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Hidden foundation crack makes recourse difficult

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DEAR BARRY: I purchased my home about six years ago. Two years later, I removed the old carpet rolls that the sellers had left in the basement. They had been stacked in a corner, concealing part of the foundation. When the rolls were moved, a vertical crack in the foundation, about 1/8 inch wide, was revealed. It was apparent that someone had tried to patch the crack, but it did not look like a professional repair. The sellers did not include this defect in their disclosure statement, and nothing about it was mentioned by my home inspector. Is someone liable for this repair, or should I just report it to my insurance company? –Mark

DEAR MARK: If the sellers knew about the crack, they should have disclosed it prior to sale. On the other hand, they could claim to have had no knowledge of it, and there would be little chance of disproving that claim. If they were the first owners of the home, then they probably knew about the patching that was done. On the other hand, if they thought the crack had been adequately repaired, they would have seen no need to provide disclosure.

This leaves the question of home inspector liability. If the crack was covered by rolls of carpet, the home inspector would not have been able to see it without moving the rolls, and this is something that home inspectors typically do not do. In fact, the inspection report probably states that conditions concealed behind personal property are outside the scope of the inspection.

Homeowners insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions and probably would not cover foundation problems in any event.

The first thing you should do is hire a licensed structural engineer to determine if the crack is a significant defect. Hopefully it is a minor stress crack, but that needs to be clarified, one way or the other.

DEAR BARRY: Our house is well insulated, but we have a lot of moisture condensation on the windows and other surfaces. What could be causing this problem? –Bill

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DEAR BILL: Condensation involves water vapor in the air. The challenge is to determine the source of the vapor. If it is ground moisture, the subarea may need additional ventilation. If the building is on a slab, additional ventilation in the dwelling and/or a dehumidifier may be needed. The same recommendations would apply if the house is well sealed for energy efficiency. If the moisture is caused by steamy showers, additional bathroom ventilation is recommended.

It is also possible that there is a problem with a gas-burning fixture such as a furnace or water heater. If that is the case, more is at stake than the inconvenience of condensation because there could be a major safety hazard in your home.

The building should be evaluated by a qualified home inspector to determine which of these conditions may be the problem. You should also ask the gas company to test and inspect all of the gas-burning fixtures.

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

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