) not rewarding bad behavior and 5) giving a person enough respect to experience the consequence of their actions.

IF you think you can staunch the house bleed (this may be putting the squeeze on your agents and the others that let you proceed on putting up with this crazy) then maybe let it go.

We are making a lot of assumptions about the seller's circumstances and building a narrative of her being a necessary recipient of social justice. I caution you against this. Do not assume a narrative of her being a victim and then make decisions based on an unknown narrative. Judge people by their actions. What are the concrete actions you have observed? Her actions are a much better set of facts to work with than an assumed narrative of her mental state, competence or wealth.
posted by jadepearl at 3:44 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


She broke a door on the way out and left her pets. These sound like they might be the actions of someone with more going on than financial desperation. (Nailing a door shut could mean she couldn’t afford to get it fixed - though doing so from the outside seems a bit weird.) If she has mental illness issues, keeping her in your life by suing her could end up creating a lot of trouble you don’t want to deal with. If you can swallow the expenses, I’d let it go.
posted by FencingGal at 3:50 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


i jumped on the sue wagon, but i'm going to take it in a slightly different direction.

you've just made what is likely the largest purchase of your life. on top the stress of that you had a negative move in experience and found some relatively low dollar crap that was wrong. you do not feel cared for or respected, and your new home now has bad juju going for it.

but that's just today. and it's not so much about money.

buying a $200k house is an economic hardship. finding 1% of the purchase in broken things is nothing. i know, it feels like more than nothing, but in the big scheme of things, what's wrong is the emotional exhaustion of not being able to move in to a place and call it home on day 1.

is the seller in a bad spot? have they experienced bad things? maybe yes. but you need to stop worrying about the seller. what will make you feel good next week and next year: going to small claims court, or moving forward and making your house your home?

now, that said, get your home inspected now. get your rep on the line, list the things wrong so far, and ask them how to proceed. it is possible that rather than a suit there's some way to adjust the sale. maybe. but look around - aside from your bad day or two (pets, i'm assuming outdoor cats and not, say, a boa constrictor in the master bath), do you like this home? if so, make it your home.
posted by zippy at 4:29 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I have recently been screwed over to the tune of about 15k related to my home. In our case these were contractors.

You don't need to worry about this person's feelings, and your sense of morality.

You do need to worry about:

1) whether it will be worth the time and frustration (probably not). In my case there's a good chance it would be.

2) whether you want to further engage with a lunatic who clearly doesn't mind operating outside of legal and moral behavior. In this case I've struggled to decide because I just feel so angry. And you know, justice! But my sanity and safety is worth the $15k to me.

I'm so sorry this happened to you.
posted by cacao at 5:48 AM on March 26


IANAL, but I have sued people before, and I just walked away from a house in which sellers lied on the disclosures form.

1) Don't sue someone unless you want it to be your new and only hobby.

2) When you closed on that house, you accepted it in its' condition. That's what the walk-through was for. You had the option to delay the closing and you did not.

3) If you can, buy a home warranty NOW, ASAP, before you move in. Buy one yesterday.

4) Have your real estate agent contact hers, if applicable, to see if anything can be done between agents to recompense you for your out of pocket costs for the late move-out, broken dishwasher, and nailed door. I have seen sellers' agents put up money to cover bad behavior by sellers upon closing before, depending on how egregious it was.
posted by juniperesque at 5:53 AM on March 26 [8 favorites]


I wouldn't Sse. I'm pretty sure all the repairs are tax deductible too - so that will help the $$ thing.

It's really cool that you have a house. Enjoy making it into a home <3
posted by PistachioRoux at 5:53 AM on March 26


This sounds like a no-win situation. Getting even a fraction of the money back will take more time, effort, and emotional investment that it could possibly be worth. Because you need the money NOW, to fix up the house. And that is not going to happen.

If you're prepared to let it go and move on, it sounds like a healthier response. The last thing you need is MORE of this person in your life, and if you do "win" down the line, they might feel the need to retaliate in some way.
posted by rikschell at 5:56 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I get that this is a lot of money to walk away from, and I agree with everyone who says that there is no moral reason to walk away from that money if you can get it back. But I would file this under learning from experience and next time have a better lawyer and inspection person, and leave money in escrow so that this can't happen again.

