Dear Barry,

We installed a new electric service panel on our home, intending to get a permit after other improvements were done. All work was eventually completed, and we never did get the permit, but everything was done to code by contractors. Now we want to sell the home. Can we simply disclose the improvements and hope that buyers don’t talk to the building department about permits? If we get caught, can we continue the sale at a lower price? And could the city fine us for not getting a permit? –John

Dear John,

Your perspective as a seller is misguided and inappropriate. Your concern should be with ethical options, not legal ones. Instead of asking what you can get away with and what consequences will ensue if your getaway is unsuccessful, you should be asking, “What’s the best thing for us to do in our current compromised position?” So let’s focus on the answer to that question.

The only acceptable posture for a seller is one of complete, unconditional disclosure, as you would want and expect if you were the buyer. If you are not convinced of this from an ethical perspective, consider it on a purely selfish basis: The best way to avoid costly legal consequences after the sale of your home is to provide full and truthful information about your home.

If you honestly inform buyers that the electrical upgrades were done without a permit, they have three options: ask for a price adjustment on the property; ask you to obtain an as-built permit from the building department; or cancel the purchase contract. Accordingly, you could reduce the price, get a permit, or find other buyers

A more proactive approach to this situation would be to obtain an as-built permit before listing your home for sale. This would enable you to fully resolve the permit problem, thus eliminating the need for disclosure. The building department might exact a fine for performing work without a permit, but that would probably be a lesser amount than a sales-price reduction on the property and certainly much less than legal fees for a post-escrow lawsuit.

As a popular radio show host often says, “Now go do the right thing!”

Dear Barry,

Our house is located seven blocks from the ocean. Because the air is damp, there is black mold or mildew on most of our aluminum window frames. We clean them every few months, but the blackness always returns. Is there any way to eliminate this condition? Would dual-pane windows help? And is this the kind of mold that causes health problems? –Chris

Dear Chris,

The types of mold that pose health problems grow on cellulose-containing materials such as paper, drywall or wood. The mildew commonly found on aluminum windows has not been found to be a hazardous type of mold. However, it is unsightly and does require ongoing cleanup.

Condensation typically occurs on aluminum window frames, thus promoting mildew growth. The best solution is to install dual pane windows, particularly those with vinyl frames. Vinyl does not become cold and therefore does not promote condensation.

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

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