A defect in a used apartment

There is a defect in a used apartment if the apartment does not correspond to what the buyer and the vendor agreed on, or the apartment and its equipment do not respond the information provided about them. The vendor must give the buyer all information that may affect the buyer's decision to purchase the apartment.

A used apartment means an apartment in which somebody has already lived and which has been sold at least once before. A used apartment is not new, and the ageing of the apartment must be taken into account when concluding the sale and assessing the vendor’s liability.

The buyer cannot complain about something that they should have noticed when they inspected the apartment before buying it. The vendor’s liability for defects must be assessed in each individual case. The vendor’s liability depends on the type of the defect: is the apartment not as agreed, has the vendor given false or incomplete information to the buyer, or does the apartment have a hidden defect?

A used apartment has a defect

  • if it is not as agreed
  • if it does not respond the information that the vendor gave to the buyer before the sale and that could have affected the sale
  • if the vendor did not give the buyer some information that would have been likely to affect the sale or the sale price
  • if the apartment’s equipment, condition or other qualities are significantly worse than the buyer could reasonably expect (a hidden defect).
  • The qualities of the apartment must be as stated in the deed of sale or otherwise agreed between the parties. The beginning to assess a defect in the apartment is the contract between the buyer and the vendor.

    Unless the vendor and the buyer have agreed otherwise, ordinary properties in the apartment, including the fridge, dishwasher, freezer and cooker, are part of the sale.

    Rather than relying on verbal agreements, it is a good idea to write down all essential facts in the deed of sale.

  • The vendor must tell the buyer if the apartment is in some way different from normal standards. The vendor has an obligation to tell the buyer about both faults that they know about and those which they have a concrete reason to suspect.
    The buyer has no obligation to check if the information the vendor provides about the apartment is correct unless the vendor encourages them to do so, or because of some other special reason. The buyer cannot claim compensation for something they should have noticed in a normal inspection of the apartment before the sale.

    The information given to the buyer may also concern the financial situation of the housing company. The vendor may be liable if they have given the buyer false, misleading or incomplete information about the financial obligations or liabilities related to owning or using the apartment, and it can be expected that the information provided to the buyer influenced their decision to buy. Such information may concern management charges, share of the housing company’s debts or the other financial circumstances of the housing company.

    The vendor’s liability for defects also includes the information that the estate agent provides and that also includes information in the house manager’s certificate.

    The liability for a defect does not depend on whether the vendor knew that the information was false or incomplete. The vendor is liable if the information would have had an impact on the buyer’s decision to buy the apartment and the sale price. This means that false or incomplete information does not automatically entitle the buyer for compensation.

  • Disputes related to the sale of a used apartment often concern a defect that the vendor did not know about and the buyer could not notice before the sale was concluded.

    For example, moisture and mould damage are often hidden defects, as they affect structural elements you cannot see, and the buyer cannot prove that the vendor knew about the defect. Defects that have not been noticed in a condition inspection are often regarded as hidden defects.

    A hidden defect is assessed in each individual case, taking all elements into consideration. In addition to the sale price and age of the apartment the facts that can be taken into account include if the damage was unexpected, how extensive it is and how long it takes to repair it. In principle, the vendor is only liable for both the defects and their repair costs if they are large.
    When an apartment gets older, it needs maintenance and repairs. The vendor is not liable for repairs that are needed because of the ageing and normal wear and tear of the building.

    The basic rule is that the housing company is responsible for the costs of repairing structures, and the apartment owner is responsible for repairing surfaces.

    For example, in typical cases of moisture damage in the bathroom, the repair costs are usually mostly paid by the housing company. In this situation, the buyer normally cannot claim compensation from the vendor because they do not have to pay large repair costs.

    Sometimes a defect in a new apartment is due to defective building work. Within certain restrictions, the buyer has the right to complain about an initial defect in the apartment directly to the first vendor, or the founding shareholder.

Pre-purchase inspection of the apartment

The buyer may not complain about a defect which they can be assumed to have been aware about when the sale was made.
If the buyer has inspected the apartment before the sale or, without an acceptable reason, not used an opportunity to inspect it that the vendor offered them, they cannot complain about a defect that they should have noticed during the inspection.

The buyer must carry out the pre-purchase inspection of the apartment with due care. The older the apartment is, the more faults and defects the buyer can expect it to have. That’s why the buyer can usually be required to inspect an old apartment more careful and thoroughly than a new or newly renovated apartment.

