Monday, June 22, 2009

Lawyers Fail to Disclose Western North Carolina Hazardous-Land Conditions

Asheville Citizen-Times photos of January 2009 Maggie Valley landslides. The Moody home and what used to be the Donin home.

Western North Carolina Landslide-Hazardous Real Estate

Real estate lawyers are obliged to check for property liens. Sales contacts must include a checklist of possible structural/safety defects such as termites, lead paint, asbestos and radon. Stucco-clad (EIFS) homes come with pre-sale warnings. Those looking to buy are advised to have professional home inspections.

All these consumer protections and warnings are part of the real estate sales process but yet there is not one word of precaution from the legal profession regarding hazardous-land conditions.

Real Estate Lawyers

Lawyers are privy to the fact that Western North Carolina mountain real estate is landslide-hazardous. Those involved in the sale of this marginal land may have missed the 1998 Department of Emergency Management high-risk landslide report but they knew from well-publicized statements in 2005 and 2006 that these reoccurring events posed significant threats to lives and property. Members of the North Carolina General Assembly stated in their February 2005 Hurricane Recovery Act that:
Further...people could not know the landslide risks associated with their housing location because such (hazard) maps are not readily available. The state needs to...prepare landslide mapping for the region so that homes may be built in safe areas.
Governor Easley stressed the importance of real estate hazard-identification maps and landslide disclosure in his October 2006 press release:
These (Macon County) maps will show which areas are prone to landslides and that will help developers, county officials and residents decide where to safely build homes, roads and other structures.

Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) Real Estate Multi-Hazard Risk Tool

Unbeknownst to the public, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA) is requiring at-risk counties to provide address-specific inventories of expected high-impact disasters such as landslides, wildfires, and flooding. The Renaissance Computing Institute’s multi-hazard risk tool, which was designed for county planners and emergency personnel, allows privileged users to generate risk/loss assessments for all real property.

Buncombe County Hazardous Real Estate

The Buncombe County Multi-Hazard Risk Tool was operative in March 2009. Now a lawyer seeking hazardous-land information about a Reynolds Mountain home or perhaps a lot in The Cliffs at High Carolina is able to determine for his client whether the parcel is located in a disaster-prone area.

Lawyers know and should explain that the decision to buy landslide-susceptible real estate can be financially devastating. Owners of other potentially hazardous real estate, be it flood or wildfire, have access to insurance. Landslide insurance is not obtainable so it is critical for lawyers to recommend on-site professional hazard surveys as a condition in the offer to purchase. Prospective buyers should also be warned about landslide liability.

"Homes in harm's way on many WNC slopes"

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported on March 1, 2009 that thousands of property owners in Buncombe County and throughout Western North Carolina are at elevated landslide risk.

Who is responsible for this reckless endangerment? There is a long list of culpable parties: state legislators, county planning boards, Realtors, chambers of commerce and real estate lawyers.

Question to the North Carolina Bar Association: Is there any defensible reason for real estate lawyers to hide hazardous-land conditions?


Anonymous said...

It is not just the lawyers.
My personal anecdote: The seller and his agent effectively conspired to conceal defects based on an unassertive engineers report that they failed to disclose. Further the disclosure statement weak as it is would have protected me as a buyer. The agent had (illegally) completed the form, denying any known defects.
After spending $250,000 to mitigate poor uncompacted and subsiding fill, we easily found an attorney to take the case, but after $20,000 in legal fees he decided we had no case, and recommended we settle in arbitration for $10,000. I took over negotiations and settled for $125,000. My feelings were to persue the suit but anyone from Buncombe county will tell you, NOBODY from Buncombe county would award a newcomer from Atlanta $250,000 for buying a landslide.

Anonymous said...

Has anybody ever had any experience with these North Carolina Lawyers ?