Beware of dogs in homes
Originally appeared in Bay Area News Group publications on June 29, 2012
It is estimated that 39 percent of U.S. households own 78 million dogs. Or, as dog lovers like my wife and I understand, the dogs own us. In spite of all the joy these creatures bring, they can cause damage in a home. Most folks recognize this.
Sometimes, however, what we think we know takes on an entirely different dimension. That was the case with a woman who bought a lovely East Bay home over a year ago, but has yet to move in.
Four sweet dogs and a cat
On her second visit after seeing the property at an open house, the buyer was greeted by the four resident small dogs. The animals all appeared to be well behaved as they went in and out through the kitchen doggy door and returned for more affection.
Paver tiles throughout seemed perfect for the dogs. Neither the buyer nor her agent noticed anything unusual as they agreed that, after a long search, this was a place that nicely fit the buyer’s needs.
Her offer was accepted and none of the general home inspector’s findings caused the buyer to reconsider her purchase. Reports and disclosures provided by the seller, however, indicated some problems, including five windows that needed replacement.
Further inspection by window specialists revealed many more seriously damaged windows. Worse, the remaining windows would most likely need to be replaced within two years.
Transaction fails, is resurrected
At this point, the buyer asked the seller to lower the price to reflect the cost of replacing all windows. They could not agree and the buyer canceled the contract. Shortly thereafter, upon reconsidering, the seller reduced the price to the buyer’s satisfaction and the sale closed quickly.
Preparing to move in
After the close, the buyer had the interior totally repainted, during which time most windows were opened to allow paint to dry more quickly. Finally, she could begin moving in her furniture and her own two dogs, which had never been to the new house.
To her surprise, before moving in, the buyer and her friend smelled something strange and unpleasant. The odor was in most parts of the house, but some areas were much more overwhelming and noxious than others.
The buyer felt shock as she realized that the stench had to be urine. To make sure, she had some friends and her agent come over for a sniff. All agreed – what they smelled was urine.
Her agent checked the sellers’ disclosures. The seller had answered “no” to, “Past or present odors, urine, feces, discoloration, stains, spots or damage in the property…” Neither the buyer, her agent nor the seller’s agent had smelled urine while they had previously been in the home, yet now the odor was hard to miss.
To find out more, inspectors with experience in this area were brought in to take a look. UV black light tests confirmed urine stains throughout the house. Sheetrock, baseboards and tile flooring were removed, revealing that, in numerous spots, urine had penetrated deep into the sub-flooring and behind the walls.
Seller denies knowledge
The buyer asked the seller about the urine and the seller said she did not know of any urine problems. Understandably, the buyer was upset and angry and hired a real estate attorney. Almost one year and many thousands of dollars for legal fees later, the seller has not changed her position and the buyer feels stuck.
She knows she can continue to legally pursue the seller for damages, but this is emotionally and financially draining. Would she be better served by spending the money on removing more sheetrock and baseboards, all the flooring and whatever sub-flooring is necessary? The results will not be guaranteed, but this is also true if she pursues the legal course. What is certain, unfortunately, is that a large, further expense is in store either way.
Sadly, the most significant cost is the emotional damage the buyer has endured. Through no fault of her own, she appears to be a victim, whichever road she takes.
And the seller? Time will tell if an impartial party renders an opinion that, after living in the house for as long as 18 years with one of the dogs, it is plausible that she was never aware of “mistakes” inside the home by any of her animals.
One lesson in this case is that, despite having tile floors and a doggy door, dogs (and incontinent cats) can do their business in the house, even if well trained. If this happens repeatedly, and is not cleaned up immediately, the urine may go through the flooring. Once this happens, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove the odor.
Many people assume that tile floors are waterproof. In fact, there are numerous types of tile and grouting which absorb moisture to a greater or lesser degree. Tiling did not prevent urine penetration in this situation.
The biggest lesson is that, although sellers are legally required to disclose all “material facts,” there can be times when you might scratch your head and wonder how something that appears so clear-cut can result in serious aggravation and expense to you.
From the Eyes of an Expert Witness