Nailing a door shut and then lying about it, lying about a burst pipe in wintertime, and most of all leaving pets behind for 2 days (!) are not things stable people do. And if you go after an unstable person for money, and that unstable person knows where you live, you can end up with slashed tires, prank calls (or worse) in the middle of the night, and all sorts of vandalism. Frankly, I would change the locks immediately regardless of when you're moving in. But unless you can find a bloodless way to get the money back (through the bank, through an escrow account that was supposed to go toward something else - anything where that money goes to you in a way that the blame lands on "the system" rather than you), I wouldn't poke that bear.
posted by Mchelly at 5:59 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


This is one of those moments where you get a glimpse into someone else's life. Think about what kind of rage and despair drives a person to nail a door shut or break things in their old house, the house that they loved. Be very, very grateful that isn't you.

On a practical level, it sounds like you can make do without the money, and it sounds like trying to get it back from her would be getting blood from a stone. But to answer your question in non-practical terms, while what she did to *you, specifically* is wrong-- on a larger level, she is not truly malicious... as you seem to recognize. I would not sue her. But only you know your financial situation and if that $3K is really worth the trouble of getting it back.
posted by coffeeand at 6:34 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


One more thing. I know two people who won in small claims court and still never got their money back. In my experience, there's not a lot you can do if someone just won't pay.
posted by FencingGal at 6:44 AM on March 26


You already closed on the house, correct?

Let it go. Your moment of leverage was at the closing. Even if you take her to small claims court, the amount of time and money it will take to get a judgment AND actually collect on the judgment won't equal the damages. In fact, I would guess that you'd never actually collect anything.

Plus, I'm not sure any of what you describe is a breach of contract. Maybe it is -- but you describe a very fact-bound case, which is always complicated to show.

This has nothing to do with "social justice" and everything to do with just being practical.
posted by schwinggg! at 6:45 AM on March 26


I don't think this amount is worth keeping this person and these problems as a central focus of your life for the next while, for your own mental health as you try to move on and make the house your home. Being involved in the legal system like this is not as breezy as others here are portraying it.

Given what you've described, you aren't likely to recover the money. (Does she "have" $200k or does she owe the bank/others way more than $200k?)

Imagine you prevailed in court and received a couple thousand (less fees, etc.) in a year or so. Would that make you whole? You'd still have to deal with the house problems now, and you'd still have to emotionally recover from the stress of this situation, and you'd still have to get this person out of your mind.

As to the ethical question: no, I don't think it's ethical to use the legal system to mete out revenge on a poor person in terrible circumstances when you don't really need the amount. My answer might be different if this seemed to be about recovering money more than imposing punishment. One could argue life has punished this person already.
posted by kapers at 7:06 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


This sucks, and you have every right to be furious. But to put this in perspective, you're talking about around 1% of what you paid for the house. If you had been aware of these issues prior to closing, would you have tried to negotiate for $197,000 instead of $200,000?

You're definitely going to find some unexpected things that need to be fixed with any new house. There is no such thing as moving into a house that's perfect, especially if the previous owner was motivated to sell for economic reasons and especially especially considering that you already know you got a low price because it's a "fixer upper."

It would be a lot of trouble to go after this person for a few thousand dollars, and you're unlikely to succeed to your satisfaction in any event. If it were me, I'd just add this to the pile of unexpected additional expenses you (hopefully!) planned for in your renovation budgeting.
posted by slkinsey at 7:14 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, welcome to ownership of an older home. A day of bursting pipes and breaking dishwashers is called 'Tuesday'.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:35 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


To late to help you, but for others reading this thread: this is where hiring a home inspector and making the sale contingent on an acceptable report provides the buyer with some protection. The real estate agent will probably recommend an inspector; don't use them, because they're probably beholden to the agent for a lot of business and will feel some obligation to help close the sale (meaning, they'll gloss over what they find). Find your own inspector, then decide what must be fixed prior to the sale, what you can live with in return for a reduction on the price, and what is too inconsequential to fret over. And make that part of your negotiations for the house.

