DEAR BARRY: We purchased our home about a year ago. The sellers and their Realtor made a side agreement to repair some of the defects after the close of escrow. These included a new liner in the chimney, a new exhaust vent for the furnace, and a vent for the clothes dryer. The repairs were supposed to be done within three months of closing, but the sellers still have not completed the work.
The person they sent to do the work is unlicensed, has no insurance, and won’t give us his last name. He hasn’t gotten a permit for the work that he has done, and what he has done does not look good. The new clothes dryer vent is plastic flex pipe that blows into the attic. The seller now says that the chimney does not need a new liner and has declared that all of the work "is done." To top things off, the Realtor won’t return our calls. Instead, her attorney has called us and has rudely warned us to stop calling the Realtor. What in the world can we do? –Leslie
DEAR LESLIE: Your situation is an exposition of outrageous manipulation and rude abuse, involving six serious issues.
1. The side agreement for repairs should have been a binding, written contract, not an agreement that was subject to the whims of the sellers. If they agreed to install a new chimney liner, then that work should have been completed accordingly. If they agreed to finish the work by a specific date, that deadline should have been met.
2. All of the repairs should have been done in a workmanlike manner by qualified professionals. In particular, work that involves chimney repairs or furnace vent replacements should be done by licensed specialists. If the sellers hired unlicensed people, then the sellers are liable for the substandard outcome of the work that was done.
3. Building permits may be required for some of the work that was done or was agreed to be done. For clarification of these requirements, the local building department should be consulted.
4. It is illegal to vent a clothes dryer into an attic, and plastic flex is not approved for this use. The duct should consist of smooth sheet metal and should terminate at the exterior of the building. The building code contains a list of requirements for the proper installation of a dryer vent. The handyman without a last name is probably unaware of these requirements.
5. The Realtor has an abundance of nerve, sweeping your interests aside, now that the deal is closed. If she helped to establish the side agreement, then she should be concerned that its terms are met. The agreement, in fact, should have been part of the purchase contract, rather than an informal side arrangement. A portion of the sellers’ proceeds should have been held in escrow until the work was completed and approved. That is how a competent, professional Realtor would have set up the agreement.
6. It is entirely improper for an attorney to call a potential defendant and impose direct intimidation. You could file an ethics complaint with the state bar association against that attorney.
Finally, you should get some advice from an attorney of your own, and possibly file a lawsuit in small claims court against the seller and the Realtor.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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