Q DEAR BARRY: I bought a new house and began having roof leaks two years later. The builders have done some patching, but the leaks persist and the builders no longer respond to my letters or phone calls. I complained to the state licensing board, but they barely seemed interested. At this point, there are two things I want from the builders: that they allow me to hire my own inspector to determine the condition of the roof and to check for related damage and that they pay the costs of having a contractor of my choosing make the necessary repairs. What do you recommend? -- Scott
ADEAR SCOTT: You don't need the builders' permission to have your home inspected by qualified professionals. It is your property, not theirs, and you can do with it as you wish. You decide who enters, who leaves and who performs services on the premises.
The best time to have had a professional inspection of the property was before you took possession. Prior to the purchase, you had leverage. The builders were anxious to close the deal, and this gave you a stronger negotiating stance than you presently have. Builders are often more anxious to make repairs when completing the work is a condition of the sale.
Once a property is sold, that motivation is lost. Nevertheless, it's not too late to have your home fully inspected. Just be sure to find the most thorough and experienced home inspector available. When you do, be prepared for new revelations. A competent inspector will discover defects you've not yet realized. Won't that be a surprise for your recalcitrant builders?
Since your primary concern involves the roof, it would be wise to have a professional evaluation by a licensed roofing contractor, including a bid for the costs of repairs.
Once you have the reports and bid in hand, send copies to the builders by certified mail. Notify them that they have 30 days to correct the various defects, after which you will hire contractors of your choosing. If it becomes necessary to have the repairs done by outside contractors, your letter will provide the basis for a successful venture in small-claims court.
Some professional legal counsel would definitely be in order. But try to use this for advice only, as the cost of litigation typically overrides the benefits of prevailing in court or of obtaining a settlement. Your attorney can also send the initial certified letter. Letterheads from law firms typically evoke a more favorable response from wayward builders.
As for the state agency that governs contractors, don't be too surprised at their seeming lack of interest. Grievances against contractors are so common that state agencies simply cannot give adequate attention to all of them.
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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