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Sluggish Drains Require Buyers to Act Fast

July 15, 2001|BARRY STONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: We purchased a 50-year-old home and have had continual problems with slow drains at the bathroom sink and tub. Our home inspector disclosed slow draining, but we didn't think it was a serious problem. Since then, the drains have gotten worse. We hired a plumber, who snaked out the main sewer pipe and pulled out a big wad of tree roots. He performed a video inspection and found major root damage in the main line. We feel that someone should have disclosed the extent of this problem. Do we have any recourse?

Answer: This is one of those situations when no one is clearly in the wrong. The sellers were probably aware of the slow drains, especially because this was disclosed by your home inspector, but it is not certain that they knew the extent of the problem. Unless they hired a plumber with a video inspection device, they may have thought the slow draining was minor. The agents also were probably unaware of major drain damage.

Still, your desire to be compensated is understandable. This is a preexisting condition that would have affected your consideration of the property. On the other hand, it can be argued that the home inspector brought the problem to your attention; that the choice to overlook that disclosure was your responsibility. The determining point here would be whether the inspector recommended further evaluation or repair.

The decision to have a plumber investigate the slow draining was a good one, but this would have been preferable before closing escrow, when the cost of repairs could have been negotiated from a position of strength.

The decision to have a video inspection was also good, as this provides reliable information about the condition of pipes. A video inspection involves the insertion of a camera into the main line, enabling a direct view of the pipe. Most plumbers who perform this service also provide the customer with a tape that can be reviewed later or used as evidence.

At this stage, you should notify the sellers and the Realtors about the problem. If the responses are not favorable, obtain legal advice.

Sometimes Firewalls Can't Be Checked

Q: Your Web site lists the 12 most common defects in homes. One of these involves firewall violations in a garage. How does a home inspector determine that the right material was used to build a firewall?

A: In modern homes in which drywall is used for interior surfaces, a garage firewall should consist of five-eighths-inch type X drywall. In older homes, a firewall will be finished in plaster. In many garages, it is not possible to verify the thickness of drywall without cutting a hole in the material, which would certainly not be permissible during a home inspection. If the firewall is physically damaged or has holes, these openings enable an evaluation of the drywall thickness. Where there are electrical outlets or switches in a firewall, the thickness of drywall can sometimes be determined by removing a cover plate.

In many instances, inspectors must assume that five-eighths-inch drywall was used, trusting that the building code was properly enforced at the time of construction. If the garage attic is not separated from the house attic by an attic firewall, then the garage ceiling will be part of the firewall assembly. In that case, an inspector can verify the thickness of the drywall by reading the manufacturer's label on the attic side of the drywall.

Apart from determining that approved material was used for the firewall, a home inspector checks for unapproved type openings, such as windows, doors that are not fire-rated and self-closing and plastic ducts that penetrate the firewall.

Basement Bedroom Turns Out to Be Illegal

Q: I recently purchased a home that was advertised as having five bedrooms. After closing escrow, I learned that the basement bedroom is not legal because it does not have proper exit windows. I paid asking price for the property and would have offered less if I'd known there were only four bedrooms. Is there any way that I can get some of my money back?

A: Obtaining a partial refund could be a very complicated and protracted process. You'll need to notify the seller and Realtor of the problem, but first you should seek the advice of a real estate attorney. Although the home was misrepresented as having five bedrooms, it is possible that the seller and agent had no idea of the legal disparity. Building code requirements for bedroom windows are not common knowledge among people who are not experienced in building construction. The seller and agent may have been unaware of those standards.

Your question does not mention whether you hired a home inspector during the transaction. A competent inspector would have disclosed that the basement bedroom was not legal. If you did not get an inspection, you should do so now. A qualified home inspector might discover additional problems that were not disclosed.

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If you have questions or comments, Barry Stone can be contacted through his Web site at http://www.housedetective.com. Distributed by Access Media Group.

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