Dear Barry,

As a Realtor, I sell a lot of older homes with basement bedrooms. Sellers often can’t understand that these don’t comply as legal bedrooms because the high windows restrict fire escape. My question is this: When the house is sold “as is,” and the new buyers continue to use the illegal bedroom as such, is there liability for the sellers or Realtors in the event of a fire. If so, what kind of disclosure should be made? –Frank

Dear Frank,

All you can do is provide full disclosure of noncompliance with current fire safety standards, including the fact that the rooms cannot be legally used as bedrooms. If buyers choose to ignore such disclosure, the liability is their own.

Current building codes require bedroom windows to have sills no higher than 44 inches above the floor. Additionally, window openings must be at least 5.7 square feet, with neither the height nor the width being less than 24 inches.

Some basement windows can be upgraded to current standards by constructing window wells at the exterior of the building. These are excavated areas that are lined with concrete or masonry and provided with a means of water drainage. Windows with lower sills could then be installed, enabling emergency escape by occupants. A person could simply crawl out into the window well and then up to the exterior ground level. Disclosing this option to buyers would further limit liability in the event of a future fire.

Dear Barry,

Our home is less than 2 years old and has two main problems, but the builder won’t fix anything. The tile floor, installed on a concrete slab, has cracked three times in the same place. Each time the tiles are replaced, the new ones crack within a few weeks. We also have two pocket doors that won’t slide freely. If the builder won’t address these problems, what can we do? –Thomas

Dear Thomas,

Before communicating further with the builder, you should obtain a report from the most thorough and experienced home inspector available. A competent inspector will discover more defects than you are currently aware of. Send a copy of the inspection report to your builder with a letter giving him X number of days to make repairs. Make it clear that after that time you will hire other contractors to complete the repairs and will hold him responsible for the costs. Hopefully, the costs will not exceed the limit specified for a small claims action.

When ceramic tiles on a concrete slab become cracked, the usual cause is common hairline cracking of the slab. Tile installers who do quality work laminate a slip sheet onto the slab surface before installing the tiles. This allows for slab movement at the cracks, without adversely affecting the tiles. Recurrent cracks indicate that no slip sheet was installed. This is not a code violation but rather an indication of mediocre workmanship.

Pocket doors that do not slide freely typically require adjustments or repairs of a minor nature.

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

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