A Health Hazard Consideration When Buying & Selling Property
By Ryan Hagens with Braun & Gresham, PLLC
Many people in Texas dream of owning a ranch for hunting or having a secluded place to get away for the weekend. Whatever your reason for buying land, you never want to find out that there is a serious potential health hazard on the land you just bought. Unfortunately, this is what happened to one of our clients. After purchasing the property, the client found out that Anthrax was recently present in the area. The seller failed to disclose this to them. Not surprisingly, they were horrified and concerned for their health and safety. They wanted to know if a seller had a duty to disclose the presence of Anthrax and, if so, what they could do about it now.
What is Anthrax?
Anthrax or Bacillus anthracis is a bacteria that naturally occurs all over the world. Anthrax lies dormant in the ground as a spore. The right mix of weather conditions allows these spores to come to the surface and collect on vegetation where animals may ingest them. The animals most susceptible to Anthrax are herbivores such as deer, livestock, exotic livestock, horses, swine, and yes, humans. Areas that have wet winters and springs, followed by dry summers, are especially susceptible to Anthrax. Due to the favorable conditions in Texas, an outbreak of Anthrax can occur almost anywhere in the state. However, most Anthrax outbreaks occur in what people in Texas refer to as the Anthrax Triangle. The Anthrax Triangle is located in the southwest portion of the state, encompassing Crockett, Edwards, Kinney, Maverick, Sutton, Uvalde, and Val Verde counties.
Do sellers need to disclose that Anthrax has been present on the land?
The short answer is, yes. Although, it is not that simple. Many people buy and sell land, and not everything gets disclosed to the buyers. The land may pass to many people between outbreaks, and only the original seller may have known of the Anthrax. The subsequent sellers who may not have known have no duty to disclose what they do not know. However, if the seller knew, the Farm and Ranch sale contract used in Texas specifically asks sellers to disclose any known health or environmental hazards. The contract requires sellers with knowledge of past or present Anthrax to disclose this information.
I bought land that has Anthrax. It was not disclosed. What next?
If you suspect or know that the seller intentionally failed to disclose the presence, past or present, of Anthrax, you have two options. You can immediately demand cancellation of the contract, request the money be returned, and the seller takes back the property. If the seller does not comply, you may file a lawsuit to cancel the contract. Alternatively, you may keep the land and file a lawsuit for damages. Texas law does not allow you to pursue both options. If you choose to keep the land, certain causes of action may be pursued, depending on the seller’s intention for not disclosing the presence of Anthrax. The potential causes of action to pursue against a seller are fraud, fraud by omission, and a Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) violation.
What do I do if I think my animals have Anthrax?
To confirm an Anthrax infection, you will need to contact a licensed veterinarian to take blood samples from the animals. If the animals are wildlife, you will need to contact your regional division of the Texas Animal Health Commission, which can be found here: https://www.tahc.texas.gov/agency/contact.html. Once the veterinarian confirms the infection, the infected animals will need to be quarantined away from other animals. If any of the animals die, the body of the deceased animal will need to be incinerated to ensure the destruction of the bacteria. However, there is a high likelihood of reoccurrence in an area with previous infections. The infected animals may have spread the spores.
If you have questions or would like more information, please contact our real estate attorneys at (512) 894-5426 or [email protected].