Services juridiques au Québec

Lors de votre appel à la ligne 1877 MES DROITS, si vous tombez sur la boite vocale, n'hésitez pas à contacter directement nos avocats en mentionnant Le Groupe Juridique.

Visitez notre page Facebook pour être au courant de nos chroniques et capsules !

Vice caché coûteux!

25/04/2019 18:29

Danns cette affaire, la défenderesse a été condamnée à verser plus de 60000$ au demandeur vu la présence d'un vice caché. Lors de l'achat ou de la vante d'une propriété, il conviendra de bien connaître vos droits et obligations. Le cas échéant, un conseil juridique pourra vous éviter bien des ennuis.

 

Doston c. Ashworth, 2019 QCCS 1486 (CanLII)

 

PRESIDING:

THE HONOURABLE

CHANTAL LAMARCHE, J.S.C.

__________________________________________________________________

 

JOSÉE DOSTON

Plaintiff

v.

WADE ASHWORTH

and

JENNIFER WHITING

Defendants

 

__________________________________________________________________

 

JUDGMENT

__________________________________________________________________

 





 

1.      OVERVIEW

[1]           Plaintiff, Ms. Josée Doston, seeks the reduction of the price of the house she purchased from Defendants as she discovered latent defects once she moved into the residence.

[2]           Defendants argue that the defects were not latent as clear signs were apparent and that Ms. Doston did not act as a prudent and diligent buyer by refusing to have a pre-purchase inspection done.

2.      THE CONTEXT

[3]           In the spring of 2014, Ms. Doston began looking for a house after selling hers. She was assisted by the real estate agent who had sold her house, Mr. Gilles Clermont. She was looking for a house that required no renovations or repairs to be made and that had four bedrooms so that she, her two teenage children and her brother could live there.

[4]           In May 2014, her agent proposed to her the defendants’ residence; a one-story bungalow with a finished basement. It had four bedrooms, three of which were on the ground floor.

[5]           The basement had four closed rooms; a bedroom, a workshop, a laundry room and a bathroom. There was also a family room and a closet.

[6]           She visited the house twice. A first time on May 10, 2014, with her agent and a second time, the next day accompanied by a friend, Mr. Dominic Beaulieu.

[7]           Mr. Beaulieu is neither an engineer, an architect, nor a construction contractor, although he has helped Ms. Doston with various chores.

[8]           They visited the entire house and checked, in particular, the condition of the floors, the cabinets, if the walls had cracks and the size of the rooms. They also went outside to look at the backyard and the exterior of the house.

[9]           There were three apparent cracks in the parging of the foundation exterior walls.

[10]        There was one on the left side of the house[1] where the parking is located and one above a window, the lower half of this window was hidden by a deck. Finally, a third crack was located on the right side of the house. This last crack was covered with a white coating, which Mr. Beaulieu describes as caulking.

[11]        Mr. Beaulieu considered that these were superficial cracks of parging. However, he questioned Defendant, Mr. Wade Ashworth, immediately after their visit. Mr. Ashworth told them, among other things, that it was a good house, that he had repaired the crack with caulking and that there had been no infiltration. The Court will return to this meeting and its content later, but notes that the versions are contradictory.

 

[12]        Reassured by the words of Mr. Ashworth, Ms. Doston waived the inspection of the house and made an offer the same evening. She was willing to offer $240,000. However, when Mr. Clermont came to her house the same evening to sign the promise to purchase, he had in hand the Declaration of the seller[2]. They read this document together. Ms. Doston saw that in clause 5.2 the seller declared "yes" to the question, "foundation crack, rot or other problem with basement structure?". "Minor repairs, "seller" no further issue" was written by hand. She understood this to be consistent with what Mr. Ashworth told her earlier in the day. The agent then explained that there was vermiculite in the attic. Due to the presence of vermiculite, the price was lowered to $237,000[3].

[13]        Defendants submitted a counter-offer at $238,500 and they postponed the date of occupation from June 14 to July 6, 2014. On the same evening, parties agreed on the price and the date of occupation was finally set for June 22, 2014[4].

[14]        Before the Court, Mr. Clermont states that taking possession within 30 or 40 days is not exceptional.

[15]        The day Ms. Doston took possession of the house, she smelled dampness in the basement, she thought it was because the windows were closed since Defendants had left and because of the outside humidity.

[16]        A few days later, a small puddle appeared on the floor, in front of the washing machine. She wiped it down and checked the washing machine to ensure that it was not chipped and that the pipes were in good condition. Everything looked fine.

[17]        Ms. Doston decided to close the family room in the basement with a wall to accommodate her daughter's room. Her son would occupy the other bedroom in the basement.

[18]        According to Mr. Jean-François Lamer, who she hired to do this work, it was minor work. He did not even have to open the floor. He only had to put up a wall over the floor to the ceiling, install a door and move one of the walls of the closet. Mr. Lamer is a co-worker of Ms. Doston, a carpenter in the City of Vaudreuil-Dorion.

[19]        When the time came to do the work on her daughter's bedroom, Ms. Doston noted that the cardboard boxes filled with clothes left on the floor of the family room since the move were wet and that all the clothes smelled bad.

[20]        The wall was added. Mr. Lamer simply screwed the wall studs into the existing floor and also added Gyproc sheets and installed a door. Then he started to work on the closet.

[21]        He noticed that the carpet in the existing closet was wet. When he pulled it up, he discovered that the subfloor was soft, rotten and damp. He removed part of the wall at the bottom of the closet and discovered a crack in the foundation. He removed part of the ceramic floor of the next room, the laundry room. The subfloor was also soft and wet.

[22]        When he went outside to the back of the house, he saw a hole in the foundation wall under the window of the laundry room large enough to fit one of his tools. Previously, this part of the window was hidden by the deck that Ms. Doston had removed.

[23]        He made a hole in the drywall wall of the laundry room where the hole was on the outside. He discovered a crack that ran from the top of the wall of the foundation and down to the floor and continued on the concrete slab. The crack passed through the foundation wall.

[24]        Ms. Doston asked him to check the other rooms. Other people came to help him. All materials that touched the concrete slab were wet and the wood was rotten. Workers had to wear masks and exit the house frequently as they developed headaches.

