Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband and I have made the difficult decision to sell our townhome due to bad neighbors. We have a toddler and an infant.
Our neighbors have two pit bulls that are aggressive toward our children. Whenever the dogs see them, they snarl, growl, and lunge at them. They pull on their leashes to try to get to the kids when we encounter them on walks in the neighborhood. When we have the kids in the front yard, they often run to their front windows to growl and bark nonstop. When both the dogs and our family are out in our backyards, sometimes one of the dogs will ram itself against the fence trying to get to the kids. It’s terrifying. There is no doubt in my mind that if they ever got loose while we were outside, they would attack my children.
We’ve tried talking to our neighbors and have gotten nowhere. They go back and forth between being in denial that their dogs are dangerous and basically telling us, “Yeah, sorry but it’s not my problem.” I got a video of the dogs behaving aggressively out back and called animal control, but they told me there was nothing they can do since the dogs “haven’t done anything.” We’re sick of being unable to safely use our own outdoor spaces, so we’re going to move, even though it will almost certainly be at a financial loss.
My husband leans towards telling potential buyers as little about the dogs as we can get away with, to avoid losing even more money. I’m inclined to be very upfront no matter what and maybe even refuse to sell to another family with kids. I don’t want it on my conscience if the next owners get hurt. What are our legal and ethical obligations to disclose this issue to potential buyers?
Dear Buyer Beware,
I’m sorry you are in this scary and stressful situation. Ethically, you should disclose this to any potential buyers but stop short of making decisions for them. You open yourself to legal liability if you refuse to sell to a buyer based on a protected status, including families with children.
But don’t worry, you likely won’t be stuck in an ethical quandary without guidance—most states require you to disclose any issues that might not be readily apparent to the buyers when selling. These include neighbor disputes, excessive barking, or aggressive dogs. How much and when you disclose will vary by state. Most require written disclosure signed by both the buyer and seller. Even if your state doesn’t require a written disclosure, I recommend documenting it in writing so you’ll be open to fewer potential legal issues later.
As you move forward, I would identify an experienced real estate agent that feels they will be able to sell the property despite the aggressive neighbor. Perhaps they know a dog trainer looking for a new home?
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