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Home-buying red flag in bathroom

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Posted: Monday, December 22, 2008 10:00 pm

DEAR BARRY: When we purchased our house, the home inspector found no problems with the water heater. After we moved in, the gas company came out to light the pilot. Instead of lighting it, they capped off the gas and said it is illegal to have a gas water heater in the bathroom. They said the fixture should be moved to another location or replaced with an electric water heater. The seller says he installed the water heater himself and that the previous two water heaters were in the same location. Is the seller required to move or replace the water heater since he is the one who installed it, or is this our problem? -Lauren

DEAR LAUREN: In most municipalities, a permit is required when replacing a water heater. This is to ensure that the installation complies with all of the pertinent plumbing and safety codes, including the prohibition against installing a gas water heater in a bathroom. If the seller did not obtain a permit, he may be liable for the current, noncomplying situation. This does not mean, however, that he is contractually obligated, as a seller, to correct the problem. But you have a reasonable basis for demanding that he do so.

The primary reason for prohibiting a gas water heater in a bathroom is the potential for asphyxiating someone who is using the tub. Faulty venting of combustion exhaust or problems with the combustion air supply could cause air contamination or reduction of the oxygen supply in the bathroom. If that were to occur while someone was relaxing in a tub of hot water, that person could drift into a final state of sleep. The intent of the plumbing code is to eliminate hazardous conditions of that kind.

DEAR BARRY: We are currently in escrow to buy a home and have just received the sellers' disclosure statement. The statement says the sellers received an insurance payment for hail damage to the roof, but that roof repairs were never done. We have two questions about this: Did the sellers commit insurance fraud by receiving payment for roof damages without completing the repairs? And, are the sellers obligated now to repair the roof? -Gen

DEAR GEN: The sellers would be guilty of insurance fraud only if the claim for hail damage had been false. If the insurance company paid for actual damages, then the sellers had the choice to spend the money on repairs or to accept the money as compensation for the loss. What matters in this case is that the sellers honestly disclosed that there are unrepaired roof damages.

The sellers are currently under no obligation to repair the roof, although you can request repairs as part of your negotiations with them. What is needed now is a professional evaluation of the roof by a qualified home inspector or roofing contractor. This will inform you of the extent of the roof damages and will help you decide whether repair or replacement of the roof is needed. The findings of an inspection will also help you to determine your negotiating posture with the sellers.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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