[25]        On September 11, 2014, Ms. Doston notified Defendants about the situation[5]. Mr. Ashworth called her a few days later to tell her that he was not responsible and that the insurer will take over the case. Defendants’ agent had offered them an insurance policy protecting them against latent defects.

[26]        The insurer sent an inspector to the house. The coverage was refused as it was not, according to the insurer, latent defects. The Court is obviously not bound by this conclusion.

 

[27]        Ms. Doston continued the demolition of the basement as she had to remove the rotten materials, correct the defects and rebuild the basement, which was essential to house her family. During the work, Ms. Doston had to store her basement furniture. Her son went to live with a friend and her daughter shared her bedroom.

[28]        The foundation walls, the concrete slab and the ceilings were completely uncovered.

[29]        On October 28, 2014, Mr. Ashworth went to Ms. Doston's home with two contractors to obtain an estimate of the cost of the repairs. When he left, he told her that he would contact her again, which he did not.

[30]        On November 3, 2014[6], Ms. Doston's attorney served Defendants with a demand letter.

[31]        On November 23, 2014, Defendants responded through their attorney. They declined any responsibility and indicated that they will contest any claim[7].

[32]        At the same time that these correspondence were exchanged, as the defects had to be corrected, Ms. Doston retained the services of Breault & Gosselin, Genie Conseil Inc. to obtain an engineer's expertise on the nature and scope of the defects and the appropriate repairs[8].

[33]        Subsequently, she obtained some estimates for the costs of the work to be performed.

[34]        Ms. Doston retained the services of Jamex for turnkey work, for the repairs and the finishing of the basement.

[35]        In November 2014, Jamex repaired the cracks from the outside. During the excavation, Jamex realized that the French drain had to be modified. Even though, it was still in good condition, the collector pipe of the French drain was located six inches above it rather than below. Therefore, the French drain was not functional.

[36]        Jamex had to complete the exterior work before freezing became an issue.

 

[37]        In addition, Jamex noted, as feared by Breault & Gosselin's engineer, Génie Conseil Inc., that the concrete slab had been installed inside the footings of the foundation rather than above it. It affected the tightness of the house. A waterproofing membrane had to be installed.

[38]        Ms. Doston was overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done.

[39]        The work finally ended in March 2015. The total cost of the work, including furniture storage costs, was $81,502.61[9], an amount that Ms. Doston wishes to obtain.

[40]        She also claims $2,414.47, for the cost of Breault & Gosselin, Génie Conseil Inc.'s expertise[10], $5,000 as damages for the loss of enjoyment of her basement for 6 months and $5,000 for moral damages.

[41]        Defendants contest the claim and argue that Ms. Doston is claiming the costs for an extravagant renovation of the basement that she had planned to make upon purchase. They allege that her procedure is abusive and therefore counter-claim $40,000, representing the professional fees they incurred and $25,000 as exemplary damages.

3.      ISSUES

➢  Is the house affected by latent defects?

➢  Did Ms. Doston allow Defendants, in a timely manner, the opportunity to assess the situation themselves with their expert?

➢  Is Ms. Doston entitled to a price reduction of $81,502.61 and reimbursement of her expert fees of $2,414.41?

➢  Is Ms. Doston entitled to damages for loss of enjoyment and moral damages?

➢  To the extent that Ms. Doston's claim is dismissed, was her claim abusive?

4.      IS THE HOUSE AFFECTED BY LATENT DEFECTS?

4.1         The law

[42]        Article 1726 of the Civil Code of Quebec provides that the seller is bound to guarantee the good he sells against "latent defects which render it unfit for the use for which it was intended or which so diminish its usefulness that the buyer would not have bought it or paid so high a price if he had been aware of them."[11]

[43]        In order to benefit from this legal guarantee, four conditions must be respected[12], the defect must:

➢  be serious;

➢  be unknown to the buyer at the time of sale;

➢  be hidden;

➢  exist at the time of sale.

[44]        It is up to the seller to prove the buyer's knowledge of the defect.

[45]        The hidden nature of the defect must be analyzed according to an objective standard. Thus, a defect will be hidden if it cannot be ascertained by a prudent and diligent buyer without having to resort to an expert[13]. However, the nature of the examination of the good that a prudent buyer must make depends on several factors. One of these factors is the seller's statements pertaining to the condition of the good.

[46]        Doctrine and case law recognize that the prudent buyer's obligation to further examine the property through, for example, a pre-purchase inspection when he/she finds evidence of a defect may be reduced when the seller acts so as to comfort the buyer against these indices or signs.

[47]        This is so when the seller makes false, misleading, deceptive, reluctant or incomplete statements. The same is true when the seller keeps silent about a component of a serious problem, which gives the buyer a false sense of security.

 

[48]        In 1989, even before the Civil Code made it clear that the buyer had no obligation to do a pre-purchase inspection, the Court of Appeal decided that the buyer’s statements could render apparent defect legally hidden and it also pointed out that one cannot blame a buyer for not suspecting the seller's bad faith[14]:

Le propre comportement du vendeur jouera son rôle à l'occasion dans l'appréciation du caractère du vice. Ainsi, ces fausses représentations ou le dol du vendeur quant à l'état de la chose ou aux causes réelles de vices apparents, dégageront parfois l'acquéreur de l'obligation d'explorer davantage.

Le dol ou le mensonge du vendeur peut rendre un vice juridiquement caché, surtout lorsque l'acquéreur a demandé une explication au sujet des manifestations d'un défaut et qu'on l'a orienté  sur une fausse piste.  On ne peut reprocher à l'acquéreur de soupçonner la mauvaise foi de son vendeur. Ainsi, dans B.et R. Gauthier Ltée c. Lemieux (C.A.Q. 200-09-000096-773, 2 septembre 1980), la Cour d'appel avait confirmé un jugement de la Cour supérieure qui accueillait une action en diminution de prix. L'acheteur s'était inquiété du mauvais état apparent d'un plancher.  Le vendeur lui avait représenté qu'il s'agissait d'une question mineure qui se corrigerait d'elle-même à la fin des travaux. L'acquéreur n'avait pas à explorer davantage. Il pouvait se satisfaire de l'explication qu'on lui donnait.  Il n'avait  pas  à  faire  des  recherches  ou vérifications additionnelles si on lui représentait que l'état des choses n'était pas grave.

