Dear Barry,

I’ve been renting a home for four years and would like to purchase it from the landlords. The building was originally a garage and was converted to a dwelling before permits were required. Recently, the owners added a foundation to an unpermitted addition and did not obtain a permit for the work. I expressed concern, but the work just proceeded. Should I go ahead with the purchase and deal with the county if problems arise later? What do you recommend? – Kathy

Dear Kathy,

Purchasing and owning an unpermitted dwelling might proceed without mishap, or unforeseen risks could manifest any number of difficulties. The worst case, of course, would be that the county could disallow the conversion and require restoration of the original garage. This is not a likely outcome, since permits were not required at the time of the conversion, but it is a possibility to be considered; one that has occurred in some areas, particularly where the work pertaining to the conversion was found to be substandard, unsafe, or in violation of zoning requirements.

Another potential outcome is that a home inspector for a future buyer (when you eventually sell) could find a list of major defects. This possibility underscores the need for a detailed home inspection now rather than later. If you proceed with the transaction, find the most experienced home inspector available and have the building thorough nitpicked.

Dear Barry,

The dryer exhaust in my son’s home is vented by way of a metal duct below the concrete slab floor. This appears to be an impractical and potentially dangerous installation. Your suggestions for possible improvements would be appreciated. – Reed

Dear Reed,

Underground installation of a dryer vent is unwise because the duct is subject to rust damage from continuous contact with ground moisture. Additionally, coldness of the soil can cause moisture condensation and the accumulation of lint with the duct, and congestion with lint could cause the dryer to overheat.

If a more conventional above-ground pathway to the exterior of the home can be found, that would provide a preferable means of venting the dryer. If not, it would be wise to have the existing duct professionally inspected to determine whether any adverse symptoms have actually occurred. Some plumbing contractors perform video inspections of drain piping. They could probably do the same with a dryer vent duct. That would enable you to determine whether there is an actual problem or merely a theoretical one. If the duct is found to be intact, you might simply need to have it cleaned. If it turns out to be damaged, then the plumber might be able to determine a practical solution, given the layout of the building.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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