Homebuyer suspects inspector missed gas leak

Q: Before buying my home, I hired a home inspector and was not impressed with the quality of his work. Since moving in, I've discovered two major problems. First, an exterior gas line has such a major leak that the gas company refused to turn on the service. Second, one of the roof beams is cracked clear through. This is visible from the attic entrance. Do I have any recourse for either of these problems?

A: Whether you can hold the home inspector responsible for failing to report these defects depends upon whether the problems were visible or otherwise discernible and were within the scope of the inspection.

The location of the gas leak, and wether the gas service was turned on at the time, would have much to do with whether the inspector should have noticed it. If the leak was occurring inside the building or next to the building, at the gas meter for example, a home inspector could be expected to notice the problem. If the leak occurred at a buried pipe in the front yard, this would probably have been missed by a home inspector, unless there was a noticeable gas odor in the general area being inspected.

The gas company, on the other hand, performs specific tests that reveal leakage within gas supply systems. For this reason, homebuyers should always request a gas company inspection when purchasing a home.

As for the ceiling beam, if the crack was clearly visible, you probably have a reasonable complaint against the inspector. However, not all beam cracks are structurally significant. Your first step is to notify the home inspector and request a review of the problem. A second opinion by a licensed structural engineer is also advisable to determine the significance of the crack.

Q: We want to build an addition on our home but can't get a permit because of an easement on the property. The original purpose of the easement was to provide driveway access to two homes that are situated behind ours, but those properties now have their own driveways. The easement, therefore, is no longer necessary, but it's still recorded against our property. Is there any way this easement can be removed?

A: If the easement on your property was established for purposes that are no longer necessary, there should be a legal way to have it nullified. To determine the procedures necessary to achieve this objective, consult your local building department or whatever governmental agency regulates easements in your municipality. Hopefully, they will accommodate you in a reasonable and equitable manner, which unfortunately is not always the case with government bureaucracies, but you never know until you try.

If you encounter difficulties in that regard, the advice and services of a real estate attorney may be needed.

Also, a little-known method for overcoming bureaucratic intransigence is to complain in person to an elected official. For example, a county building official will often become uncharacteristically cooperative when an elected county supervisor calls to say, "Why are you not granting the reasonable request of my constituent." I've done it more than once, and it usually works.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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