"La Cour a accepté le témoignage de l'intimé à ce sujet. Il en résulte que l'appelante a placé celui-ci, par son dol et ses fausses représentations, dans une situation de fausse sécurité." (B.R.   Gauthier  Inc.  c.  Lemieux,  C.A.Q., 200-09-000096-773, 2 septembre 1980, opinion de monsieur le juge Paré; voir aussi Belcourt Construction Inc. c. Cretchman (1979) C.A. 595, p. 601, monsieur le juge Paré)

[Emphasis added]

[49]        In Proulx-Robertson v. Collins, the Court of Appeal emphasizes that the seller who knows the condition of the building he/she is about to sell has a disclosure obligation[15]:

 

De plus, à des questions posées par l'agent d'immeuble Dupont qui visitait la maison avec les acheteurs et qui s'inquiétait de taches grisâtres sur les murs du sous-sol de la maison, les appelants auraient répondu qu'il s'agissait seulement d'un problème de saleté laissée par un locataire antérieur. L'honorable juge Frenette résume ainsi l'incident:

"Lorsque les demandeurs et les deux agents d'immeuble ont visité la maison, ils n'ont rien remarqué d'anormal quant à l'humidité ou à l'odeur, sauf les taches grisâtres sur les murs. Le 28 avril 1984, lorsque les demandeurs et l'agent d'immeuble étaient présents et qu'une question fut posée aux défendeurs quant à ces taches, qui connaissaient le problème 1992 CanLII 3932 (QC CA) d'humidité du sous-sol et celui des insectes, puisqu'ils en avaient été avertis, ils n'ont pas relaté la situation réelle lorsqu'ils ont répondu que c'était uniquement de la saleté. Il était alors difficile de détecter l'étendue du problème, car les lieux étaient en voie d'être nettoyés et repeints. Quant au manque d'aération du rez-de-chaussée, les demandeurs ne pouvaient soupçonner ce problème, car ce n'est qu'après avoir remédié au problème d'excès d'humidité du sous-sol, qu'ils ont réalisé qu'ils affectaient le rez-de-chaussée. En résumé, les problèmes constatés à l'intérieur du sous-sol causés par la présence du pare-vapeur posé directement sur les murs de fondation, la présence d'une lisse en bois et l'absence d'aération au rez-de-chaussée, tombent dans la catégorie de vices cachés que les demandeurs ne pouvaient raisonnablement déceler lors de leurs visites des lieux, avant de signer l'acte de vente." (m.a. p. 45, 46; voir aussi témoignage de l'agent d'immeuble Dupont, m.a. p. 115)

Les relations entre un vendeur et un acquéreur d'une propriété immobilière ne s'assimilent pas à un jeu de cache-cache. Les vendeurs demeurent soumis à des obligations d'honnêteté et de loyauté vis-à-vis de l'acquéreur potentiel. Connaissant un problème sérieux, ils se doivent, à tout le moins, de ne pas induire en erreur l'autre partie en l'envoyant délibérément sur une fausse piste ou en induisant chez elle un sentiment de fausse sécurité. Le dol présent dans ce dossier contribue à rendre caché un vice qui, dans d'autres circonstances, pourrait être apparent. (Voir Placements Jacpar Inc. c. Benzakour (1989) 1989 CanLII 976 (QC CA), R.J.Q. 2309, p. 2318; B.G.R. Gauthier Inc. c. Lemieux, C.A.Q. 200-09-000096-775, 2 septembre 1980; Belcourt Construction Co. c. Creatchman (1979) C.A. 595, page 601, Monsieur le juge Paré).

[Emphasis added]

[50]        The case law also teaches that the minimization by the seller of the severity of the problem renders the defect legally hidden since it is contrary to the seller's disclosure obligation[16]:

[44] Comme on le sait, les vendeurs divulguent avoir subi que de «légères infiltrations d’eau lors de forte pluie». Ils ne mentionnent pas avoir subi d’infiltrations d’eau majeures, d’une part ni avoir subi de refoulement d’égout, d’autre part.

[45] On convient aisément que les infiltrations d’eau subies par les demandeurs ne sont certes pas de la nature de celles qui s’essuient à la «moppe» comme monsieur Joubert le mentionne aux demandeurs lors de leur première visite. Elles ne correspondent pas non plus à la déclaration que monsieur Joubert fait à l’expert Blackburn, lors de la visite préachat. Il lui mentionne alors que l’eau entre légèrement par la porte arrière du sous-sol.

(…)

[63] Dans ces circonstances, la Cour n’a aucune hésitation à conclure que les défendeurs cachent la vérité de la situation aux demandeurs, d’une part au sujet d’une situation qu’ils connaissent bien, d’autre part. Ces omissions constituent sans aucun doute un vice caché.

[51]        Finally, even in the presence of apparent cracks, case law recognizes that if the seller makes remarks to secure the buyer or does not disclose everything he knows about this problem, the defect can be considered hidden[17] :

[20]            Suivant la preuve, certains des vices étaient apparents telles les fissures colmatées sur les solages des deux bâtisses.  Il aurait fallu être aveugle pour ne pas les voir.

[21]            À cet égard Belleau dit qu'en visitant les immeubles, elle les a vus et Lavoie la rassure en disant qu'elles avaient été réparées à sa satisfaction et a ajouté qu'il avait une garantie à vie transférable si un problème surgissait.

[22]            En soit, ces vices apparents ne pouvaient constituer un motif suffisant pour demander une diminution du prix de vente, encore moins une annulation de celle-ci.

[23]            Cependant, Lavoie en savait beaucoup plus et s'est bien gardé d'en informer Belleau.

[24]            Dans son témoignage Lavoie avoue n'avoir dévoilé que ce que Belleau dit, en somme il la corrobore.

[25]            Cependant, fort des trois expertises qu'il connaissait, il aurait dû, mais s'en est abstenu, informer Belleau des conclusions des experts et des moyens de correction que ces derniers suggéraient et lui parler aussi de son action contre l'entrepreneur et l'A.P.C.H.Q. réglée hors cour.

[26]            La preuve non contredite démontre qu'il en coûterait environ 65 000 $ pour apporter les corrections nécessaires.

(…)

[32]            Le Court est d'avis qu'au moment de la vente, les immeubles étaient affectés de vices cachés importants qui nécessitaient des travaux de correction d'envergure et onéreux.

