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posted: 5/11/2012 5:08 AM

Home inspector: Unpermitted addition worries homeowner

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Q. Where have you been all my life, or at least since we bought our home? Here's our problem. A den was added to the house some time in the past, and we don't know if the work was permitted. We're afraid to ask about a permit because we don't want someone to order the addition torn down. How can we find out if the addition is legal without risking a bulldozer invasion of our property?

A. Don't worry about someone attacking your home over building code issues. If you want to know the status of the addition, go to the building department and ask for the permit history of the property. This is not an unusual request and should not raise any eyebrows.

The documents they give you will include the original building permit and any subsequent permits for additions or alterations. If the addition was not permitted, it may be possible to obtain an as-built permit. That is a building permit that allows the municipal inspector to review the addition and either approve it or make demands for upgrades.

If the addition is unpermitted and you prefer to leave it as-is, that is also an option, but you'll need to disclose the lack of a permit when you sell the property.

Q. After buying our home, we learned there are asbestos floor tiles under the carpets in every room in the house. Shouldn't our home inspector have looked under the rugs? Shouldn't he have known that old 9-by-9-inch tiles installed up until the mid 1970s may have been made with asbestos?

A. Home inspections do not include the raising of wall-to-wall carpet. That is something home inspectors simply do not do. If your inspector had known about the 9-by-9 tiles, he might have mentioned the possibility of asbestos, but that is uncertain because environmental hazards are not within the scope of a home inspection.

In most cases, 9-by-9 tiles do contain asbestos fibers, but this type of asbestos-containing material is not regarded as a significant health hazard because the fibers are securely embedded in a hard asphalt medium. The fibers cannot be released into the air without shredding the material. If the tiles remain covered by carpets or by other types of flooring, they should never pose a health problem.

Q. When I bought my condo, no one disclosed the crack in the bathtub. It was covered with a nonslip sticker, but I discovered it later by stepping on it while showering. Do I have any recourse against the sellers or the home inspector for not disclosing this condition?

A. If the crack was covered by a nonslip sticker, the home inspector cannot be faulted for not having seen it, but the sellers can be faulted for having concealed it, assuming they lived in the house and were responsible for applying the sticker. You should notify them by certified mail. If they won't cover the repair costs, small claims court is a possible option. If you do that, be sure to take photos of the defect, get at least two contractor bids, and pay for some advice from an attorney.

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

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