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posted: 2/24/2012 12:01 AM

Home inspector: Homeowner cited for illegal well

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Q. The plumbing for my house is connected to the municipal water system, but there is an old artesian well in the basement that is pumped to a hose faucet in the yard. When I bought the property two years ago, neither my real estate agent nor home inspector said anything about the well being a problem. One year later, the city water department sent an inspector to check our water system. He informed us that a well within city limits was against code and had been for 10 years. We are now faced with a $3,000 bill to have the well sealed and the outside faucet replumbed. My question is: does the real estate company or the home inspector have any liability for selling a home that does not conform to city code?

A. A home inspector would not be aware of ordinances that involve wells because well systems are not within the scope of a home inspection.

Whether a Realtor would know about a well ordinance is uncertain. However, an agent who is competent and professional would recommend inspection of a well by a licensed well contractor. A well contractor would certainly know about such ordinances.

Another consideration is the sellers' disclosure statement. It would be helpful to know if the sellers were ever informed that the well is not legal, but it may not be possible to determine the answer to that question.

The most important question, however, is whether the well is older than the ordinance. In all likelihood, it is. If so, enforcement of the newer requirement may not be legal. You should consult an attorney for the answer to this question. A letter from an attorney to the city may resolve the entire matter.

Q. My home inspector reported a problem with a gas water heater, but the seller's plumber disagrees with the inspector. The water heater is installed in a utility closet. It is directly in front of the forced air furnace. The inspector says the work space in front of the furnace is restricted, but the plumber says the location of the water heater does not violate any provision of the plumbing code. If this is a problem, I want it repaired. Who is correct, the inspector or the plumber?

A. Both are correct, but the home inspector is more correct. The plumber is correct because the location of the water heater does not violate the plumbing code. The problem, however, involves a violation of the mechanical code governing the installation of the forced air furnace, not the water heater. A minimum work space of 30 inches is required in front of the furnace. If the water heater is installed within that work space, it should be moved so that contractors, the gas company and other professionals can service the equipment. Moving the water heater will entail modification and adjustment of the water, fuel and exhaust connections, and this could be costly, depending on how far the fixture must be moved.

• Email questions to Barry Stone through his website, housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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