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Tanks A Lot

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Posted On: 07/07/2010

QUESTION:

We bought a house 30 months ago. Recently we discovered that there's an improperly decommissioned septic tank in our backyard. At the time of the purchase, the tank was covered with a concrete cap that extended at least 2 feet above ground and clearly was visible. Neither our agent nor the inspector who provided an engineer's report before the sale mentioned anything about the septic tank. It will now cost us a few thousand dollars to have the tank properly decommissioned. Is either the agent or the inspector responsible for failing to inform us about the tank?

ANSWER:

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Some might say yes, but I would say no. Here's why: First, the tank was plainly visible - it wasn't hidden. Second, a real estate broker is not acting as an engineer, architect or home inspector even if qualified in those fields. Third, the inspection of a septic tank is generally outside the scope of a home inspection. Fourth, time has passed. It would be difficult to reconstruct who said what to whom. It's possible you were advised to get a tank inspection.

David Tamny, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, tells us that "the ASHI Standards of Practice do not require the inspection of septic systems and do not require the inspector to determine if a system is public or private. Inspectors are also not required to describe systems not included in the standards or underground items whether abandoned or active."

Professionals within real estate have certain jobs and responsibilities - but not other jobs and responsibilities. A broker cannot act as an appraiser for a property he or she has listed; an inspector is not expected to evaluate pools or solar panels.

The bottom line: Homes may require both a professional inspection and specific inspections for certain elements of the property.

Peter G. Miller is the author of The Common-Sense Mortgage and a veteran real estate columnist. Have a question? Please write to peter@ctwfeatures.com.

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