Friday, June 14, 2013

The Clients that Never Were - The Case of Eau de Cat


This is what I call the fishing expedition for free advice, a patchwork method employed by many who do not really want to hire an attorney but take advantage of the "free consultation" offer. An offer, may I say, not so much to provide you with free legal to solve whatever problem is vexing you, but to figure out whether I, as a professional, may actually help you with the problem. A 1/2 hour chat over the conference table is no substitute for actual legal advice tailored to the facts and circumstances of your particular case. In this instance, I have no idea if I was the first or the tenth attorney to be so consulted. This does not happen all the time, but often enough to make you wonder how people approach the rest of the lives. 

I do know the free advice crowd is active, as I belong to a couple of legal online groups and the questions fly fast and furious; sometime there is umbrage that the exact answer desired is not forthcoming. Not to mention the many questions coming in to this blog. Not that I mind. I signed up voluntarily. But talk is cheap, and an actual "fix" to a thorny legal question, often is not. I choose to view it as a learning experience for all (hopefully) concerned.

Here is one story of a recent encounter in my office. 

The couple had called ahead about a real estate disclosure problem they had with a home they had recently purchased in an upscale neighborhood.  When they came in for their appointed free consultation, they were prepared with a copy of their purchase and sale agreement some photos of the home.

The wife kept asking how many of “these cases” I had done.  The issue was failure to disclose cat urine odor from a previous occupant, a hoarder and "cat lady" who did not believe in littler boxes.   So cat urine and other unpleasant leftover kitty reminders had permeated all the flooring and even some of the walls.

In any event, the heavy urine smell and staining was not evident when they did their walk through, but the cloying smell of air fresheners in every room was.  

“Did you ask why there were air fresheners all over the house,” I asked. 

“Yes,” said the husband.  

“They said they do it in all the homes they sell,” answered the wife.

“Hmmm,” thought I.

When they went back to the home after the closing, they were struck with the strong scent of eau de cat.

“It was everywhere, especially the back bedrooms.”

They located a former caretaker, who informed them of the former occupant's penchant for rescuing strays, a fact that made him live in a separate unit at the rear of the property. "You couldn't pay me to go in there without protective clothing," he said. "Once a month, I'd swamp it out, and that's that."

Things just went from bad to worse, as the cheap finish put over the floorboards wore way, and even the walls started oozing a brown smelly stain.

They realized the cat smell permeated everything.  “We spent $20,000 on renovations. We had no choice. I am allergic to cats,” said the wife.

They tore out the walls of the back bedroom and replaced them, painted the whole house with the oil based paint, completely redid the floors, and, five months later, have not yet moved into the home.

Then they were back to how many of these had I done. 

“It’s kind of like mold cases,” I said. "They should have disclosed." I’ve been involved in many cases of non-disclosure. But cats, not so much. Who has?

We’ll call you, they said, picking up their few papers and heading for the door, off no doubt, to the next attorney for another installment of free advice.

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