Dear Barry,

After buying our home, we discovered a leak in the floor of our upstairs shower. The surprise came when water began dripping from the downstairs ceiling. Worse still, we discovered that the ceiling had been previously patched. This means that the sellers must have known about the problem, a suspicion that has been confirmed by the next-door neighbor. When we had our home inspection, the inspector ran water for a while but not long enough to reveal the leak. Now we’re stuck with a repair cost of $1,500. The seller has moved out of state, and the home inspection report specifically disclaims shower pans. Do we have any recourse against the home inspector or the seller? –Albert

Dear Albert,

The sellers of your home were apparently aware of the leaking shower pan but chose not to disclose it. On that basis, they appear to be in violation of the law and subject to legal consequences. Unfortunately, their residence in another state complicates your chances of bringing justice to bear. For clarification of the strengths or weaknesses of your position, you’ll need to obtain professional legal advice.

Home inspectors typically perform their work in accordance with established industry protocols, as set forth by professional associations, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors. Unfortunately, these standards do not include the testing of shower pans. Evaluating the water-tightness of a pan is generally performed by pest control operators (commonly known as termite inspectors). This is because pest control operators also inspect for fungus infection, and moisture problems at showers can promote the growth of fungus. However, pest inspectors often omit pan tests when showers are located upstairs. The reason for this exclusion is to avoid liability for ceiling damage in the event of a leak during the test. Thus, leaking shower pans often escape detection in the course of a real estate purchase.

In this writer’s opinion, home inspectors and pest control operators should be testing shower pans, regardless of whether they are located upstairs or downstairs. Publishing that viewpoint may not be well received by many inspectors, but it is the pro-consumer approach. Shower pan replacement is expensive, as is correction of resultant moisture damage to floors, ceilings and walls. Disclosure of pan leakage is vital information to a home buyer, and such considerations clearly outweigh the risks and inconveniences of water testing. Inspectors may not be obligated to test shower pans, but perhaps that position warrants rethinking.

Dear Barry,

We are currently buying a new home, only two weeks from completion. Today we noticed that the master bathroom is about 4 inches smaller than other master bathrooms in the neighborhood. Even the door is 4 inches smaller. Now that they’ve completed that part of the building, it seems as though we’re stuck. Is this a breach of contract on the builder’s part? –Cathy

Dear Cathy,

Design variations in new homes are not uncommon and are usually disclaimed in the purchase contracts. Therefore, the builder is probably free of liability for the size difference in your master bathroom. However, the potential for more significant defects should not be overlooked. Hopefully, you soon hire a home inspector for the final evaluation. A qualified inspector can always find construction defects in a new home, and those conditions will definitely have to be addressed by the builder.

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

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