As a rule, however, the buyer does not have to take any special technical measures or make other unusual arrangements to inspect the apartment, including measuring its surface area, heat or humidity levels, testing the operation of the appliances in the apartment, such as the cooker, washing machine or fridge, or moving heavy furniture around.

Reporting a defect and the period of liability

If the buyer finds a defect in the apartment, they have a strict obligation to report it to the vendor.  If the buyer does not report the defect within a reasonable time, they can no longer complain about it.

The buyer must report the defect and make their claims within a reasonable period, at most within two years of the date on which the possession of the apartment was assigned to the buyer or the sale was concluded.

The buyer may only appeal the defect after this period if the vendor’s action has been grossly negligent or incompatible to honour, or the vendor is a trader.

When assessing if the time has been reasonable, the fact that the buyer often has to first investigate the defect and its repair costs is taken into account. However, the buyer should always complain as soon as possible after they notice the defect, and preferably within three to four months at the latest.

The vendor must be able to determine the grounds for their possible liability for the defect and to take the action required by the situation based on the contents of the complaint. The buyer must state the claim they are making because of the defect in their complaint. They may ask for a price reduction, demand that the sale is cancelled, or claim compensation for losses.

The amount of the claims can often only be known after more detailed examination or repairs have been done. For this reason, the buyer does not need to specify the exact amount of their claim when they report a defect. They can add detail to their claim in this respect later.
The buyer should usually not start repairs before the vendor has had a possibility to examine the defect. This is another reason why you should make the complaint as soon as possible.

Different expert opinions and photographs are important evidence in the disputes of apartment sales. It is a good idea to document the repairs in detail.

Go to the complaint form

You should always complain to the vendor, not to the estate agent or the housing company’s building manager. Read more about the estate agent’s liability.

Consequences of a defect in a used apartment 

  • The most common consequence of a defect is reducing the sale price. You should be realistic when you ask for a price reduction. Reimbursing full repair costs as a price reduction is usually not recommended in dispute resolution.

    The older the house is, the greater the improvement in its quality and the extension of its service life after the repairs have been made. You should also note that only the costs necessary to rectify the defect are taken into account when determining the price reduction. It must be possible to separate the costs of any other renovation work carried out when the defect is rectified from the price reduction demanded as compensation.

  • In the sale of a used apartment, the vendor does not usually have the right to rectify the defect. In a sale between private (natural) persons, the buyer cannot demand that the vendor rectifies the defect, and similarly, the buyer has no obligation to accept the vendor’s offer to rectify it. The buyer can only demand that the vendor rectifies the defect if the vendor is a trader and the defect concerns repairs or improvements carried out by the trader.

  • If the fault has caused financial losses, the buyer may in some cases have the right to compensation. When the vendor is a private (natural) person, they may not be liable to pay compensation if they can show that the defect was not caused by their negligence. The buyer cannot claim compensation for losses in case of a hidden defect.

  • The sale can only be cancelled because of an essential breach of contract by the vendor. The threshold for cancelling the sale is very high, and these cases are rare. Cancelling the sale may be possible mainly if the defect cannot be rectified without significant inconvenience, and the defect is so large that a price reduction cannot be considered reasonable.

Dispute resolution 

  • The Consumer Advisory Services provides advice generally in problems related to home sales, but it does not investigate or settle disputes between natural persons. If you bought the apartment from a trader, the Consumer Advisory Services may investigate the case and mediate in the dispute.

    The Consumer Disputes Board also issues recommended resolutions to disputes in apartment sales between natural persons. Both the vendor and the buyer can ask for a resolution in these disputes.

    Consumer Advice Telephone Service

    Service time Monday–Wednesday 9 am – noon, Thursday noon – 3 pm. Note! Closed on 20th June

    Note! The online contact form will be closed for the weekend during the summer on Fridays at 3 pm and reopens on Monday at 9 pm.

    09 5110 1200 (only in Finnish)
  • The Consumer Disputes Board also issues recommended resolutions to disputes in apartment sales between natural persons. Both the vendor and the buyer can ask for a resolution in these disputes.

    The parties do not have an obligation to comply with the Consumer Disputes Board’s decision. Especially if the dispute involves a significant economic interest, for example if the buyer demands the cancellation of the sale or a wide price reduction, you may consider taking the dispute to the court rather than to the consumer protection authorities. In major disputes, you should contact a legal aid office, a law firm or some other party that provides legal services.