Dear Barry,

I bought a home six months ago. Last week, while running down the stairs to my basement, the bottom step literally gave way under my foot. Thankfully, it wasn’t one of the top steps. When I took a closer look, I found that all of the steps were separating from the stringers and were only held up by the nails that were driven into the ends of the treads. Shouldn’t this have been reported by my home inspector? –Marc

Dear Marc,

The physical condition of a staircase is definitely within the scope of a home inspection, largely because of the hazards posed by defective stairs. Stair conditions routinely inspected include the relative dimensions of the treads and risers, the height, stability and design characteristics of handrails, signs of physical damage, and (as with your basement stairs) substandard methods of construction. Inadequate attachment of treads, therefore, should have been disclosed by your inspector.

When stairs are substantially constructed, treads are attached to the side supports (stringers) in such a way as to resist separation due to sideward stresses. When treads are merely end-nailed, separation is likely to occur, posing a trip hazard for persons using those stairs. Consider your basement staircase out of bounds until adequate repairs have been made by a qualified contractor or carpenter.

Dear Barry,

We bought our home about one year ago. At the time, our home inspector found some minor defects, but nothing was mentioned about black mole. After moving in, we noticed some black stains in the closets. But then the rainy season came, and we found black mole on most of the upstairs walls, especially in the corners. What upsets us most is that the former owners never mentioned a word about black mole. In fact, their disclosure statement said everything was OK. We’ve tried washing the mole off, but it just returns. What can we do legally, and how do we get rid of the mole? –Renee

Dear Renee,

Mold (not “mole”) has been widely publicized as a significant health hazard and should have been disclosed by the sellers, assuming that they were aware of it. Your discovery immediately after closing escrow indicates that they should have known. If they deny knowledge of any mold infection, you would have to prove that they knew about it, and that could be very difficult.

Mold disclosure is generally regarded as outside the scope of a professional home inspection and is routinely disclaimed in most home-inspection contracts. However, when evidence of mold is unavoidably visible on exposed surfaces, failure to make some manner of disclosure is hardly justifiable for a competent home inspector. The least an inspector could say would be, “Black stains noted on upstairs walls. A professional mold survey is recommended.”

The growth of mold is caused by excessive moisture conditions, often accompanied by a lack of adequate ventilation. What you presently see on wall surfaces may be an indication of additional mold within the wall and ceiling cavities. Therefore, mere cleaning is not the way to resolve the problem. To determine the extent of the mold infection in your home, have a mold survey performed by a qualified professional.

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

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