Unpermitted additions should give potential homebuyer pause
Q: The home we plan to buy has two additions, and according to the sellers' disclosure statement, both were built without permits. If we buy the property, do we assume full responsibility for these additions, or do the sellers retain some degree of liability? Secondly, what are the potential consequences to us if we buy this house, now that we have been informed of the illegal additions?
A: If the sellers had the additions built without permits, they did so in violation of the law, but their legal exposure is about to evaporate. Having provided you with full disclosure of noncompliance, you as the new owners will assume responsibility for future fallout. Possible consequences are two-fold: First, you will be required to make full disclosure to future homebuyers, and this could adversely affect the purchase value and marketability of the home. Second, the local building department could eventually force you to make costly alterations to the additions to bring them into legal compliance. They could even require that the additions be removed.
As buyers, you should carefully weigh the risks and benefits of this purchase. Before committing to the transaction, you can request that the sellers apply to the building department for an as-built permit. If they agree, the additions would be officially inspected, and if found to be in compliance with building requirements, could be signed off as legal. If you elect instead to take your chances with the illegal additions, you should at least question the local building authorities regarding their stance on "bootlegged" add-ons.
If you proceed with an as-is purchase, it should be with informed caution. This, of course, would include a professional home inspection to learn the full extent of property defects, not just those that involve the unpermitted additions.
Q: We bought our home about five years ago, and no one disclosed that the vinyl floor tiles in the basement contain asbestos. So we have two questions. Are these tiles hazardous to our health, and do we have legal recourse against the sellers for nondisclosure?
A: Home sellers are required to disclose conditions of which they are aware, but most sellers have no knowledge of asbestos-containing materials within their homes. Therefore, the former owners of your home are unlikely to be liable for nondisclosure. Additionally, the five-year time lapse since you purchased your home would weigh heavily against disclosure liability, but that is a legal consideration that may vary from one state to another.
More importantly, asbestos-containing materials are only hazardous when they are "friable": able to be crushed with normal hand pressure. Asbestos fibers in vinyl floor tiles are embedded in a solid material that prevents the release of fibers into the air, under normal use. Therefore, the EPA does not regard such materials as significant health hazards.
If you are planning to remove the tiles for any reason, they should be tested for asbestos content and removed by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor, if the test results are positive. Otherwise, there is no need for concern regarding adverse health effects.
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