Writer questions ‘as is’ home sales, fences shared with government entity

Q: These issues don’t concern me, but they make me think. I also wonder if anyone else is wondering about them.

As I walk through the city, I see several fences that have collapsed or are in very poor condition and ready to collapse. These fences have a house on one side and a street or public pathway on the other. I read your article on fencing replacement responsibilities with neighbors and wonder if the same is true for cities, counties and railroads? Should these entities provide half of the funds to make the repairs or replacement?

My other topic is all the letters and phone calls I get, as well as the TV ads and signs, that promise, “We’ll buy your house for money.” I’m not interested in selling, but since these people will most likely give you a low price offer, they also say “no inspections”, “as is”, etc. This raises the question of the vendor’s liability with respect to disclosures. Is the seller still held liable or does “as is” really mean “as is” in this real estate situation?

A: Hmmm. Good questions. Let me take the second one first as it is by far the easiest to answer.

“As is” never means “as is” when it comes to residential properties in California. At least not in the common sense of the expression.

Even a low-cost, no-repair investment company is a California homebuyer like any other. The seller must make the same lengthy disclosures they should make to anyone else.

These companies are simply exploiting the accepted definition of “as is” when applied to residential real estate. Specifically, any seller who advertises their home “as is” is actually saying, “I will make all disclosures, but don’t ask me to fix anything, because I won’t.” And even that’s not entirely true because California may require you to do certain repairs, such as adding smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, strapping a water heater, or even installing faucets and low-flow toilets.

Regardless of who buys your home, you will be responsible for at least those repairs.

And yes, these companies will pay you something like 80% of the market value of the house because the whole business model is to fix the place and sell it for a profit.

And for some sellers, that would be just fine. What they are looking for is a quick sale and the ability to move on without having to look in their rear view mirror to wonder if the buyer is going to discover an undisclosed defect. However, although the probability may be less than that of a normal sale, the legal possibility still exists.

Regarding the issue of closure. . .

The law you are referring to is California Civil Code Section 841, which provides that property owners share the cost of maintaining a good neighbor fence.

But always remember, as someone famous once said, “The government makes the laws so the government can ignore the laws.”

In this case, if you google CC 841, you can go to the bottom where it defines who it is not: “Landowner” means a PRIVATE PERSON. . . and does not include a city, county, town and county, district, public corporation or other political subdivision, public body or public agency.

If the fence is shared with the city, town, county, or state, the owner is stuck with the entire bill. Municipalities generally don’t care whether or not you have a fenced yard. The exception would be if the fence is shared with a city building or park, in which case the municipality could step in to help.

I’m not entirely sure about the railways. Railroads are generally governed by federal law (as opposed to state law) and there is a whole set of laws specific to railroads. So on this issue, I’m not even going to hazard a guess.

Tim Jones is a real estate attorney in Fairfield. If you have any real estate questions you would like answered in this column, you can email [email protected].

Comments are closed.