(…)

[37]            Ni à Belleau ni à l'inspecteur en bâtiment n'a-t-il dévoilé tout ce qu'il savait de l'historique de ces immeubles alors qu'il en avait vécu les problèmes et ne les avait sûrement pas oubliés.

[38]            Et plus loin, dans l'arrêt Jacpar, Monsieur le Juge LeBel d'écrire:

Le dol ou le mensonge du vendeur peut rendre un vice juridiquement caché, surtout lorsque l'acquéreur a demandé une explication au sujet des manifestations d'un défaut ou qu'on l'a orienté sur une fausse piste.  On ne peut reprocher à l'acquéreur de soupçonner la mauvaise foi de son vendeur.  Ainsi, dans B. et R. Gauthier Inc. c. Lemieux, la Cour d'Appel avait confirmé un jugement de la Cour supérieure qui accueillait une action en diminution de prix.  L'acheteur s'était inquiété du mauvais état apparent d'un plancher.  Le vendeur lui avait représenté qu'il s'agissait d'une question mineure qui se corrigerait d'elle-même à la fin des travaux.  L'acquéreur n'avait pas à explorer davantage.  Il pouvait se satisfaire de l'explication qu'on lui donnait.  Il n'avait pas à faire de recherches ni de vérifications additionnelles si on lui représentait que l'état des choses n'était pas grave.

Le Court a accepté le témoignage de l'intimé à ce sujet.  Il en résulte que l'appelante a placé celui-ci, par son dol et ses fausses représentations, dans une situation de fausse sécurité.»

[39]            La Cour conclut donc que le dol par réticence de Lavoie et sa mauvaise foi sont suffisants pour annuler les deux transactions.

[Emphasis added]

[52]        In Beaudet v. Bastien[18], Justice Richard Landry concludes that the seller must give a clear and exact picture to the buyer of the situation even where the cracks on the foundations are apparent:

[52]            D'autre part, la jurisprudence a aussi établi qu'un vice révélé par des indices pouvait néanmoins être considéré comme vice « caché » si le vendeur a fourni, même de bonne foi, des informations fausses ou inexactes qui sont de nature à créer chez l'acheteur un sentiment de fausse sécurité.

[53]            Ainsi, dans l'arrêt de la Cour d'appel rendu dans Proulx-Robertson c. Collins , Monsieur le juge Lebel écrivait (à la page 157):

« Les relations entre un vendeur et un acquéreur d'une propriété immobilière ne s'assimilent pas à un jeu de cache-cache.  Les vendeurs demeurent soumis à des obligations d'honnêteté et de loyauté vis-à-vis de l'acquéreur potentiel.  Connaissant un problème sérieux, ils se doivent, à tout le moins, de ne pas induire en erreur l'autre partie en l'envoyant délibérément sur une fausse piste ou en induisant chez elle un sentiment de fausse sécurité.  Le dol présent dans ce dossier contribue à rendre caché un vice qui, dans d'autres circonstances, pourrait être apparent. »

[54]            La Cour d'appel s'était prononcée dans le même sens dans Placement Jacpar inc. c. Benzakour

« Le propre comportement du vendeur jouera son rôle à l'occasion dans l'appréciation du caractère du vice.  Ainsi, ces fausses représentations ou le dol du vendeur quant à l'état de la chose ou aux causes réelles de vices apparents dégageront parfois l'acquéreur de l'obligation d'explorer davantage.

Le dol ou le mensonge du vendeur peut rendre un vice juridiquement caché, surtout lorsque l'acquéreur a demandé une explication au sujet des manifestations d'un défaut et qu'on l'a orienté sur une fausse piste.  On ne peut reprocher à l'acquéreur de soupçonner la mauvaise foi de son vendeur. »

[55]            Ce raisonnement s'applique non seulement dans les situations où le vendeur camoufle le problème existant, mais aussi dans celles où il amoindrit son importance réelle de manière à rassurer indûment l'acheteur ou l'induire en erreur.

[56]            En résumé, le vendeur a l'obligation de « donner l'heure juste ».

[57]            Par exemple, les tribunaux ont qualifié de vices cachés des problèmes ayant fait l'objet, de manière dolosive ou fausse , de déclarations équivoques, incomplètes ou biaisées: dénonciation de légères infiltrations d'eau au printemps alors qu'il s'agit d'infiltrations importantes et généralisées , explications biaisées sur la cause du bombement d'un mur et sur des infiltrations d'eau , explications inexactes et rassurantes minimisant le problème d'infiltrations d'eau , omission de fournir l'ensemble des informations utiles sur le problème d'infiltrations , omission de parler d'un problème de fissures qui réapparaissent annuellement , indices cachés pour des vignes, du crépi et un balcon , informations inadéquates sur la quantité d'eau .

[Emphasis added]

[References omitted]

4.2         Analysis

4.2.1           Defendants’ position

[53]        Defendants argue that the defects were not hidden since the damages caused by the water seepage was entirely predictable due to the presence of cracks outside the house. Nobody could ignore it. The defects were also known to the buyer.

[54]        They further argue that the defects were not hidden since there were sufficient signs that any diligent and prudent buyer would have requested a pre-purchase inspection.

[55]        They add that Mr. Ashworth's statements were not such as to render the defect "legally hidden". In particular, they point out that a cautious buyer should have been concerned and asked for an inspection when Mr. Ashworth claimed to have repaired a crack with caulking by himself.

4.2.2           The evidence

[56]        To better understand the situation, it is important to go back to 2008, when Defendants purchased the house.

[57]        In 2008, Defendants made an offer to purchase the house, which is the subject of this case. Their offer was conditional on a pre-purchase inspection.

[58]        The pre-purchase inspection ("Mose Report") revealed to them the following as to the three cracks that were still visible when Ms. Doston purchased their house en 2014 and as to the electricity and insulation[19]:

Structure

Foundations   Foundation

Condition: · Cracked

Implication(s)Chance of water damage to contents, finishes and/or structure | Weakened structure

Location: Various

TaskFurther evaluation

TimeImmediate

Note: A qualified foundation expert should be consulted…

There are three large cracks in the foundation, one on the right side of the house, on the left rear corner and the other in the rear. A qualified foundation expert should be consulted to verify the cracks and more importantly to repair the cracks. They seem to have been previously repaired.

Electrical

Service box, grounding and panel   Distribution panel

Condition: · Double taps

Implication(s): Fire hazard

Location: Various

Task: Correct

Time: Immediate

Note: A qualified certified electrician should be contacted to correct the problem.

