Dearborn, MI asked in Real Estate Law for Michigan

Q: We bought a house and found out they had bed bugs that were never disclosed, can we sue for treatment cost.

When we purchased the home we had a wood destroying pest inspection and there were no known issues disclosed. They also did not disclose that this was not the owners primary residence and they had to evict someone to sell it. It was a POA who sold the home. We purchased the home 4/12/24 and had a pest company come out 4/15/24 who mentioned this problem has been going on for awhile by the looks of the ceilings and places where bugs and eggs were found. We would have no issue if it was disclosed and would have paid before we moved in. The problem is now all of our stuff is at risk, we have 4 kids including a 4 week old and moved out due to the severity. Do we have a chance of winning a small claims court to cover the cost of treatment? Thank you in advance for your time.

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2 Lawyer Answers
Kenneth V Zichi
Kenneth V Zichi
  • Fowlerville, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: This is not an 'open and shut' case.

Bedbugs are not a 'structural' issue (the house is not compromised physically or functionally with that type of pest) -- it is more akin to a mouse getting into a house more than being like termites that are destroying the foundation in other words. And the previous use of the home is not something that is required to be disclosed -- so unless you ASKED and they lied about it, that won't matter. Let me continue with 'devil's advocate':

Because the infestation was 'advanced' doesn't mean they previous owner KNEW of it. (Did the previous tenant raise that issue with them? etc.) What sorts of proof do you have to show that? And how much money are we talking about? I assume less than the small claims limit of $7000? How much will you need to spend to prove their knowledge and what will it cost you to be taking time off work etc. -- If it's less than $500 to address the problem, you're GOING to spend more on court. If it is more than $5k then maybe it's worth the effort, but only IF you can get proof they knew and chose not to disclose.

Bear in mind that ESPECIALLY if they were renting the property out they may well not have known about this, and failure to disclose something they don't know is NOT going to make them liable. I'd urge you to consult with a local lawyer who can give you the 'lay of the land' and provide better info on what your judge/magistrate is likely to do.

ALSO bear in mind that just because you sue in small claims doesn't mean the matter will stay there. The defendants have the absolute right to remove the matter to general district court and you will need to comply with the court evidence and procedure rules there whether or not you have an attorney and that could work against you. If the damages are more than a few hundred, that is a significant risk. If they get a savvy enough attorney he could ask for an award of attorneys fees against YOU for bringing the suit if you're not careful.

Again, seek local legal advice before acting ... forewarned is forearmed!

Brent T. Geers agrees with this answer

Brent T. Geers
Brent T. Geers
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: Risk versus reward. Mr. Zichi provided a comprehensive answer. People greatly underestimate the costs, both in terms of time and money, it takes to litigate issues in court. Even if you were to prove your case, and a judge says "you're right, they're wrong", you still have to collect your money legally, which can be a costly and difficult task. If a suit is not aimed at addressing an issue with long term effects, you might be better served to move on.

Lastly, beyond the required disclosures, buying a house is pretty much caveat emptor - "let the buyer beware". You probably had an opportunity to inspect the house before finalizing the purchase, and that could just be where any potential case you have against the seller becomes dead in the water.

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