Also, schedule a final walkthrough for the day before the closing, and make it clear that if there are any serious issues discovered that weren't disclosed, you won't close on the deal. The seller and the real estate agent are counting on your determination to buy the house to get away with pulling this stuff. Your only recourse is to pull the plug if you find yourself being taken advantage of, and that's easier said than done, unless you are mentally and emotionally prepared in advance to do just that.

My next door neighbor was astonished to find that the sweet old lady she was buying the house from had lied shamelessly on the disclosure. In particular, she discovered water in the basement the night before closing, when the old lady had attested to there never being a water problem in the basement. She called her lawyer, who attended the closing with her and told the seller that in light of the water problem, they wouldn't close unless she reduced the price. She pitched a fit - but agreed.

My new neighbor later discovered that the real estate agent had lied to her, too. He'd told her that the incredibly high and steep hill on the south side of the property belonged to the uphill neighbor, so it wasn't her problem to mow. Wrong. It was her property, and she found herself struggling to mow that dangerously steep embankment for years. Ironically, she and her agent played the very same trick on the next buyer, who also learned the hard way from his new neighbors that he was responsible for mowing the banks on both sides of the property (he'd also been told the northward one was mine - nope.)
posted by Lunaloon at 8:14 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


I don't see that you have a case. In most states once you've closed the house is as-is, regardless of any prior disclosure. That's what inspection and closing are for.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:27 AM on March 26


To second Lunaloon's point for future readers: look for an escrow holdback.

An escrow holdback has two parts : the holdback is cash the buyer holds back from the sale price pending all of the conditions of the sale are met and the escrow is a trusted third party that holds that cash. It's mostly commonly used when a house hasn't been completed, and it should always be used to ensure the everything in transaction is properly accounted for. There's a small fee, but consider it the price of insurance.

In our region that holdback on old houses is around 2% of the value. I insisted on doubling that and it smoothly covered the costs of clean up, broken appliances and roof work that were not disclosed.

This is the sort of question you need to ask your realtor about - and vague uncertain answers mean you need a different one of those to help you buy your house. They should have spider sense about any bad aspects of the deal and actively steer you through it.
posted by zenon at 9:11 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Normally, I would agree 100% with frowner.

BUT


Don't put yourself through a lot of heartache and ugliness to get money from someone who has less money and fewer prospects than you do, even if she's an asshole.


She has money now. She made it from SELLING THE HOUSE.
posted by lalochezia at 9:51 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Like others here, I am perplexed at the lack of inspections, and I feel like there's not nearly enough information here to decide whether it's a good idea to sue or not.

That said, do not worry about extrapolating the individual dynamic between you and the seller into a larger framework of social justice. If this person defrauded you and you want a chance of getting your money back, then you should sue them.

Again, I'm not solid on the details, but let's assume you got scammed. Doing some moral calculus to try and determine whether a scammer's lot in life is due to structural inequalities that you have an obligation to relieve through some act of personal magnanimity is, forgive me, utter hubris. Meet scammers with the full force of the law and put your social justice energies into areas where concrete good can be done.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:26 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


She has money now. She made it from SELLING THE HOUSE.

Not necessarily. If you sell a mortgaged house, you would only receive money if the sale price was larger than the mortgage. If this house was fully leveraged, the seller wouldn't see any proceeds from the sale.

Also, "two mortgages" can simply mean that the seller had an 80/20 loan or other type of piggyback/ARM loan. It doesn't have to mean that the house was fully leveraged.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:59 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Suing this person sounds like a nightmare. Maybe you're the last in her list of creditors. Maybe she has a serious mental health condition. Maybe she'll have a heart attack and die and you'll spend years worrying you killed her. And how far are you willing to go if she isn't willing to pay? Because if it isn't all the way, a crafty cheat will use that against you. And it's not all the way, or you wouldn't be asking this question.

The money isn't worth the stress. Consider those $3000 the price you pay for all the time in your life you can spend never thinking about this person again.
posted by howfar at 12:21 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


First, you seem to be making some assumptions about her relative wealth. How do you know she is "poor"?

