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Buyer sues home seller for ‘false advertising’

A home buyer who thought he was getting a “mother-in-law apartment” is suing the seller and a realty company for false advertising.

Darrell Brown and his wife bought the Sterling, Va., home in 2009 from Michael Labelle, according to a Fairfax Circuit Court opinion in Brown v. Labelle. Labelle was both owner and listing agent on the property.

The buyers said they were particularly attracted to the Labelle home because it had a converted garage apartment that would be suitable for Brown’s mother. Brown alleged the real estate listing created by Labelle and Prosperity Realty LLC advertised a “fully equipped ground level au/pair apt that must be seen to believe!”

The buyers said that within weeks of moving in, they discovered the garage conversion had been completed in violation of county building codes, without permits, and had been handled in a way that allowed water into the garage and caused mold to develop. The buyers said bringing the space into code compliance would mean completely tearing it down and rebuilding.

But the seller said the false advertising claim under Va. Code § 18.2-216 came too late because suit should have been filed within two years of the contract date. The seller cited a 2002 case that held a buyer’s reliance on any false advertising would have occurred before she signed the contract, so that statute began to run on the contract date.

Fairfax Circuit Judge Lorraine Nordlund rejected the seller’s plea. She said the buyers complained of a loss that came to light once they took possession of the property. Their suit, filed within two years of closing on the sale, was not too late.
–Deborah Elkins

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