Q. We just bought a home and are finding out that there are many problems with it. We had an inspection for termites, and an engineer and our title company reported that everything was OK. Two days after we moved in, there was a sewage backup in the first-floor bathroom that seeped into the floor tile, the basement ceiling and inside the finished basement wall below. Then, when the walls were opened, we discovered termite damage, and damaged floor and wall beams cut into by a plumber who left chunks of concrete in the basement ceiling and even one of his tools. Next we filed for a permit to renovate the finished basement, and discovered that it had no permit, and we would have to put in a large window well to get out of it in an emergency. The cost for all this is estimated at around $30,000. Our attorney told us there’s little we can do because the problems were all unable to be seen before closing. Is that true? Shouldn’t the title company, the attorney, the engineer or the owner have disclosed them?
A. Your dilemma is, sadly, quite common — so common that everyone but the owner probably could have checked this out, but didn’t, because that takes time and prevents each “consultant” from getting the closing over with and making his money. Not only have I written about this several times and suggested hiring an architect who deals with the local municipality, but I’ve been threatened by a title company owner who angrily, and wrongly, told me that title companies deal only with additions that are clearly larger than the outline of the original house.
I know, from many years of dealing with these problems, that experts in the process of property sales are quite familiar with the finished-basement-permit requirement. Since 2003, the building codes in at least 39 states have required retroactive upgrading of a finished basement to provide emergency escape other than the inside stair. Only finished basements that were permitted before that date are exempt, and not entirely, because officials can require an upgrade for safety reasons while other portions of the residence are renovated.