What I'm Seeing Now


Is An Outhouse Illegal? What About An Inhouse?

It's been a long time - are outhouse laws still on the books?

There are Port O' Potties everywhere, albeit temporary.  I have seen them in people's yards.  Hopefully they are there for a short-term reason.  But I don't know about outhouses. 

Do sellers try to hide things?  Interesting construction, booby traps they set for inspectors, illegal installations?  Yes!  Yes they do!  Well, some do.  This is something I ran across well over a decade ago, but thought you might find it, shall we say, unusual!

This was a ranch house, with a full basement.  There was an unfinished side, with the furnace, laundry, electrical panel and main plumbing stack.  And there was a finished side, with what the listing stated to be a newly installed in-law suite, complete with a full bath.  It looked very nice.

We tested the bathroom - everything was fine.  Well appointed, good water pressure, properly-installed plumbing, vent fan, very nice.  I wondered about the permit - I did not see one and mentioned it to the buyers.  Hint:  if you don't see a permit sticker, your buyers should always ask to see one.  I was bothered though by two things:

1.  The main drain stack was in the furnace room.  I saw no evidence that a drain from the bathroom had ever been connected.  And the bathroom was a good 30 feet away.

2.  There was an odor in the basement.  It was faint, but present.  The house had been shut up for a while, could that have been it?

We continued into the in-law suite.  It was fine, although there was no fire escape.  Selling it as an "in-law suite" would have been incorrect.  It was not, but a fine room nonetheless.  However, it did have a somewhat large closet, exactly the width of the bathroom beside.  When I opened the closet door the odor was much stronger.

There was no access panel to the shower plumbing.  What caused the odor?  Kneeling by the wall, my knee felt a slight squishy deflection.  Concrete slabs are not squishy.  I did something I don't usually do - I gently pulled up the carpet.  What I saw was a piece of plexi-glass laying over a hole, almost 3 feet in diameter, that had obviously been carved out with a sledge hammer.  I couldn't see under it, so with a screw driver I pried it up.

I was looking into the gaping jaws of the pits of hell!  We found the source of the odor!  The soil underneath the bathroom had nearly been completely removed, and to a depth of 4 or 5 feet!  The plumbing from all three fixtures was depositing its contributions into that pit!  The buyer said, "It's an outhouse!"  I couldn't help myself - jokes for this thing could go in a dozen different directions.  I said, "No.  Technically it's an inhouse." 

Levity is good to lessen loads, loosen tight situations, and clear the air, so to speak.  There were jokes originating inside that were simply bursting to get out.  One did, "Gee, is this going to CAN the deal?" 

"It's an outlaw, in-law, inhouse outhouse!"  Then another:

"They could have provided a bucket of lime and called it a powder room."  And another:

Quoting Poor Richard, I said, "Franklin said that fish and guests begin to stink after three days."  Yep, another:

"This lends a whole new meaning to the term 'water closet'!"  Some people don't know when to quit...  the buyers loved it though!  I couldn't help myself!  Once I get started, well, remember the Stones' song?  Start me up!

We didn't even look at the upper level!  Thus terminateth the inspection.  The deal had been CANNED. 

A while later, we did another inspection.  Just seeing each other in the driveway we all laughed!

My recommendation:  When you smell a basement odor, check there first.  You may run across a John without a last name...


Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Comment balloon 25 commentsJay Markanich • February 23 2009 07:11AM
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