DEAR BARRY: We sold our house a few months ago and signed a disclosure statement that said no water problems existed. But the new owners found carpenter ants in a closet, which led them to rip off the drywall and remove the hardwood flooring. What they found was rot in the wall. No one could have known about this rot, but the new owners say we should have seen water stains on the subfloor when we installed the hardwood flooring last year. We don’t recall any stains or we would have disclosed them.

DEAR BARRY: We sold our house a few months ago and signed a disclosure statement that said no water problems existed. But the new owners found carpenter ants in a closet, which led them to rip off the drywall and remove the hardwood flooring. What they found was rot in the wall. No one could have known about this rot, but the new owners say we should have seen water stains on the subfloor when we installed the hardwood flooring last year. We don’t recall any stains or we would have disclosed them. And there was no moisture, or we would have addressed the matter before installing the new flooring. Do you think we are liable for nondisclosure? –Mitch

DEAR MITCH: Most people would pay little notice to dry water stains on an old wooden subfloor. Even a professional home inspector would have no cause for concern if the stains were dry and there was no apparent damage. A typical disclosure in a home inspection report might be, "Dry stains on closet subfloor indicate a previous moisture condition, but no moisture or consequential damage was observed at the time of this inspection."

In this situation, the only physical damage was located behind the drywall where it could not be seen. Not many people would remove drywall simply because they saw ants in a closet. If home inspectors recommended drywall removal whenever they saw ants or old water stains, drywall contractors would have full-time work repairing all of the exploratory holes that would be made.

And let us suppose that you had disclosed having seen dry water stains when you installed the new flooring; how likely is it that a buyer would request drywall removal for further investigation?

The buyers in this case have the misfortune of an unexpected expense — not uncommon in an older home. But unfair circumstances can occur without anyone being at fault. The evidence that would have led you to suspect damage behind the drywall simply was not there.

DEAR BARRY: I don’t know if this is a home inspection question, but here goes. Does feeding the birds in one’s backyard bring rats into the neighborhood? We have bird feeders all over our patio and garden, and the neighbors are demanding that we remove them. They say we’re attracting rats. Does this make sense? –Mary

DEAR MARY: A Web search of "bird feeders and rats" brings up quite a few sites and some interesting opinions. It seems that the food residue that falls from bird feeders can indeed attract rats. Several suggestions to minimize the problem are as follows:

  • A tray can be suspended from each feeder to catch bits that might otherwise fall to the ground.
  • Feeders should not be refilled immediately. When they are empty, the birds will consume the pieces that have fallen to the ground.
  • Rat traps can be set in the yard. If you are not inclined to harm rats, there are traps designed for live capture.
  • Domestic cats can be enlisted to manage the local rat population, but they would probably be enticed, as well, to eat the birds.

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

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