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posted: 11/23/2012 5:25 AM

Heavy annual snowfall is bad for a flat roof

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Q. I bought a second home in the mountains to use as a ski lodge and summer getaway. It has a flat roof, so I asked my home inspector if that would be OK in snow country. He assured me it was more than capable of draining and holding the snow. After we moved in, there was a big snowstorm. The roof sagged, ice formed over the roof drains, and we had major leakage and interior wall damage. My homeowners insurance covered the interior damage but not replacement of the faulty roof. The home inspector has insurance for errors and omissions, but the insurer denied my claim, saying the inspector could not have known the roof would leak. If the insurance companies won't cover the faulty roof, what recourse do I have?

Q. The purpose of a roof inspection is not simply to determine if a roof will leak. There are many roof issues that warrant attention regardless of whether there is leakage. Among these are conditions that involve potential leakage or inadequate construction, such as a flat roof in snow country. That is where your home inspector took a wrong turn.

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A home inspector who is truly qualified would not give carte blanche approval to a flat roof where snow is involved. Home inspectors, unless they are licensed structural engineers, are not qualified to determine whether a roof structure is capable of withstanding snow loads. Your inspector should have indicated that this condition was questionable and should have recommended further evaluation by a structural engineer and a licensed roofing contractor.

What's more, the inspector's insurance company is wrong in acquitting the inspector. Yes, he could not have known the roof would leak, but he definitely should have known this was a compromised condition that warranted further evaluation by more qualified experts.

You should have an attorney write a forceful letter to the insurance company and to the inspector.

Q. We recently sold our townhouse to a couple who rented it back to us while our house was being built. Prior to the sale, they did several walk-throughs, including a home inspection, and we fixed everything they asked for. Now that we've moved out, they are holding our security deposit because of defects they say were not disclosed. These include some carpet stains, a door that rubs against the jamb, a kitchen drawer that sometimes comes off the track, and unpainted walls in the closets. Are these things that should have been included in our disclosure statement, or are they being unreasonable?

A. Sellers are supposed to disclose all known defects, but when you live in a home, it is easy to become so used to minor defects, such as a rubbing door or a faulty drawer, that they don't come to mind when filling out a disclosure statement. Reasonable buyers don't make issues about typical wear and tear conditions and minor defects such as these. But you may have to give in since they are holding your deposit. A handyman is not likely to charge very much to plane a door and adjust a drawer. Likewise, carpet cleaning is not that expensive. They should be embarrassed, however, to make an issue over unpainted closets.

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

Action Coast Publishing

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