Legal Question in Civil Litigation in California

I recently conducted a moving sale for items left behind by a long-term neighbor who'd moved to another city; sale was conducted with her knowledge and blessing in an effort to clean out the mess and numerous possessions left behind. House was sold to a "flipper" who according to the neighbor was going to do a full remodel, strip and gut everything out. Fixtures, doors, appliances, knock out walls, the works. Neighbor said everything in the house was up for sale and try to get as much $ for it as possible, said I would be doing the flipper a favor by removing the trash and saving him thousands of dollars in payroll expenses for a clean out crew. History of homes in this neighborhood is one of new owners gutting and doing a full remodel, regardless if purchased by a "flipper." In this case the flipper was also a relative of the neighbor's best friend. With all this information, after nearly three weeks of cleaning, sorting, hauling, and boxing for donation, I conducted a moving sale for the remaining items and raised nearly $700 cash for items in the house. I received not one penny of compensation for any of my work and did not ask for any. During the sale I had offers for doors, windows, stair railings, carpeting, kitchen countertops, etc and turned them all down. Kept written records of each sale (amt and items sold, with my name listed as the sale agent). Neighbor was thrilled with the success and extra money she'd previously written off as a loss for abandoned possessions. One mistake I made which has caused major problems: during the sale I was asked about selling a pair of very old closet doors, original to the house. Based upon the info from the neighbor and the continuous history of gutting, trashing, and remodeling in the neighborhood - those old closet doors didn't seem to be an issue and I agreed to sell them. Turns out the new owner, the flipper, wants them back and claims it will cost $2K to have them custom built. My neighbor has her house sale cash and moving sale cash and has gone silent. Her one email comment to me was "Don't worry I'll work it out." Then she gave the flipper my name and phone number. I've had one unpleasant call and face-face meeting with him. Told him the steps I'd taken to try to recover the doors from the area residents who bought them and I believe I've located the house, however the people refused to answer the door or contact me from the flyer I taped to their front door. They were home at the time and deliberately hid inside; I saw the blinds snap shut when I turned to leave. I also told him what I was prepared to do to pay for my error should the doors not be recovered. Gave him all the info on the buyers that I had. I never tried to duck responsibility for my error and am prepared to either buy back the doors if they can be located or pay the flipper what he wants to rebuild them. The issue here is this: Can I be sued by the people who bought the closet doors? The sale was conducted in good faith on both sides but if the flipper (a highly aggressive, pushy, impolite piece of work) goes after the buyers legally as he has threatened to do, I fear I may be sued by the buyers because they'll lose the doors they thought they legally purchased and hold me accountable. I have no money; my life savings totals less than $10K. I have no investments, no retirement, own no property or other assets other than a 35 yr old car in need of repair (value approx $1,500). What can I do to put an end to this entire episode? I am prepared to go flat broke if necessary but I simply cannot afford to be sued by anyone.

Asked on 5/14/19, 12:36 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Timothy McCormick Libris Solutions - Dispute Resolution Services

No good deed goes unpunished, as they say. I'm sorry to hear you are caught in this mess.

First off, let me tell you the worst case scenario. If you get sued, it would have to be in small claims court, which costs little or nothing to participate in. It is far more similar to Judge Judy or The Peoples' Court, than LA Law. No attorneys, minor filing fee. And if you lose, the most you are out is the value of the doors, which is not necessarily the cost to reproduce them new.

With that said, the first legal question is whether the doors were attached to the door-frames when the house was sold to the flipper. If not (it being common for old doors to be taken off and stored) then unless there was a specific statement in the sale contract that the doors were part of the sale, the flipper has no claim to them. The sale is perfectly valid. No one has a legal claim against anyone.

Even if they were attached, you were the mere agent of the seller. The flipper's claim is against the seller or the buyers of the doors, not you. The buyers' claim if the flipper gets the doors back is against the seller, not you. Now the seller might theoretically have a claim against you if the door buyers or the flipper wins against the seller, but no one has a direct claim against you as long as you disclosed that you were acting on behalf of the seller. And you would have several defenses against the seller trying to hold you responsible for losin to the door buyers or the flipper.

And bottom line: no one can sue you for more than the value of the doors, which clearly is $2,000 or less.

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Answered on 5/14/19, 1:02 pm

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