What I'm Seeing Now

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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

www.jaymarinspect.com


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

Comments

We have some beach properties here with unique "disposal facilities".  They aren't called out-houses, but they could be.

Happy listing and selling!

Posted by Associate Broker Falmouth MA Cape Cod Heath Coker, Heath Coker Robert Paul Properties Falmouth MA (http://www.CapeGroup.com & http://www.REindex.com) about 10 years ago

I don't even know what to say about that>  Don't they need to disclose that.  It cannot be healthy!?  Big wow.

Posted by Cindy Edwards, CRS, GRI, PMN - Northeast Tennessee - 423-677-6677 (RE/MAX Checkmate) about 10 years ago

That is a story worth remembering! I am always surprised by people's inventiveness! I am certainly going to pass this story along at our next office meeting. I am afraid we will see more things that while may not be as outrageous, will certainly have the potential to kill the deal! As they should. Thanks for sharing and reminding me never to take anything at face value.

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) about 10 years ago

Jay, what a hilarious story.  Thanks.  I was hoping for some pictures of this one.

Posted by Gabe Sanders, Stuart Florida Real Estate (Real Estate of Florida specializing in Martin County Residential Homes, Condos and Land Sales) about 10 years ago

Wow....what some people consider OK or an acceptable solution.  In house out house!!!

Posted by Mark Watterson, Utah Real Estate about 10 years ago

Jay, that is a good one.  These people actually saw nothing wrong with this??  Have a great day.  kevincavanaughonline.com

Posted by Kevin Cavanaugh, Lic. Associate Broker, ABR, GREEN (Keller Williams Hudson Valley Realty) about 10 years ago

Went to a wedding once with the reception at a ranch...in a barn...and the "facilities" labeled Cow Girl and Cow boy were ....oh yes....and so...I didn't drink all night...a very short night !  You mean they have codes in VA that prohibit "creative plumbing" ????

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) about 10 years ago

Jay, I would rather find asbestos and other assorted evils in a home than raw sewage.  It can be very costly to clean them up and can make the whole site a toxic waste dump.  Reminds me of house I did a while back where the drains all dumped into a crawl space no one knew was there----for 15 years.  My buyers backed out too.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 10 years ago

Jay, that's hilarious.  Inhouse Outhouse. Did they think no one would notice.

Posted by Jack Gilleland (Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton) about 10 years ago

Heath - I have been places up your way that we call "pit toilets."  They are as nasty, but at least outside!

Cindy - I am betting that the listing agent did not even know!  I bet the county found out later...

Andrea - that "iventiveness" was a lot of work!  I have always wondered whay happened to the soil.  Remember the tunnel diggers on "The Great Escape?"

Gabe - this was a long time ago.  I did not do any photos then!  This would have been one hideous photo!

Mark - I am certain they knew this was not "acceptable!"  It was as well hidden as they could make it.  There was no permit, no disclosure that there was no drainage - it was a mess.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 10 years ago

Kevin - They knew Kevin, they knew!  This was not much different than bathrooms I have seen in South and Central America.  Would have fit right in!

Sally & David - Eeee haaahh!  Fun night!  Yes, there are a code or two here.  That was not a nice neighborhood, having been taken over by south o' the border types, but the codes still apply!

Charlie - I have to tell you, that was a mess, and inspectors from all over the country would understand!  I wonder which was more work, digging that pit and carrying out all that soil, or creating a drain line!  I do know which was the least expensive!

Jack - you ask me if they thought that!  You have seen your share of this sort of thing!  Knowing me as I do, I remember many more jokes (I can't help it) but I simply couldn't remember them.  Too many in between then and now...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 10 years ago

 Where are you finding these homes to inspect? Bizarro world?

Posted by Susan Gonzalez Faux painting murals atlanta (Marietta Mural & Decorative Design) about 10 years ago

Susan - Illegal Alien world...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 10 years ago

I Si

Posted by Susan Gonzalez Faux painting murals atlanta (Marietta Mural & Decorative Design) about 10 years ago

Susan - It's sad, but true.  Some houses are an absolute mess.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 10 years ago

Jay,

At inspections like that I can be found trying to figure out why I do the things I do.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 10 years ago

Steven - I used to teach the kids in Sunday School that reading scriptures is like opening a door into a hallway with lots of other doors.  You can pick any door which opens to another hall, etc.  Each door has a different hall, each of which means or teaches different things.  It is never-ending learning.

I think the home inspection industry is much like that - never ending learning.  Sometimes, though, we open doors that should never have been opened!  We learn things we would rather not learn!  And the doors down certain hallways, well, the word Pandora comes to mind!

People can be creative and disgusting, sometimes at the same time...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 10 years ago

Mr Jay,

I always wear loud colors while on inspections. I find that they take my mind of the disgusting things I might see. Sorry to hear that you are now inspecting outhouses. The boss is resisting that specialty inspection, mainly because I refuse to do that kind of work and I think he would stick me with it.

Nutsy at the keyboard

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 10 years ago

Jay, that is just totally incredible and amazing, LOL Ok that's a new one on me outhouse-in-house facilities.

 ~ Life is Good

Posted by Roy A. Peterson, P.R.E.I. (Domicile Analysis of Texas) about 10 years ago

Nutsy - I have tried my entire life to prepare myself for that particular type of inspection!  When I was 14, my Boy Scout troop was the first to go to Goshen Scout Camp.  We dug the latrine for Camp Bowman.  That experience alone should have prepared me for this horrible inspection, but, I admit, I was totally unprepared.  That is unusual because I am now a Boy Scoutmaster, and we are supposed to be prepared...

To "stick [you] with it," does that mean on a stick?  I hope not - let me know if that seems likely and I will cover your back.  You can count on me...!  By the way, LOVE the suit!  You need some bling - may I recommend a nice, large onyx ring!  You will want it on your right paw, as you appear to be a southpaw.

Roy - That added a whole new dimension, and maybe necessitated a new certification, to my inspection repertoire!  It was both incredible and amazing!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 10 years ago

Jay, I recall a somewhat similar experience. It was a basement bathroom as well. I could smell a faint, but distinct odor. When I opened the door to the bathroom it was stronger. The room had been built on a raised platform. I am figuring the explanation had to do with fitting the plumbing. It was a 3/4 bath. I start running the sink and then flushed the toilet. As I am going for the shower faucet handle bubbling sewage is beginning to ooze out of the shower drain. Needless to say I quickly shut off the sink and beat a hasty exit. The odor was now very noticeably and not very pleasant. My guess is was who ever put the drains in didn't install traps.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 10 years ago

James - Yummie!  That would encourage a hasty retreat!   What is a 3/4 bath - one with a shower like one finds in the small cabin on a cruise ship, so small you can't turn around to wash your backside? 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 10 years ago
No tub, just a shower. Full bath lite.
Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 10 years ago

Jay, I've heard of some outrageous sneaky Pete's, expecially in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but this might take the cake!  Yikes!

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) about 10 years ago

Pat - where this seller came from this might be perfectly acceptable...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 10 years ago

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