QDEAR BARRY: After we bought our house, we discovered a leak in the floor of our upstairs shower. The surprise came when water began dripping from the downstairs ceiling, which had been previously patched. This means that the sellers must have known about the problem, a suspicion that has been confirmed by the next-door neighbor.
When we had our home inspection, the inspector ran water for a while, but not long enough to reveal the leak. Now we're stuck with a repair that will cost $1,500. The seller has moved out of state and the home inspection report specifically disclaims shower pans. Do we have any recourse against the home inspector or the seller? -- Albert
ADEAR ALBERT: It appears that the sellers of your home were aware of the leaking shower pan but chose not to disclose it. On that basis, they appear to be in violation of the law and subject to legal consequences. Unfortunately, their residence in another state complicates the matter. Talk to a lawyer about the strengths and weaknesses of your position.
Home inspectors typically perform their work in accord with established industry protocols, as set forth by professional associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors. Unfortunately, these standards do not include testing shower pans.
Generally, pest control operators, also known as termite inspectors, evaluate the water-tightness of a pan. This is because pest control operators also inspect for fungus, and moisture problems at showers can promote the growth of fungus. However, pest inspectors often omit pan tests when showers are upstairs. That's to avoid liability for ceiling damage if there's a leak during the test. Thus, leaking shower pans often escape detection.
Home inspectors and pest control operators should be testing shower pans, whether they are upstairs or downstairs. Other inspectors might not agree with me, but this is the pro-consumer approach. Shower-pan replacement is expensive. So is fixing moisture damage to floors, ceilings and walls. Knowing whether the pan leaks is vital to a home buyer, and such considerations clearly outweigh the risks and inconveniences of water testing. Inspectors may not be obligated to test shower pans, but perhaps that position needs rethinking.
DEAR BARRY: We are buying a house that is two weeks from completion. Today we noticed that the master bathroom is about four inches smaller than other master bathrooms in the neighborhood. Even the door is four inches smaller. Now that they've completed that part of the building, it seems as though we're stuck. Is this a breach of contract on the builder's part? -- Cathy
DEAR CATHY: Design variations in new houses are not uncommon and are usually disclaimed in the purchase contracts. Therefore, the builder is probably free of liability for the size difference in your master bathroom.
However, don't overlook the potential for more significant defects. I hope you hire a home inspector soon for the final evaluation. A qualified inspector can always find construction defects in a new house, and those conditions will have to be addressed by the builder.
Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.
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