Second, have you considered that you are enabling bad behavior by letting this go? Perhaps not suing will only serve to encourage her to do this again during her next real estate transaction, and someone else who may not have the resources as you do will be more seriously harmed.

Third, I disagree that the OP is "trampling the weak". OP is enforcing a business contract. Trampling the weak would be if the OP sued over a clear mistake, such as one broken appliance. This was not the case here where the homeowner deliberately mislead on several items.
posted by seesom at 4:27 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Here’s a question.

If $2-3k suddenly dropped into your lap from the sky, would you still sue?

If the answer is yes, then don’t sue. This would mean that you’re suing because you feel aggrieved and want justice & feel cheated. Suing won’t give you that - only you can.

Take some time to examine the place - but if the place really is a fixer upper, then it sounds like the damages involved are relatively minor (no structural issues, no roofing issues, etc). I’d say: consider the amount an offering to the karma gods, roll up your sleeves, and have fun enjoying and building your new home!!
posted by suedehead at 5:32 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Well... I hope you have decent Title Insurance on this sale. It's probably not a big deal, but maybe worth it if there turns out to be complicating factors in seller finances.

Welcome to home ownership. The costs of these minor damages so far will soon fade in significance compared to the realistic ongoing costs of maintaining a home in the future.
posted by ovvl at 5:54 PM on March 26


No, absolutely not -- unless you want to undo the transaction in its entirety -- do not sue her.

I bought a mega fixer upper and ended up in a lawsuit over the repairs (with a contractor who tried to scam us), not by choice. We won. We haven't collected a dime. Going to court took a tonnnnnnn of time. It was emotionally stressful. The legal aspect was a huge distraction from repairing the house.

My advice would be, look around now and see how much else they lied about. Every house purchase is followed by discovering all the problems you didn't catch before. Then ask yourself if you'd rather undo the transaction (i.e., sue for recission). And if it's worth four to five figures in legal fees to do so. And then ask an attorney if it's actually possible you'll succeed. That level of dissatisfaction would be worth shifting your attention away from repairs.

I know how frustrating it is to think you have a plan made, a plan you're just barely comfortable with, and then find yourself set back further. And I understand that it's tempting to think "she has $200k; surely she owes me $2-3k back." I just don't think that it's pragmatic. Maybe I'm wrong and a small claims suit will magically work out for you. But ask yourself this, how are you even going to serve her? Where's she moving to? Does she have a new address, or is she couch surfing with friends and relatives? (The fact that she left her pets especially makes me wonder.) Are you going to get a friend to drive with you to wherever she is, or are you going to pay a server $75-150? How many times are you going to have to take off work to go to the courthouse? And then is she going to come to court with a checkbook? By the time she has to pay you, do you think she's going to have the money? More likely the same kind of issues that led to this situation will undermine this effort at each and every step. You'll win; it won't mean a thing to her; you probably won't collect; and in the meantime you'll have increased the time and money you wasted on her.

What you saw here is what poverty often looks like. It wasn't done to screw you over; don't take it personally. It doesn't bode well for what you're going to find (more problems caused by accumulated neglect), but you probably knew that -- she has been living in a place without working bathrooms.

You have enough on your plate with this fixer upper. And honestly, given the kind of project you're describing, if your budget is off by only $2-3k, consider yourself lucky. You will likely discover more needed repairs that you didn't expect. If the money is really the issue, there are a lot of ways to spend the same amount of your time that will save you a lot more than 2-3k, like learning basic plumbing or electrical skills if you don't know them already, or even just really shopping around for affordable-but-still-quality supplies and / or contractors.

Congratulations on the house! Buying a fixer upper was an intense experience for me, but it let us get into a property market that we otherwise might have been locked out of completely, and when I look at our house, I'm proud of what we accomplished. But the lawsuit stuff was a huge distraction, which is why I suggest you stay focused and do one thing at a time. If you get the repairs done within the statute of limitations, maybe you could reconsider it then.
posted by slidell at 6:24 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


Because I am hella paranoid, are you sure she actually owned the house and the title is clear?
posted by jadepearl at 11:18 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


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