Insulation and Ventilation

General

· Possible zonolite. May contain asbestos. Recommend testing and removal. If asbestos is present it will have to be treated as a hazard substance.

Location: Attic

Task: Further evaluation

Time: Immediate

[Double emphasis added]

[59]        Despite this report, Defendants decided to buy the house for $188,000, without even asking for a reduction of the price.

[60]        Due to their financial situation at that time, they chose not to do any of the suggested repairs in the Mose Report, nor did they consult a foundation expert, as suggested. As well, nothing was done concerning the electricity issues raised by the Mose Report.

[61]        Mr. Ashworth chose to put some caulking in the crack on the right side of the house, so he says, to see if it did not open any further. He was watching this crack because, according to him, it was the most problematic crack. Ms. Whiting corroborates his testimony; caulking was to monitor the crack.

[62]        Defendants lived in the house for six years before selling it to Ms. Doston for $238,000.

[63]        When they decided to put it up for sale, they used the same real estate agent who assisted them at the time of the purchase, namely Mr. Grant Staley.

[64]        The Declaration of the Seller was completed on May 3, 2014, with Mr. Staley and each question was read and answered. He informed them of their duty to be transparent.

[65]        The relevant sections of the Declaration of the Seller read as follows[20]:

Given the importance of the declarations that follow, the seller must provide the information to the best of his knowledge, adding details as needed.

The seller must INCLUDE all available documents pertaining to his declarations such as any documents related to work, warranties, invoices, receipts, plans, permits, letters, reports, notices, etc., AND PROVIDE details regarding any positive answers under section D14.

[…]

D3. INFILTRATION

D3.1 To your knowledge, are there or have there ever been water infiltrations in the basement or elsewhere (e.g. roof, patio, balcony, solarium, skylight, door, window, chimney or other)?

□ yes þ no

[…]

D5. BUILDING BASEMENT (INCLUDING CRAWL SPACE)

To your knowledge, are there or have there ever been:

[…]

D5.2 foundation crack, rot or other problem with the basement structure?

þ yes □ no 
(handwritten notes: “Minor repairs ‘‘seller’’ no further issue”.

[…]

D8. PLUMBING AND DRAINAGE

D8.1 To your knowledge, are there of have there ever been plumbing-related problems (e.g. marked variations in water pressure or flow when using fixtures, freezing pipe, water leak, rusty water, odour, plumbing drainage or backup problem, abnormal noise or other?

□ yes þ no

[…]

D12. EXISTING INSPECTION OR OTHER EXPERT REPORTS

D.12.1 To your knowledge, are there or have there ever been one or more inspection reports written on the immovable?

þ yes □ no

[…]

D12.3 Are these inspection reports, tests or expert evaluations available?

□ yes þ no

[…]

D13. OTHER INFORMATION

[…]

D13.2 To your knowledge, has major work or renovations ever been done to the immovable other than those already mentioned? (e.g. modifications to the structure of the immovable)?

□ yes □ no

Any major work or renovation done to this immovable and not specifically covered by a question on this form must be reported in section D14.

 

D14. DETAILS AND MAJOR IMPROVEMENTS TO THE IMMOVABLE

Indicate the number of the clause to which the details apply:

(handwritten notes: “Front windows + MBR replaced 2009”).

[…]

[Signature of the sellers]

on May 3 / 2014; at 4 P.M.

[66]        On May 11, 2014, during Ms. Doston's second visit, her friend, Mr. Beaulieu, accompanied her along with her agent.

[67]        Their testimony is summarized as follows.

[68]        After visiting both the inside and outside of the house, the group then chatted in front of the house. Ms. Doston was interested in buying the house. Mr. Beaulieu returned to Mr. Ashworth in the backyard and spoke to him on behalf of Ms. Doston. Because of the cracks, Mr. Beaulieu asked Mr. Ashworth if there was infiltration. He confirmed to Mr. Beaulieu that the house was in good condition and that there had been no infiltration. Mr. Beaulieu asked if the price was negotiable since Ms. Doston would be willing to pay $240,000. Mr. Ashworth told him that the price was fine for him, but he had check with his wife.

[69]        Mr. Ashworth went to see his wife. Mr. Beaulieu returned to Ms. Doston and her agent to inform them that there was a deal but that Mr. Ashworth had to speak with his wife to make sure that the price was fine for her too.

[70]        A few minutes later, Mr. Ashworth returned to see Ms. Doston, her agent and Mr. Beaulieu, who were still in front of the house and confirmed to them that the price of $240,000 was acceptable.

[71]        Mr. Ashworth then answered Ms. Doston's and Mr. Beaulieu's questions about the quality of the house. Ms. Doston asked if there were any infiltrations given the cracks observed. Mr. Ashworth replied that there had never been any infiltration. Ms. Doston asked if there had been infiltration from the roof. Mr. Ashworth responded no again, and that it was a good house. Mr. Ashworth even told them that they got an inspection report when they bought the house in 2008. Mr. Beaulieu asked if it was possible to get a copy. Mr. Ashworth agreed.

[72]        The group then moved to the right side of the house where Mr. Ashworth showed them the crack and he confirmed to Ms. Doston to have repaired it and repeated that there had never been any water infiltration. The foundation walls were covered by parging.

[73]        In her cross-examination, Ms. Doston repeated exactly what she said during her examination and even corrected Defendant’s attorney when she made certain errors in the facts. Her testimony is solid, credible and corroborated by Mr. Beaulieu whose cross-examination did not reveal any contradictions in his testimony.

[74]        The testimony of Ms. Doston's agent is a little less specific. However, the Court considers it credible. It is not surprising for a real estate agent involved in the purchase of a house four years ago, not to have a memory as accurate as the buyer. From his testimony, the Court understands that Mr. Ashworth stated that the house was in good condition, that there had never been any infiltration and that he had repaired the crack on the right side. The Court also notes that he suggested to Ms. Doston to have a pre-purchase inspection, which she refused, because she was reassured with the statements of the seller that there was no infiltration and that the cracks were repaired.

[75]        The content of these meetings is contradicted by Defendants.

[76]        Ms. Whiting did not hear the conversation between her husband and Mr. Beaulieu. She remained in the backyard at all times.

