Q. During our home inspection, there was a terrible smell in the house, and the sellers disclosed that their cats didn't always use the litter box. Our home inspector reassured us that carpet cleaning would remove the odor. After moving in, we had the carpet cleaned, but the bad smell remains. The cat urine has penetrated the wood flooring under the carpet, and the stench permeates the entire house. The wood flooring, it seems, must now be replaced at major expense, and in some areas, the building materials cannot be removed, so the odor may be permanent. How could a home inspector have given such bad advice? And who is liable for this condition, the sellers or the home inspector?
A. The odor of cat urine is pervasive and not easily eliminated or ignored. I recall a home where the family cat routinely used the forced air registers in the floor as a network of private urinals. But I digress.
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Clearly, your home inspector was unfamiliar with the difficulties of removing cat urine odors. Therefore, he should not have made a conclusive statement about carpet cleaning. By making that recommendation, he exposed himself to needless liability. His obligation was merely to disclose the problem, not to prescribe the remedy. By crossing that line, he exceeded the standards of practice for his profession and made the critical mistake of minimizing the extent of the problem. You should notify him of the situation immediately.
The sellers are in the clear, having met their obligation to disclose the urine problem, and have therefore absolved themselves of liability.
Before making costly (repairs) to your home, try a few of the new cat urine products that are now available. Here are a few websites to check out: pureayre.com, odordestroyer.com, and justrite.com. Or you can do a Google search for additional products and alleged solutions.
As a final note, purveyors of ozone generators also claim success in alleviating cat urine odors. In fact, one company's motto is, "Urine in good hands with ozone."
Q. Our home is still covered by a builders' warranty for structural defects, and we just discovered that two foundation walls are leaning. The builder has offered a cash settlement for repairs, but friends have advised us not to take the cash because that would relieve the builder of liability for future related claims. They say that liability for foundation problems would shift from the builder to the contractor we hire to do the repairs. Can we legally refuse the cash and insist that the builder perform the repairs?
A. The builders' warranty provides essential, long-term protection from financial consequence and, therefore, should be carefully guarded. Hiring your own contractor to perform warranty-related repairs could permanently alter the warranty relationship with your builder, especially if the work performed is pursuant to a financial settlement with the builder. Much depends upon the wording of the original warranty, the provisions of the settlement agreement, and state laws governing builders' warranties and contractors' liability. To prevent a regrettable decision, legal advice should be carefully considered before proceeding, and you should seek an attorney with experience in construction defect law.
If your attorney advises you to accept the cash settlement, the amount should be determined by obtaining bids from at least three licensed contractors, and the bids should be based upon a structural engineer's written evaluation of the foundation problem.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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