Homeowners fined $7K for backyard apartment

Are previous seller, inspector liable for failing to disclose unpermitted addition?

DEAR BARRY: We bought our home seven years ago. Recently, the county building department informed us that the studio apartment in our backyard was built without a permit. Neither the sellers nor our home inspector informed us about this, and we are now forced to spend more than $7,000 in retroactive permits and fines to fix something we did not do and were not made aware of. Is this something that we should be liable for, or should we hire a lawyer? –Ann

DEAR ANN: If the sellers owned the property when the structure was built, they should have disclosed the lack of a building permit. Whether they are still liable after seven years is something you’ll need to find out from an attorney.

Home inspectors do not check for permits. However, if the studio was included in the home inspection, your inspector should have noted conditions that were substandard.

It is reasonable for the building department to require a retroactive permit, but it is not right for it to impose a fine, since you were not the one who broke the law. To address that issue, you should hire an attorney. You should also make an appointment to meet with one of your elected officials, such as a county supervisor, to complain about the unfair fine. Elected officials can sometimes cut through the dogma imposed by narrow-thinking bureaucrats.

DEAR BARRY: We bought our home a few months ago, and there was no disclosure of any roof problem, not from the sellers or our home inspector. But when the first rain came, there were several bad leaks, so we called a roofing contractor. He said the roof is totally worn out, and replacement will cost thousands of dollars. We believe the sellers were aware of the leaking and that our home inspector should have reported the true condition of the roof. What can we do? –Renee

DEAR RENEE: The home inspector should come back to the property to explain why the condition of the roof was not properly reported. If possible, you should go onto the roof with him to see exactly what defects the roofer found. If the condition of the roof is not consistent with the inspection report, the inspector should take some responsibility for this breach. If he is unwilling to do so, find out if he is insured for errors and omissions.

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If the sellers say there was no previous leakage, proving them wrong could be difficult, depending on how badly the roof is deteriorated. Another possibility is to ask your neighbors if the seller ever mentioned roof leaks.

DEAR BARRY: My husband and I have a disagreement about fire safety requirements in a garage. Our home has a finished basement garage with living space above. What is required for the walls and ceiling in this garage? –Shari

DEAR SHARI: The wall and ceiling areas that separate the garage from living space or from the crawl space should be covered with 5/8-inch, fire-rated drywall, and all seams should be taped. Doors and utility access covers should be fire-rated and self-closing, and ducts that penetrate the drywall should be fire-rated material, such as metal.

It would be interesting to know who is on which side of the disagreement.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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