[77]        Mr. Ashworth submits that during the conversation between himself and Mr. Beaulieu, he raised the issue of the cracks, but Mr. Beaulieu was not interested in them. He just wanted to know if it was a good house. Mr. Ashworth replied yes. They also discussed the amount of $ 240,000 and he said that he had to discuss it with his wife.

[78]        Mr. Ashworth went to his wife and discussed with her the amount of $240,000. His wife told him to call their agent who told him to wait for the offer. This last part of his testimony is corroborated by Ms. Whiting.

[79]        Mr. Ashworth states that Ms. Doston, Mr. Beaulieu and the agent left while he was still on the phone with his agent.

[80]        According to him, there was never any meeting with them in front of the house and on the right side of the house.

 

[81]        The Court finds that the overriding evidence shows that there was a meeting between Mr. Ashworth, Ms. Doston, her agent and Mr. Beaulieu in front of the house and on the side thereafter and that the content of this meeting is the one reported by Ms. Doston, her agent and Mr. Beaulieu. Three witnesses who explain the detailed content of a meeting appear more credible than a single witness who simply denies the existence of such a meeting.

[82]        Only Mr. Ashworth denies this meeting. Moreover, his wife does not say how long it took after phoning their agent, for her husband returned to join her in the backyard.

[83]        Furthermore, in his testimony, Mr. Ashworth does not indicate how the conversation with Mr. Beaulieu ended. Was Mr. Ashworth supposed to come back to him with an agreement on the price after talking to his wife? Mr. Beaulieu's version of Mr. Ashworth's discussion with his wife and his return after to inform them of an agreement on the price seems more plausible. It is not likely that Ms. Doston would have left without having spoken to Mr. Ashworth, who, according to his own version, told Mr. Beaulieu that he must consult his wife on the price. The Court also finds inconceivable that Mr. Beaulieu would have told Mr. Ashworth that he was not interested in the cracks.

[84]        In addition, other parts of Defendants’ testimony overshadow their credibility.

[85]        Mr. Ashworth and his wife testified that Ms. Doston's agent came to present them with an offer for their home. He informed them that the price had been lowered because of the presence of vermiculite, which he had just discussed with Ms. Doston, reading with her for the first time the Declaration of the seller.

[86]        Mr. Ashworth then offered to give him the portion of the Mose Report on vermiculite. Mr. Ashworth would have gone down to the basement, found the Mose Report on his computer and printed only the two pages about vermiculite.

[87]        Mr. Ashworth adds that he cannot be blamed for not submitting the complete Mose Report because Ms. Doston's agent never asked him for it.

[88]        His version is not credible. Why would the agent want only part of the Mose Report and, moreover, only the portion concerning the vermiculite?

 

[89]        Ms. Whiting's response in cross-examination when asked why not give the complete the report rather than two pages concerning the vermiculite is not convincing either. She says it does not make sense for her husband to print a 100-page report on the printer at home. However, the report is only 34 pages long.

[90]        Moreover, Defendants indicated in the Declaration of the Seller that the Mose Report was not available even though they had a copy on their computer. Their explanations in this regard are not credible either.

[91]        For example, Mr. Ashworth states that he only recalled that he had a copy of the Mose Report a few days after signing the Declaration of theSeller on May 3, 2014. However, on May 10, 2014, when Ms. Doston’s agent came to submit the offer, Mr. Ashworth offered him a copy of the Vermiculite portion of the report. He did not give him the whole report.

[92]        They are aware of the content of this report. They know that there were corrections to be made concerning the cracks and that the expert even highlighted that the structure was weakened, they even monitored a crack. It is unlikely that they did not know whether or not they had kept a copy of this report.

[93]        Knowing the extent of the problem regarding the cracks, knowing that they followed none of the recommendations of the Mose Report and made no corrections, Defendants could not have been unaware that they still had a copy of the report.

4.2.3           Conclusion

[94]        Notwithstanding the sympathy the Court may have considering the amounts involved, it still cannot accept Defendants’ position.

[95]        In 2008, Defendants were informed by the Mose Report that, in particular, cracks were a serious problem and even the structure might have been affected. They chose to take a chance and buy the house. They did not repair anything and did not ask for any more in-depth expertise because of their financial incapacity. They decided not to make the Mose Report available when they put their house up for sale, and even worse, they indicated in the Declaration of the seller that minor crack repairs were done when this was not true. The caulking was only to monitor the crack. They reduced the severity of the problem and Mr. Ashworth specifically reassured Ms. Doston about the good condition of the house despite the existence of the cracks and his knowledge of the Mose Report.

[96]        Even if the Court were to believe them when they say that they never knew of any infiltration or smell, which is surprising to say the least given the testimonial and documentary evidence on the condition of the walls and of the basement floor, Defendants were still not transparent and acted to reassure Ms. Doston.

[97]        How can Defendants state in paragraph 20 of their defence: « The implications of these cracks are self-evident and would have required  immediate attention from any prudent and dilligent purchaser who could not rely on their impermeability in the long term. » and write about the same cracks in the Declaration of the seller: "Minor repairs "seller" no further issues".

[98]        It was contrary to Defendants’ disclosure obligation to indicate on the Declaration of the seller that minor crack repairs have been made and that it is no longer a problem, while in 2008, they were informed that the cracks must be repaired immediately, that there was a risk of infiltration and structural problems knowing that they did not carry out any repairs. In addition, the Declaration of the seller is also false since both Defendants acknowledged at the hearing that the caulking affixed by Mr. Ashworth in 2008 was not to repair, but only to monitor the crack.

[99]        Analyzed as a whole, the overriding evidence satisfies the Court that Defendants played hide-and-seek with Ms. Doston even though they had an obligation to disclose what they knew about their house and especially the problems that the Mose Report brought to their attention six years ago. Their obligation to disclose is all the greater because they knew that these problems had not been resolved and the Defendants went as far as comforting Ms. Doston with their statements.

[100]     Moreover, their agent Mr. Staley, asserted at the hearing that having had the Mose Report in hand, he would have mentioned its conclusions in the Declaration of the seller.

[101]     The Court considers that the defects are hidden despite the apparent signs.

[102]     These defects that existed at the time Ms. Doston purchased the house are serious enough to constitute latent defects within the meaning of Article 1726 CCQ.

