Q. We bought our home a few months ago and discovered septic problems as soon as we moved in. The septic tank was replaced less than a year ago, but there is an open pipe that spills water into our backyard. Fortunately it only drains water from the kitchen and laundry. Nothing was disclosed by the sellers or our home inspector, and the home warranty company says this kind of problem is not covered by the policy. What do you think about this problem, and who is liable for repairs?
A. What you describe does not appear to be a septic problem. More likely, the wastewater line from the kitchen and laundry was not plumbed to the septic system but was diverted to the yard area. This is not a legal means of draining wastewater, but is it a common practice because laundry and dishwasher detergents can adversely affect the bacterial culture in a septic tank, preventing decomposition of solid organic waste. You should have the drainpipe checked by a licensed plumber to see if this is the case. If so, a separate leach field or drainage sump should be installed in the yard to receive the water from this line.
Home warranty companies typically do not cover pre-existing conditions. Therefore, it is not surprising they denied this claim.
The home inspector would only be liable if there was observable evidence of the problem at the time of the inspection. If the yard areas were inspected first, your inspector would not have noticed the problem when the inside plumbing was tested later. If the home was occupied by the sellers, they should have disclosed this, but they may not have known it was a faulty condition.
The person who installed the septic system should be consulted to determine what was known about this condition at the time of the installation.
Q. Last year my family was living in a home while it was being sold. The new owner said we could stay a few weeks after the close of escrow. During that time, he hired a work crew to remove the asbestos ceilings in the living room and bedrooms. The work was done without a permit and by a crew that was not certified to do asbestos removal. Now we are concerned about the effects of having been exposed to contaminated air. What do you think about this situation?
A. If the ceiling material actually contained asbestos, removal by a qualified contractor, under authority of a permit, would have been required. The question, therefore, is whether the ceilings did contain asbestos material. It is possible the owner had the ceilings tested and that no asbestos fibers were detected by the lab. This is something that should be verified.
If no testing was performed, the owner of the property and the people who did the removal are subject to serious legal consequences. In that case, you would have the option to report them to the local building authority.
Whether your family's exposure to asbestos-contaminated air will have adverse health effects is something that may not be determinable at this time. For that kind of information, you would need to consult a physician.
• 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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