Home & Garden

Who’s responsible for the unsafe furnace in the house you just bought?

Q: I recently bought a house with a furnace that was installed improperly in 2002. My building inspector identified this as a safety hazard during the purchase process. The HVAC company says that because the previous owner didn’t have the initial work inspected by the city, it’s not legally responsible. Is this the case?

Robert S., Los Angeles

A: My advice to you is to contact a good lawyer and ask his or her opinion, because the answer to your question varies from state to state and city to city. Some jurisdictions place more responsibility on the contractor than others to make certain that work is completed to code and finalized through the permit process.

The fact you knew about it in advance and purchased the home anyway may work against you, but again, you’ll want to talk to an attorney. Whatever the case, it demonstrates the importance of clearing up as many questions as possible about a house before you close the sale. Once you own the home, its problems become your problems. Even if others are found to be liable for the issue, it still poses a hassle to you.

This is why the inspection process is important. If an inspector finds an issue in a home you’re interested in buying, make it a condition of sale that the problem be corrected, and get it in writing.

Incidentally, home inspectors we talked to tell us they’re not code inspectors and shouldn’t be counted on to catch things like permit problems and safety issues. They go over everything as well as they can and often perform permit searches, but if it’s not visible, they may not catch it. If you have questions about a particular system in a home you’re buying, it’s worth hiring a trusted contractor to take a look and offer advice.

You might also question why the HVAC company didn’t get the work inspected, and take that into account when deciding if you want to hire them to repair it. That’s a detail the firm should have followed up on, and it doesn’t speak well for its commitment to quality if it did unsafe work and then later tried to pass the blame.

Whoever you hire, verify that the company is licensed, bonded and insured — and make sure they follow the permit process all the way through.

Paul F. P. Pogue contributed to this report.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

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