Italian House: Structural Issues. Where Do You Stand?
I bought an Italian house then discovered big cracks in the walls
According to your email, you have just moved into the Italian house you purchased three months ago. Unfortunately you have discovered some serious cracks in the living room and kitchen walls.
You immediately called in a surveyor (geometra), who has informed you that there’s a serious structural problem. In effect, the problem means the property is uninhabitable. You expect to receive a full written report from the surveyor within the next few days.
What legal action can you take regarding the defects in your Italian house?
In this case, you have a legal entitlement to dispute the legality of the deed of sale (atto di vendita). However, you will need to take prompt action.
According to Italian Civil Code Sales Contract Law, the vendor is only liable for a short period.
Article 1495 of the Italian Civil Code provides that the purchaser must take legal action within one year from the delivery date of a product. In your case this would be the date you signed the deed of sale for your Italian house.
In addition, you can only take legal action if you, the purchaser, have declared the defect to the vendor within 8 days of discovering the issue.
What does Italian case law say about latent defects in an Italian house?
A ruling by the Court of Caltanissetta in May 2016 stated that if a vendor hides serious structural issues from a purchaser, this constitutes a breach of contract.
Structural defects, such as big cracks in the walls, significantly reduce the value of real estate property and may even render the property uninhabitable.
If a buyer discovers defects in an Italian property after signing the deed of sale, the buyer has the right to reverse the property transaction. This must however take place within the previously mentioned time frame.
Under Italian Civil Code, if the buyer and vendor cannot reach an amicable resolution, the buyer can institute legal proceedings against the vendor. This is with a view to obtaining restitution of the price the purchaser paid for the property. In exchange, the purchaser must return the property to the vendor.
The buyer has the right to rescind the transaction regardless of the cause of structural defects
In essence, a purchaser has the right to rescind the deed of sale either on the grounds of construction defects, namely the builder’s responsibility, or because of external factors such as subsidence.
This is valid even if the buyer had the property inspected by a surveyor prior to purchasing it. Structural defects are deemed latent. In other words, they are hidden or difficult to see with the naked eye. Therefore, even if a surveyor inspected the property, the defects may not have been visible.
It should be pointed out that patent defects would not entitle a buyer to rescind a deed of sale. Patent defects are those that are easy to see or visible, such as a window that does not close properly, or missing tiling.
Litigation is the traditional process for resolving legal disputes on civil matters
Litigation involves a party starting court action. The plaintiff or claimant is seeking a legal or equitable remedy. By law, a defendant must respond to the plaintiff’s complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, a court will find in the plaintiff’s favour.
In Italy, court cases are generally costly and protracted processes. We would advise you wherever possible, to settle out of court. Parties can settle at any stage. If the dispute cannot be resolved through negotiation, as a last resort, it will need to go to court.
Litigation is tried and tested with a vast body of case law. The court will impose a final decision that parties must respect. The outcomes of litigation are, without exception, legally binding and enforceable, while being subject to appeal.
Ruling by the Court of Caltanissetta
The case we previously mentioned, involved the purchase of a newly constructed apartment. Shortly after moving in, the new owners noticed some cracks on the walls and floors. They spoke to neighbours in their building and discovered that other neighbours had similar problems.
The owners got together and started a litigation against the vendors. The plaintiffs were seeking reversal of their purchase contracts and compensation for damage. The plaintiffs accused the vendors of deliberately hiding the real condition of the properties. For their part, the defendants claimed the buyers had seen the properties before signing the deed of sale.
However, the purchasing parties had only noticed, “a few little holes”, maintaining that, “the real problem hadn’t yet emerged.” Despite the defendants’ declarations, the court ruled that the vendors knew the true state of the apartments because they had participated in a meeting at the Town Hall’s Technical Office, to discuss geological issues related to the site.
The court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favour.
Anyone who sells a good – a mobile phone, a garment, a pair of shoes, or any other item including an Italian house or property – has to guarantee that the good has no inherent flaw. In effect, this guarantees that the item is fit for purpose.
Italian Civil Code states that a vendor of any item must guarantee that the item has no faults, which would make it unusable or unsuitable for its intended use, or would significantly reduce its value.
In the Caltanissetta case, the property presented defects which could cause instability. That would entail a huge risk for the new owner’s safety.
Italian contract law is complex. In the case of a litigation, the deed of sale is of great importance. It is vital that you understand the contractual terms and conditions. The deed of sale affects your options to make claims against the vendor. You should always seek independent legal advice when you purchase an Italian property. In order to avoid any conflicts of interest, this should be a lawyer who is not involved with any other parties (vendor, developer).
At De Tullio Law Firm, we have over 55 years of experience managing property transactions throughout Italy. We are always pleased to hear from our readers. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, please get in touch with us.
If you are looking for more information about the Italian property purchasing process, please read our free Guide To Buying Italian Property. You may also like to watch our info videos about Italian property law.