5.      DID MS. DOSTON ALLOW DEFENDANTS, IN A TIMELY MANNER, THE OPPORTUNITY TO ASSESS THE SITUATION THEMSELVES WITH THEIR EXPERT?

[103]     Defendants argue that Ms. Doston did not allow them to see for themselves with an expert the defects and damages. She rushed to demolish everything and rebuild. Her eagerness supports their thesis that from the beginning, Ms. Doston intended to renovate the basement and make them pay for her extravagant renovations.

[104]     Section 1739 CCQ provides for the buyer’s obligation to notify the seller of the defect, within a reasonable time:

1739. A buyer who ascertains that the property is defective shall give notice in writing of the defect to the seller within a reasonable time after discovering it. Where the defect appears gradually, the time begins to run on the day that the buyer could suspect the seriousness and extent of the defect.

The seller may not invoke the tardiness of a notice from the buyer if he was aware of the defect or could not have been unaware of it.

[105]     On September 11, 2014, Ms. Doston herself wrote a discloser notice addressed to Defendants[21]. It was not until September 18 that Mr. Ashworth phoned to inform her that the insurer Aviva would contact her[22].

[106]     Although Defendants sustain that she did not collaborate with the insurer, Ms. Doston gives a precise testimony of her timely collaboration. She testifies as to the dates of conversation with the insurer, dates on which she returned the insurer calls, date when she provided the documents requested by the insurer as well as the date when the insurer’s inspector visited the house. Her testimony was not contradicted by the insurer who did not testify.

[107]     As soon as September 22, 2014, the insurer wrote to Mr. Ashworth informing him that they doubted that the coverage applied and suggested that he consult with a lawyer.

[108]     It was not until October 28, 2014, in the early evening, that Mr. Ashworth came to Ms. Doston's home with two contractors to assess the cost of the work to be done. When he left, he told her that he would be in contact with her.

[109]     On November 3, 2014, Ms. Doston, who had now retained the services of a lawyer, sent a formal demand letter to Defendants through him[23].

[110]     Mr. Ashworth explains that, contrary to what he had told Ms. Doston on October 28, 2014, he did not get back to her because he had received the demand letter from her attorney.

[111]     Defendants chose to respond through their attorney. On November 25, 2014, Defendants’ attorney responded that her clients denied any responsibility. She concluded her letter by stating: “Any renovation, repairs or replacement Ms. Doston chooses to perform are done so for her own account for which no compensation is offered.[24]

[112]     Ms. Doston has acted quickly, but she was facing a problem of mouldy floors and walls spread throughout the entire basement. She needed this part of the residence to house members of her family, winter was approaching and outdoor work had be completed before the arrival of the possibility of freezing temperature.

[113]     In addition, Defendants chose to wait before hiring a lawyer, did not contact Ms. Doston after visiting the property with their contractors and denied any liability.

[114]     The Court cannot accept Defendants' argument that Ms. Doston did not allow them the opportunity to assess the situation for themselves, with their expert in a timely manner.

[115]     In any event, as the Court will conclude in the section concerning the damages, Defendants were aware of the defect, therefore, as stipulated in Section 1739 CCQ, they cannot invoke the tardiness of Ms. Doston’s notice.

 

6.      IS MS. DOSTON ENTITLED TO A PRICE REDUCTION OF $81,502.61 AND REIMBURSEMENT OF HER EXPERT FEES OF $2,414.41?

[116]     The only evidence concerning the necessary repairs is that of Breault & Gosselin, Génie Conseil Inc.[25] and Jamex who executed them.

[117]     The estimates of two contractors filed by Defendants are by no means convincing. The Akton Injection[26] estimate covers the repair of five cracks. The one from Graceland[27] covers the repair of three cracks, as stated by its representative before the Court, Mr. Andrew Peterman. He estimated the cost at $2,500 per crack.

[118]     However, Jamex had to repair nine or ten cracks and fixed 30 steel plates. In addition, a waterproofing membrane had to be installed, given, in particular, the defective installation of the slab. Finally, the defective installation of the French drain had to be corrected as well.

[119]     Jamex testifies that the French drain was still functional despite having exceeded its useful life.

[120]     Jamex subsequently finished the basement. Plumbing and electrical work was also done in the basement.

[121]     The evidence shows that the type of materials used by Jamex for finishing the basement is of the same nature as the existing ones, namely the floating floor, tiles and a suspended ceiling.

[122]     However, Ms. Doston had the workshop finished in a habitable room when it was not at the time of purchase. She also had a floating floor installed in the existing bedroom, whereas at the time she purchased the house the floor was in plywood. She also added a wall in the family room to create a second bedroom.

[123]     This does not demonstrate that Ms. Doston planned to renovate the basement as Defendants argue.

 

[124]     However, the Court cannot grant her the entire amount claimed for the work done since some of the basement has been improved, mainly the workshop and the existing bedrooms. Furthermore, she now has new materials while the evidence shows that by the time she bought the house, the basement had been finished for at least six years. Ms. Doston cannot take advantage of the added value that this work brings to the house[28].

[125]     The Court finds that the size of the workshop in the diagram filed by Defendants[29] is approximately 1/6 of the basement area and the same for the existing bedroom. As the improvement consists of finishing the workshop in a living room and placing a floating floor in the existing bedroom[30], a reduction of 1/6 of Jamex’s cost of the interior finishing will be applied to reflect these improvements.

[126]     The Court will also deduct 20% of the total cost to reflect that Ms. Doston now has a new basement[31]. This is the amount suggested by counsel for Ms. Doston when questioned by the Court on this subject and it is reasonable.

[127]     Electrical work appears necessary since the Mose Report indicated a problem in this area. However, it does not apply to plumbing work. Moreover, the evidence does not show that plumbing work was necessary because of latent defects. Therefore, an amount of $3,800 will also be deducted for the rough of the plumbing[32].

[128]     For the French drain, the Court will award 50% of the amount claimed, because there was a hidden defect in its installation and, although it had reached its useful life, it was still functional. According to Jamex’s testimony, the cost for the work for the French drain is about $6,600[33]. The Court will deduct $3,300 from this amount.

 

[129]     The deductions applied by the Court are summarized in the following table:

TOTAL DEDUCTIONS

Exhibit

Amount

Deduction

P-9

$3,300

French drain

P-11

$6,868

1/6 of the total cost to take into account the improvement of the workshop

$3,300

For the rough of the plumbing

$6,108

20% of the balance of the invoice for the finishing of the basement to take into account the new materials

P-12

$477

1/6 for the plumbing of the workshop

1/6 for the floor of the existing bedroom

Total deductions:

$20,053

[130]     Ms. Doston is therefore entitled to $61,449[34].

