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updated: 12/28/2012 6:37 AM

Building department red-tags old additions

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Q. One month after we bought our home, a letter arrived from the local building department. It alleged that we were trying to sell the house with two unpermitted rooms: a bedroom in the basement and another that was added to the garage. Actually, we are not trying to sell our house, since we just bought it. So we invited the building inspector for a meeting, and he explained the addition and basement conversion were done without permits. He said we would need bigger windows above the garage, an escape hatch in the basement, and a list of other upgrades. In total we are looking at roughly $6,000 in improvements and an increase in our property taxes. Shouldn't these issues have been disclosed to us by the sellers?

A. The non-permitted alterations should have been disclosed by the sellers if they were aware of these issues. But were they aware? If the changes to the building were done before they bought the property, it is possible they had no knowledge of additions or the lack of permits. But if they added the bedroom and converted the basement, then they could be liable for costs to bring the building into compliance.

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A letter should be sent to the sellers, informing them of the situation. If they deny responsibility, you should get some legal perspective from an attorney. You should also discuss the issue with your neighbors to see if anyone remembers when the additions were built. This would determine whether the sellers were aware of the situation.

Some of the defects that were pointed out by the municipal building inspector should have been disclosed by your home inspector, assuming you had a home inspection when you bought the property. Lack of emergency escape windows in the bedrooms is something that a competent home inspector should have reported. If you did not hire a home inspector, now is the time to do so, to determine what other conditions have not been disclosed.

Q. The house we are buying has a walk-up attic that was converted into two additional bedrooms. Our concern is that no heat source has been provided in either of these rooms. Are these bedrooms legal if they don't have heat?

A. A direct heat source in the bedrooms is not required if ambient heat from adjoining rooms provides adequate warmth. In this case, it would depend on whether sufficient heat is able to rise through the stairwell. But dependence on heat convection has a disadvantage because bedroom doors would have to remain open throughout the night, precluding the option of privacy.

One solution would be to use portable heaters in the bedrooms, but this could significantly increase your electric bills. Since code compliance is your main concern, you should ask the local building inspector to take a look at the home and advise you regarding applicable requirements for heating the attic bedrooms.

• 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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