Our second meeting with the architect brought some bad news. We cannot execute the plan that I have been visualizing in my head and there is plenty of blame to go around.
Was it ignorance or deception?
Before we purchased this house, I asked specifically if we had enough room to build a garage. The real estate agent said, “absolutely.” He pointed to a tree and claimed that it was on the property line.
Six years later we learned that tree was about ten or fifteen feet on the other side of the property line. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we found out yesterday that we cannot build anything within 25 feet of the neighboring property because it is a conservation area. That, plus the required minimum setback from the road, severely limits our options.
The existing addition encroaches on both the front and side setbacks. To build a detached garage, we will need a variance for the proximity to the conservation area (plan A). Otherwise, we will have to build an attached garage (plan B).
I prefer a detached garage as I intend to use it as a woodworking shop. I don’t want to be making noise just on the other side of the wall from people trying to watch television.
In either case we would have to tear down the existing addition first. There simply isn’t the room to build a garage otherwise.
That means our two-year plan is out the window. And we could potentially have a fight on our hands with the municipality and the conservation authority even if we choose to do nothing.
Who do we sue?
1. Previous owner:
Everything this guy did to the house we have had to re-do. Not only were all his renovations illegal in that he did not obtain permits have the work inspected, but the work would not have passed inspection anyway.
He removed supporting walls, cut a hole in the floor for a sunken tub, installed windows without lintels. These were all structural issues that we had to fix.
Wiring and plumbing we can’t complain too much about since some of these things were visible to us.
The addition is the poster child for building violations. It does not meet the minimum provincial building code for structure nor does not meet the standards for electrical. It was also built without municipal planning permission and encroaches on setbacks for both the front and side yards.
We are spending more to fix his mistakes than we paid for the house in the first place. And whether intentionally or through ignorance, he misled us about the location of the property boundaries. He is an obvious choice to sue but, alas, you can’t get blood from a stone. We wouldn’t see a dime from empty pockets.
2. The seller’s agent:
Perhaps he relied on what the seller told him as far as the property boundaries are concerned. But he probably should have verified what property he was selling.
He should have at least known that the abutting property was conservation land and that there would be building restrictions. When I asked if there was room for a garage, instead of assuring me that there was, he should have just said that he didn’t know.
3. The home inspector:
We did not have a full home inspection. Instead, we paid a retired home inspector who had previously worked in construction to take a look at the house with us. I was mainly concerned with the structure. He found NOTHING wrong. Not even the visible stuff that I questioned. “That’s nothing to worry about,” was his expression of the day. The problem is that because our arrangement was off the books, he can simply deny even looking at the house with us in the first place.
4. The municipality:
A resident builds a 750 square foot addition on his house in a small town and nobody notices? Really?
5. Our lawyer:
We requested a survey in our offer to purchase. We never received a survey. Based on my previous experience, the survey should have been included in the stack of documents the lawyer provided us upon the closing should have included the survey. It wasn’t. The lawyer claimed that the owner had left it in the kitchen drawer for us. It wasn’t there.
When we questioned our lawyer, he stated that because the clause had been amended to “existing” survey, the seller only had to provide one if one existed. And this guy was working for us.
Maybe after years of legal wrangling we might see some money from some of these parties. Maybe some of the deeper pockets would even settle out of court. But is it worth the fight?
Coulda shoulda woulda
We should have made our offer conditional on the verification that we had room to build a garage where I wanted. I should have done the math and added up the cost to fix the deficiencies we could see. Instead of assuming that something the size of the addition would have had to have been built with all the proper permits and inspections, I should have taken a closer look at it.
And maybe I should have listened to that little voice in my head that told me that this house may not be the best one for us. But that voice was drowned out by my wife exclaiming, “Look at this back yard!” So I ignored the warning signs confident that we could handle any problems with the house because I liked the back yard, too.
Do we take our chances with long, protracted legal battles, or do we just deal with the situation as it stands now?
Our architect is going to meet with the municipal building inspector to see if there is any hope at obtaining a variance. Once we have that answer, we will have a better idea of how to proceed.
Why wasn’t there an inspection before the house was purchased? If there was an inspection and they found nothing wrong, you would have a case against the inspector for not doing their job properly.
Also, most states require some form of seller disclosure. The form of disclosure also varies: Some states require a seller to complete a questionnaire about their property’s condition; in other states, disclosures can be made verbally. In some states, seller disclosures are voluntary. The only sellers excluded from disclosure laws are banks and mortgage companies with foreclosure properties.
If the seller knew of the issues, you might have a claim against them for their failure to disclose this item to you.
We did not have a full inspection done before purchasing this house. That was our fault, in an attempt to save some money and have the ability to make an offer without that condition. Hindsight is 20/20 and our experience should serve as a warning to others. We did have an informal inspection done by someone we trusted and certainly he let us down. But with no contract and no paper trail, we have no recourse against him. A home inspection is NOT REQUIRED in Ontario.
As for the disclosure, I believe that the previous owner thought that there was nothing wrong with any of his renovations. I also believe that he had been encroaching on the neighbouring conservation land for so long that he honestly thought he ownned it. And I believe that between the previous owner and his agent nobody thought there would ever be an issue with the minor encroachments since the conservation land would never be developed.
Finally, I believe that we do have a legitimate claim against the previous owner. We could take him to court and we might even win, depending on the statute of limitations. But would we be able to collect? Not very likely. Blood from a stone.
Frankly, getting tied up in an expensive legal battle for the next several years does not appeal to me, even if it means possibly recouping some of our money if we win. And there is the possibility that It could end up costing us a lot of money if we lose.
Bottom line is that a garage was important to me. I should have made absolute certain that we had the ability to build one where I wanted before buying the house, instead of relying on a real estate agent’s statement that “oh yeah, you have room.”