DEAR BARRY: We just signed a purchase contract for a newly built home. When we did our final walkthrough inspection with the builder, we noted cracked tiles at the base of the bathroom wall. On the outside of the same wall, there is a corresponding crack in the foundation. A skim coat of cement was applied over this area, but the crack has appeared through this coating.

The builder hired a structural engineer who said the cracks are normal and within acceptable limits.

We don’t feel comfortable buying the home, but the builder refuses to refund our deposit. We don’t have a lot of money and are unsure what to do. What do you recommend? –Ronald

DEAR RONALD: Cracks such as you describe do not sound normal for a new home. A hairline crack in a foundation can be normal, but the tile cracks are not acceptable, and the skim coat on the foundation raises the suspicion of an attempt to conceal a significant defect.

As for the structural engineer, conflicts of interest might be inherent in his relationship with the builder.

Here are three things that you need to do to protect your position:

1. Hire your own structural engineer to evaluate the cracks.

2. Hire a professional home inspector to evaluate all aspects of the construction, not just the cracks. And be sure to find an inspector with many years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness. A competent inspector will find additional construction defects that you would not discover on your own.

3. If the builder is not willing to address the conditions reported by your home inspector and your engineer, you may need some advice from an attorney.

DEAR BARRY: My city’s building department notified me that the lower level of my home was built without permits. As a result, I am required to tear out the walls, bathroom, carpet, etc. This is because my property is on the waterfront. What recourse do I have? –Cheryl

DEAR CHERYL: Locking horns with a governmental agency can be very complicated, with no guaranty of a good outcome. Much depends upon a long list of variables, such as:

  • Who did the addition?
  • When was the addition built?
  • Was it done by the people who sold you the home or by a previous owner?
  • How long ago did you buy the property?

The answers to these questions could determine whether the sellers are liable for nondisclosure.

Aside from disclosure liability, there are other questions of consequence. For example, does the law mandate removal of the addition, or are other remedies available? Is it possible, under law, to obtain a variance that would allow a noncomplying condition such as the addition?

Regardless of the answers, you need legal representation in this situation. It may be possible to find an attorney who specializes in administrative law, someone with particular experience dealing with bureaucratic agencies.

That is the kind of representation you need. As a home inspector, there is not much more I can tell you. What you need in this situation is some good legal advice.

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