[Note to Readers: Seller liability for ice dams and other home issues is case-specific, and affected by local and state law. For legal advice, please contact an attorney.]
At least in Minnesota, there is a two-pronged legal standard for Buyers to recover from Sellers for damage caused by an ice dam (or any post-closing issue, for that matter):
One. The problem had to exist before Buyer purchased the home; and
Two. The Seller had to know — or should have known — about the problem.
So, a home buyer who closed on a balmy day last Fall . . . flunks test #1, never mind about #2.
But what if the home historically suffered from ice dams, and this year’s are simply the latest recurrence?
Usually, there’s residual evidence that a home previously had ice dams, even after the damage has been repaired.
Plus, a good home inspector will note the roof’s pitch and design, following any roof valleys to the home’s interior ceiling(s) to look for signs of past leaking (stains, fresh paint, etc.).
Of course, Minnesota law also requires that Home Sellers tell prospective Buyers if they’ve previously had ice dams ”or any other roof damage ” in state-mandated disclosure forms.
Misrepresenting such material information not only risks liability for fraud (and its open-ended statute of limitations), but isn’t likely to fool a Buyer who does their due diligence.
For all those reasons, it’s likely that either a home hasn’t previously had ice dams — or, if it did, the issue was identified and dealt with prior to closing.
Just like Buyers usually can’t recover from Sellers when, post-closing, they get water in their basement after a rare, torrential rain, it’s unlikely that they have recourse for ice dams following a (belatedly) snowy winter.
Fortunately, most homeowners’ insurance policies cover ice dam-related roof damage, subject to a deductible.
See also, “How Do You Spell “Ice Dam?” (Hint: the “N” is Silent)“; “Anyone Know a Good Ice Dam Removal Company?“; and “Detecting an (Early) Ice Dam in December”; “Ice Dam First Aid.“