Who's at fault for 'unsafe' chimney?

Home warranty likely won't cover repair cost

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 22, 2010

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Home warranty likely won't cover repair cost

Barry Stone
Inman News

DEAR BARRY: We bought our home about two years ago, and no fireplace or chimney problems were disclosed by our home inspector. But this week we hired someone to remove birds that were inside the chimney, and we were told that the chimney is unsafe. Who do we call to file a claim: our warranty company or the home inspector? --Linda

DEAR LINDA: To say that a chimney is unsafe is a vague generalization. You need to know specifics. Chimneys can be unsafe for reasons that are costly and complicated or affordable and routine.

For example, a missing or damaged spark arrestor makes a chimney unsafe, but the repair is simple and inexpensive. The same would apply to a chimney that is encrusted with creosote and needs to be swept.

On the other hand, a chimney that is unsafe because of structural cracks, deteriorating mortar or lack of a flue liner would involve major expense, including possible reconstruction. Before making a claim of liability, this question needs to be answered.

Regardless of the answer, this is most likely a pre-existing condition, and warranty companies typically do not pay for such claims. Therefore, the home inspector's lack of disclosure could be the main issue.

If the chimney defects were visible and accessible at the time of the inspection, those conditions should have been disclosed. Exceptions would include inaccessibility due to wet or freezing weather or a chimney top that it too high to reach with a common ladder. If circumstances were favorable to chimney access, the home inspector was probably negligent.

The first thing to do it to call the inspector and request a reinspection of the chimney. At that point, you can discuss the question of financial liability.

DEAR BARRY: The property next to my house is owned by a high-rent slumlord. His front yard is overgrown with weeds and littered with trash. This has raised complaints from several neighbors, but everyone is afraid to mess with him because he is a karate instructor and a bully.

The trees in his yard are damaging my fence, cracking my driveway and rubbing against my roof. He has made it plain that he intends to do nothing about this. What can I do? --Lisa

DEAR LISA: Finding a solution to this problem could be difficult. With a normally problematic neighbor, issues can be discussed and legal pressure can be applied without fear of retaliation. But with someone who is a "bully" by nature, who knows what problems could develop if you stir the pot.

You should get some legal advice to see what options are available. It might be possible for the municipality enforce some health and safety regulations without your name being mentioned.

As a side note, there was a homeowner who had a similar problem with a neighbor's trees. He treated the soil on his own side of the fence with a defoliant. The trees died. The owner of the trees had no choice but to remove them. Of course, I'm not suggesting that you employ such far-reaching measures.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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