DEAR BARRY: We live in a two-story townhome and are wondering if there is a firewall between our unit and the adjacent dwelling. How can we determine if this was done in compliance with the fire code? –Charles

DEAR CHARLES: The partition walls between adjoining dwelling units should be finished with 5/8-inch-thick, fire-rated drywall. The thickness of the drywall can often be verified by removing the cover plate from an outlet, switch or other fixture. Otherwise, a hole would need to be made to verify thickness.

The firewall should extend into the attic, separating your attic space from the attic above the neighboring units. If there is a firewall in your attic, the fire rating should be printed on the surface of the drywall.

DEAR BARRY: We recently purchased a home in a rural area. The property is on municipal water, but there is an old well and pump house. We asked the seller if the well was used anymore. He said, "You don’t really want to hook up the old well pump." When we asked why, he just said, "You’ll find out."

Being from the city and not knowing much about wells, we let this slide and purchased the home without further disclosure. Three months later, we received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency stating that the property is adjacent to a contaminated site with underground gasoline storage tanks. Now we realize that the seller withheld this information. What recourse do we have? –Mike

DEAR MIKE: When a seller says, "You’ll find out," rather than telling you the whole story, that is an unacceptable answer. Your response should have been, "What do you mean I’ll find out? I want to know now what is wrong with the well."

The answer you received from the seller was not something you should have let slide. It was a red flag that demanded further explanation.

Failure to disclose environmental contamination is a violation of law in most states. You should consult an attorney to learn what recourse is available to you.

DEAR BARRY: A major wind storm damaged our tile roof. The insurance claims adjuster says the tiles are inferior quality and the cracks were not caused by the storm. But our roofing contractor strongly disagrees. How can we resolve these conflicting opinions? –Dee

DEAR DEE: It is highly unlikely that an insurance adjuster knows more about roofing materials and tile damage than a licensed roofing contractor. If the adjuster’s opinion is at odds with that of the contractor, the contractor’s opinion should prevail.

You may be dealing with an unethical insurance company, trying to minimize its losses in the wake of the storm. To counter its position, you should obtain written opinions from three separate roofing contractors and from a qualified home inspector. If the insurance company refuses to budge, it should receive a letter from your attorney. You can also file a complaint with the state agency that regulates insurance companies.

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