[131]     As for the experts’ costs, the Court includes them in the judicial costs.

7.      IS MS. DOSTON ENTITLED TO DAMAGES FOR LOSS OF ENJOYMENT AND MORAL DAMAGES?

[132]     The Civil Code of Québec stipulates that the vendor being aware of the defects but who chooses to remain silent, will have to compensate the buyer for damages suffered in addition to the reduction of the price.[35]

[133]     In light of the foregoing, the Court finds that there are sufficient serious, precise and concordant facts to allow the Court to conclude that Defendants were aware of the defect since they had in hand the Mose Report and knew that no repairs had been done since their purchase of the house.

[134]     In addition, Defendants allege in their defence and repeat in their pleadings that any reasonable person should have expected to find the basement in the state in which Ms. Doston found it because of the three cracks. If what Defendants plead is true, the Court must conclude that they too knew or ought to have known about the defect.

[135]     As leakage cracks are the primary cause of Ms. Doston's disturbance and loss of enjoyment, Defendants are therefore liable for all non-pecuniary damages suffered by Ms. Doston.

[136]     She explains that the basement was essential since her son and daughter were to occupy it, while she and her brother occupied the ground floor. Because of the repairs, she had to share her bedroom with her daughter for six months. She also had the inconvenience of having to do the laundry outside of the house during the same period of time. Due to the consequences of the latent defect, she did not have access to the basement for six months.

[137]     She also had to use her free time to find an expert and a contractor, take care of the purchase of materials and transport some of them. She had the trouble of having to store her furniture in a storage facility.

[138]     The situation greatly worried and stressed her and caused her many troubles and inconveniences in addition to not being able to use this part of the house. She who only had to add a wall with a door and shrink a closet, finds herself having to demolish the entire basement because of the rotten walls and floor and finish it all over again.

[139]     In light of the case law[36], the Court considers that a total sum of $5,000 appears justified.

[140]     Given the above findings, Defendants’ counterclaim is dismissed.

FOR THESE REASONS, the Court:

[141]     GRANTS partly the Demande introductive d’instance amendée et précisée;

[142]     DISMISSES Defendants’ counterclaim;

[143]     CONDEMNS Defendants severally to pay to Plaintiff a sum of $61,449 in reduction of the price, with legal interest and the additional indemnity provided for in article 1619 CCQ, since the demand letter of November 3, 2014;

[144]     CONDEMNS Defendant's severally to pay Plaintiff a sum of $5,000 in damages, with legal interest and the additional indemnity provided for in article 1619 CCQ, since the demand letter of November 3, 2014;

[145]     WITH JUDICIAL COSTS in favour of Plaintiff, including the experts’ costs of $2,414.41.

 

 

__________________________________

Chantal Lamarche, j.s.c.

 

Mtre Luc Lachance

Astell, Lachance, Du Sablon, De Sua

Counsel of Plaintiff

 

Mtre Élaine Rosenberg

Rosenberg Avocat inc.

Counsel of Defendants

 

Dates of hearing:

January 28, 29, 30 and 31, 2019



 

 

 

[1]    The references are in relation to a person in the street facing the house.

[2]    Exhibit P-2.

[3]    Exhibit P-20.

[4]    Exhibit D-7.

[5]    Exhibit P-5.

[6]    Exhibit P-7.

[7]    Exhibit P-34.

[8]    Exhibit P-8.

[9]    Exhibit P-35.

[10]    Exhibit P-35.

[11]    Civil Code of Québec, RLRQ c CCQ-1991, art. 1726.

[12]    Leroux v. Gravano2016 QCCA 79 (CanLII).

[13]    Id.

[14]    Placement Jacpar Inc. v. Benzakour1989 CanLII 976 (QC CA).

[15]    Proulx-Robertson v. Collins1992 CanLII 3932 (QC CA.).

[16]    Boivin v. Morin2013 QCCS 3732 (CanLII) (appeal dismissed on motion, 2013 QCCA 1766 (CanLII)); to the same effect: Trahan v. Girard2009 QCCS 1566 (CanLII).

[17]    Chabot (Belleau) v. Lavoie2003 CanLII 18516; to the same effect: Gingras v. Duplessis 2016 QCCQ 16137 (CanLII)Beaudet v. Bastien2007 QCCQ 13454 (CanLII)Hénault v. Lacelle2009 QCCQ 2749 (CanLII) (motion for leave to appeal dismissed, 2009 QCCA 1063 (CanLII)); Boivin v. Morinsupra note, 16; Trahan c. Girard, supranote, 16; Leclerc v. Lemieux2019 QCCS 1209 (CanLII).

[18]    Beaudet v. Bastien, supra note, 17.

[19]    Exhibit P-3.

[20]    Exhibit P-2.

[21]    Exhibit D-5.

[22]    Exhibit D-21.

[23]    Exhibit P-7.

[24]    Exhibit P-34.

[25]    Exhibit P-8.

[26]    Exhibit D-3.

[27]    Exhibit P-26.

[28]    Rivard v. Asselin2019 QCCA 302 (CanLII), par. 27 and following.

[29]    Exhibit D-20.

[30]    This bedroom had a Gyproc ceiling at the time of purchase.

[31]    Ferreira v. Rubin2007 QCCQ 15085 (CanLII)Brès v. Giraud2016 QCCS 6307 (CanLII).

[32]    Exhibit P-11.

[33]    Exhibit P-9. Jamex calculates that this invoice of $ 16 605 before taxes includes the repair of ten cracks at $750 - $800 per crack and 30 steel plates at $50 to $75 per plate The Court averaged and retained the figure of $10,000 for cracks.  The remaining amount and for the French drain is $6,600.

[34]    $81,502 – $20,053 = $61,449.

[35]    Art. 1728 CCQ.

[36]    Gardner v. Desjardins2016 QCCS 6158 (CanLII)Fournier v. Cadrin2008 QCCS 927 (CanLII)Gagnon v. Lacroix2017 QCCS 127 (CanLII).

By

 

 

 

for the law societies members of the

 

 

 

Federation of Law Societies of Canada