Hidden Defects in an Italian Property

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Hidden Defects in an Italian Property… Buyers Beware!

Where exactly do you stand if you discover major hidden defects with your Italian property following completion? You move into your dream Italian home only to find that the condition of the property is significantly worse than anticipated.

hidden defects

This is exactly the nightmare scenario the Wright family in Lazio found themselves in. The day after moving in, the family discovered serious water penetration into several rooms in the house, notably the kitchen and living room.

Following their discovery, the Wrights raised the matter with the previous owners, who denied there was a serious problem; the particulars of the property had provided no information on its condition, and the Public Notary also considered that given the Wrights had signed a legally binding Proposta d’Acquisto declaring that they were purchasing the property ‘in condition as seen’, then there was nothing he could do.

Well possibly, but Italian law on this issue is not quite that clear cut. In general, it has to be said that the principle of, ‘caveat emptor’ – buyer beware, applies as much in italian law as it does elsewhere. However, in Italy the seller has an obligation to disclose to the buyer all important information concerning the property.

There is nothing in Italian law that states specifically what must be disclosed to the buyer, other than the information must be something of a profound nature, of which the seller was aware at the time of the sale, and about which, if the buyer had known, they would not have proceeded with the purchase, or would have offered a lower price.

In particular, the vendor is obliged to disclose any ‘hidden defects’ (“vizi occulti”) in the property. If the vendor fails to disclose hidden defects, then it is possible for a court of law to annul the sale, or at least reduce the price paid by the purchaser. Litigation is the route that the Wrights were forced to take in order to obtain compensation.

However, if the Wrights had sought advice from a competent property real estate lawyer before signing the Proposta d’Acquisto, they could have avoided a lot of heartache not to mention a costly and time-consuming court case.

Real estate agents generally offer a standard Proposta di Acquisto. This ‘one size fits all’ printout contains a legally binding, standard exclusion clause pertaining to ‘sight as seen condition’.

If you are in the process of buying a property in Italy and are thinking of signing a Proposta d’Acquisto, check to see if it contains a clause like this: “L’acquirente dichiara di aver preso visione dello stato di fatto in cui attualmente si trova quanto promesso in vendita, di averne valutato le caratteristiche e le qualità (anche ai fini della determinazione del prezzo di vendita) e di accettarle integralmente”.

In practice whether a court of law upholds this clause depends on the circumstances of the case. If the court considers that the buyer has been deliberately misled by the seller, then they could annul the clause.

Our advice to buyers is that you should always seek legal advice before signing any legally binding document. You may press for the removal of this clause in the Proposta. The vendor may well refuse to do this. If so, then the vendor’s objection to removing the clause needs to be questioned.

You should certainly be hesitant about signing a Proposta unless you understand exactly what you are buying. If you need any help, please get in touch.

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